Last week, I test-drove the new three-cylinder (and turbocharged) Ford Fiesta. A neat little car – emphasis on little.
This week, I have the new Honda Fit, which is also little – but isn’t small.
At least, not where size matters.
Much as I enjoyed driving the Fiesta – with its admirably eager (and laudably fuel-efficient) turbo triple engine – I’d hate to have to ride in its severely abbreviated back seat. Or try to carry more than a couple of grocery bags home in it (much less a couple of 2x4x8s).
The Fit, on the other hand, fits – in both rows. Its back seat accommodations are as generous as what you’d find in several mid-sized cars. And you could carry a bundle of 2x4x8s home in one . . . with the rear liftgate closed.
And it’s fuel efficient.
But not slow.
The Fit is Honda’s smallest big car – with more room inside than an Accord (really!) but with a much smaller footprint on the outside.
It features a uniquely configurable interior, too – with back seats that fold up as well as completely flat (the Fiesta’s and most others only fold sort-of flat) making it feasible to carry objects as large as a bicycle inside the car instead of strapped to the roof.
Base price is $15,525 for the LX with six-speed manual transmission. With the optional CVT automatic, the price tag is $16,325. A top of the line EX-L with navigation, 7-inch touchscreen display monitor, the CVT automatic, heated leather seats and a premium HD stereo system lists for $20,800.
Competitors include the Ford Fiesta – on the sportier-looking and driving (and slightly more fuel-efficient) side – and the Hyundai Accent and Nissan Versa Note on the more Plain Jane (and slightly cheaper-to-buy) side.
Though the basic shape is familiar – and the concept the same – the ’15 Fit is completely redesigned. It has a stronger – and more fuel-efficient – engine and is even roomier on the inside than before, despite being slightly smaller overall on the outside.
Exceptionally spacious – and versatile – interior.
Unique fold-’em-up rear seats that fold down – and flat – too.
Unique remote camera side-view/blind spot monitor.
Gas mileage nearly as good as class-leading Fiesta turbo triple… for $1,550 less.
Rev-happy i-VTEC engine.
Six-speed manual – or CVT automatic (Ford Fiesta EcoBoost is manual-only . .. and only has five speeds).
Side view camera only shows the passenger side.
Optional touch-screen LCD (like all such displays) looks “tomorrow” but isn’t the ideal interface in a moving vehicle.
Requires some gear-jamming to keep up with traffic.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Fit’s engine is still a 1.5 liter four, as before – but the engine has been updated with direct injection and horsepower is up to 130 from 117 previously. A new six-speed manual replaces the previous five-speed manual as the standard transmission – and a new continuously variable (CVT) automatic is optional, in lieu of the previously optional (and conventional/hydraulic) five-speed automatic.
Acceleration is – not surprisingly – quicker with the new drivetrain: Zero to 60 in 8.7 seconds with the manual six-speed. This performance puts the Fit at the top of the pile in this segment.
What is surprising is that fuel-efficiency is also improved over the previous generation Fit: 33 MPG city and 41 on the highway now vs. 27 city, 35 highway for the 2013 (technically, there was no 2014 Fit). That is truly a Great Leap Forward – especially given the also-upticked acceleration.
CVT-equipped models are slightly less fuel-efficient (unusually; usually it’s the reverse – with the CVT version being the more economical) but the disparity is slight: 32 city, 38 highway- which is still better than the old car delivered with either of its available transmissions.
These numbers compare very favorably with the new Ford Fiesta equipped with its optionally available 1.0 liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine. The Ford is no quicker (zero to 60 in about the same 8.8-8.9 seconds) and while its gas mileage numbers are slightly better – 31 city, 43 highway – the difference must be taken in context of the EcoBoosted Fiesta’s more-than-slightly-higher MSRP. While Honda doesn’t charge extra for the Fit’s updated 1.5 liter four, to get the turbo three in the Fiesta, you have to first buy the more expensive SE trim ($16,080) and then shell out another $995 for the Ecoboosted three-cylinder engine. This amounts to an up-front difference of $1,550 to buy the Ford vs. the Honda.
Is 3-5 MPG more worth it? Or rather: How many miles would you have to drive the Ford before its slightly better mileage numbers erase the car’s higher up-front cost? (There is also the possible issue of down-the-road turbo – and turbo-related component – replacement costs.)
It must also be mentioned that the Ford is only offered (as of late summer 2014) with a manual transmission – which automatically excludes buyers who don’t want to deal with a clutch.
People shopping for low-cost but not low-rent transportation might also want to take a look at the Nissan Versa Note. Its price to start ($14,180) is lower than the Fit’s – and a lot lower than the Ecoboosted Fiesta’s. And its mileage – 31 city/40 highway with the optional CVT automatic – is just as good as the Honda’s and nearly as good as the Ford’s. It also has a very spacious back seat – rare in this class.
Just not quite as spacious as the Honda’s. (More on this below.)
And if you don’t mind something smaller – and slower – there’s the Chevy Spark. It comes with one of the tiniest four-cylinder engines this side of a motorcycle: Just 1.2 liters (only .2 liters larger than the Ford Fiesta’s three cylinder engine) but it only makes 84 hp (vs. the turbo’d Ford’s 123 hp and the Honda’s 130) and the thing needs almost 11 seconds to creep to 60 – while only managing 31 city, 39 highway – a hardly noticeable uptick over the larger/nicer/quicker and much more spacious Honda.
The Chevy Sonic is another option – if you don’t mind a larger, no quicker – and even less fuel-efficient car.
Equipped with its standard 1.8 liter engine, the Chevy maxxes out at 26 city, 35 highway (about the same as the old Fit) and needs about 9.1 seconds to get to 60 (slower than the new Fit). A more fuel-efficient (and turbocharged) 1.4 liter engine is available in the Sonic, but (as with the Fiesta) it costs extra – and as in the case of the Fiesta, it’s only available in the higher trims. For the extra money you’re asked to spend, the Chevy ony returns 29 city, 40 highway – still not quite as good as what Honda gives you at no extra charge in the base trim Fit.
How ’bout them apples?
If you drive the Fit and Fiesta back to back as I did, you will immediately notice the more relaxed demeanor of the Ford. Despite its much smaller 1 liter engine – and its five-speed manual transmission – the Fiesta’s RPMs are generally lower at any given road speed, in any given gear.
As an example, the Ford can reach 100 MPH in third gear before you buzz the rev limiter at just over redline. In the Fit – with a four cylinder and a six-speed manual – you’ll hit the rev limiter at 80 MPH in third; it takes fourth to reach 100 – and even just cruising along in sixth at about 70 MPH, the engine is buzzing at about 3,200 RPM.
This will appeal to people (like me) who enjoy a peppy engine that likes to be worked – and which comes with a transmission ideally suited to the task. The i-VTEC (variable valve timing) Honda has an Acura-esque pitch to it at full scream and the short-throw, precise-feeling action of the Fit’s six-speed’s shifter is a pleasure to play with, even in heavy traffic.
On the other hand, you do have to work it.
The 1.5 liter engine’s hp peak happens way up there, at 6,600 RPM; max torque is developed at 4,600 RPM. In contrast, the turbo Ford’s torque peak happens at just 1,400 RPM (the hp peaks at 6,350 RPM). Translated into everyday-driving-speak, it mean (cue Borat) the Ford’s engine behaves like a much larger – and much lazier – engine. Pick almost any gear – at any road speed – and you’re usually good to go. It’ll not bog in fifth at 35 MPH, which is remarkably for an engine that’s literally so small a fairly strong man could pick it out of the engine bay by hand and carry it home in his pocket. (Ok, that’s an exaggeration – but only slightly. Really. Go see under the hood for yourself.)
In the Fit, it’s all about keeping the revs up, keeping the gnarly little i-VTEC four “on the cams.” Fifth and sixth gear are flaccid below 70 – and passing road Clovers sometimes requires downshifting from sixth to fourth (and fifth to third) and so on.
This is fun – but it does require a more active driving style.
There is also more noise. It’s good noise (Honda VTEC engines are symphonic at speed) but noise nonetheless. The Ford is much quieter – in part because it’s not as rev happy, but also because it’s just a quieter engine.
But – again – there’s no other car in this class that can match the Fit’s gumption – and its economy – for the same money.
The car’s handling is also top-drawer. Even on the 15-inch steelies that come standard (16s on the higher trims) the grip threshold is remarkably high – and body roll’s low. Weighing in at just over 2,500 lbs., the Fit feels – is – light on its feet and will surprise you with what it can do when the proverbial envelope is pushed. It felt to me more agile than the Fiesta – and it’s much more athletic (and more powerful) than the practical and pleasant but slow-pokey Nissan Versa Note.
I drove it like I stole it – and never averaged less than 34.1 MPG during my weeklong test drive.
The aptly named Fit does just that. It fits almost anywhere – and almost anything.
It also fits more than last year’s Fit.
The new one is 1.6 inches shorter overall (160 inches vs. 161.6 for the previous generation) yet it has epic legroom – in both rows: 41.4 inches up front and 39.3 inches in back.
The previous Fit had 41.3 inches of legroom up front – and 34.5 inches in back.
To give you some perspective on the spaciousness of the Fit, let’s look at the specs of a much larger (on the outside) Honda – the current Accord sedan. It is about two-and-half feet longer overall (191.4 inches; or 15 feet, 11.4 inches vs. the Fit’s 13 feet, 4 inches) yet only has 38.5 inches of legroom in the backseat (and only slightly more legroom up front, 42.5 inches).
Especially relative to the otherwise very appealing Fiesta – which is killed by its killer (on your circulatory system) backseats, where there’s an impossible 31.2 inches of legroom. Do the math. The Fit has eight inches more legroom than the Fiesta in the second row.
Even the Versa – previous champ, space-efficiency-wise – comes up short. Its 38.3 inches of second row legroom is good. Just not quite as good as the Fit’s.
But stats don’t tell the whole story. Because the Fit’s seats are not static. You can fold them up as well as down – and when folded up, the footwell created is deep enough to make it feasible to slide a bicycle or two back there (sideways). Or various other tall – and long – objects.
With the front passenger seat folded – and the second row also folded (down) – the Fit can carry 2x4x8s home from Home Depot… with the rear liftgate closed. The cargo area behind the front seats is 52.7 cubic feet – almost twice the total cargo capacity of the Fiesta (26 cubic feet).
The Fit is the only vehicle in this class that offers this degree of versatility – as well as this much space – in this small a package.
PS: An interesting cross-shop aside: The Chevy Spark, though smaller than the Chevy Sonic, has a more accommodating back seat than its bigger brother: 34.6 inches (for the Sonic) vs. 35.2 for the Spark.
Either way, neither can match the Fit’s accommodations.
In fact, nothing else in this class can.
EX trims come with a LaneWatch blind spot system that pipes a closed-circuit camera view of the area around the passenger side of the car onto the LCD display monitor in the center stack. The system activates whenever the right turn signal is operated – or whenever the driver pushes the button on the end of the turn signal stalk.
Unlike other systems on the market, the Honda system is not a low-speed-only system that automatically turns off once the vehicle is moving faster than about 15 MPH. It operates at any speed – and can be set to stay on for as long as you like (just push the aforesaid button).
However – and oddly – the system does not come on when you signal to turn left. It only shows the passenger side view. I suppose the theory is that visibility is a non-issue on the driver’s side – especially curbside parking wise (though one wonders whether the system is reversed for countries like Britain, where you drive on the “wrong” side of the road).
In truth, visibility is a non-issue with this car – because of the sheets of tall glass all around – making the Lane Watch system entertaining but not necessary.
I’m not a fan of the touchscreen LCD display because it’s awkward to use while the car’s moving. Everything’s flat – so there’s no going by feel. This forces you to look at the screen – which means taking your eyes off the road, however briefly. I found I often missed my mark, too – because my finger moved with the motion of the car. An iPad-style interface is great when you’re sitting at Starbucks. Not so much when you’re moving along at 65 MPH. The rotary control knobs for the AC and fan, on the other hand, are pleasingly tactile and easily operated by feel.
Loved the extra cupholder for the driver – mounted up high, on the dash, to the left of the steering wheel. There are two more in the center console, as well as molded water bottle holders in each door panel.
The center storage console is, however, tiny. It’s the one area where the Fit comes up short – and it’s easily made up for by the abundance of space everywhere else.
To maximize fuel economy, the Fit comes standard with 15 inch steel wheels, which reduces rolling resistance and also lowers your tire replacement costs. Higher trims get 16s – but Honda ought to offer the 15s as a credit option given this car’s mission – and given how excellently the car drives (and handles) on those fifteens. Adding 16s only roughens up the ride, increases rolling resistance – and your tire replacement costs.
EX and EX-L trims also come with an HDMI port, which works with apps such as streaming navigation. All trims get iPod/USB hook-ups as well as cruise control, power windows and locks, AC and a back-up camera.
Honda took a lot of flack – rightly so – for the merely-mediocre redesign of the Civic last year.
This ought to right the books.
Throw it in the Woods?
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Good review. I have seen on various car sites complaints about the seats on the Fit. Some owners complain of lower back pain after a long drive. Is it easy to replace the seats on a car? Do airbags make this difficult or impossible?
Seat comfort can be highly subjective; what feels good to me might feel too firm (or too soft) to you. Part of this is because our bodies vary and we each fit into a seat differently.
This is why I advise people considering a car to drive it for at least an hour before committing to buy.
eric, I’d guess you’d have fairly large feet to fit the rest of you. Do you ever find yourself wishing there was simply more room in the footwell? The wife’s Cutlass has nice six way leather power seats with backrest adjustment. They’re comfortable unlike their Monte’s cousin seats that are flat and hard. But just an hour long trip driving it has me in misery with my left foot hurting all the way to my hip….or above. There’s just no place for those big dogs to sit comfortably. When I get out I limp away. Even big road tractors are often limited in leg and foot room and that sucks more than I can say. Even Step Child has me wishing for more left foot room at times.
The more I look at the old Elco the more I envision it on the road again. That was a comfy ride with lots of room all the way around.
I’ve found a few new cars to feel kind of awkward (for me)… the Jeep Renegade was one that stand out. It had plenty of room – but the way the chair was positioned/mounted in relation to the rest of the cabin… I never felt quite right in it.
On Honda seats: two points
One, I agree that seat comfort is largely subjective, but there does seem to be a problem with Honda seats. From one website: (http://www.hondaproblems.com/trends/uncomfortable-seats/)
“How bad are these seats? Some owners have refused to take long trips because they know it would take “days to recover from the back pain.” In some extreme examples, we’ve even heard stories of people trading in their brand new cars, willing to take thousands of dollars in depreciation loss, just to avoid another commute in their Honda. Now that’s bad.”
The Fitfreak website has a forum where people have complained about the car’s uncomfortable seats.
Two, it seems like once you buy the car, you can’t modify it to your liking. While poking around on the Internet, I found some seats for a Honda Fit for about $250. And just for the heck of it, I asked a local auto body repair guy if he could install them. He said if the new seats don’t include air bags or sensors in them (they don’t), he wouldn’t install them because he was afraid of being held criminally liable if I were hurt in an accident.
Good review. I see on various car sites that the seats on the Fit are uncomfortable and some commenters have complained about lower pain after a long drive. Is it easy to replace seats on a car? Do the airbags make this a problem?
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Very nice review–the video was really nice too, though I would have loved to see you driving it, since there aren’t many videos out there of the MT in action. Almost all the auto journalists test the EX-L, which (as noted) only comes with the CVT.
Just wanted to correct your fuel economy info: the CVT actually has higher EPA ratings than the manual. The MT is 29/37/32 in both the LX and EX. The CVT is 33/41/36 in the LX and 32/38/35 in the EX and EX-L (the LX gets more body cladding and less sound deadening to save weight). I suspect, however, that the MT will do better in the real world than the EPA ratings suggest. The early feedback on fitfreak.com seems to bear that out.
Great review! I’ve been a fan of the FIT for some time.
Everything in your review was right on. Also there is this:
The Fit tied with the Mazda 2, the other subcompact I like most, for first place!
If smaller tires are more fuel efficient (in addition to cheaper to replace) then why would people choose larger tires for a daily ride?
I doubt that the larger tires (with smaller ratio sidewalls) are any significant improvement in driving handling at sub-PSL speeds.
Good review. The fit looks like a good small car that is versatile as well.
3200rpm @ 70mph is not too bad. (A slight plus is the extra noise would discourage me from drive much faster than 75-80 mph.)
2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S — ~74mph @ 3000rpm.
2001 VW Golf TDI — 2800rpm @ 80mph.
2001 VW Golf TDI — 2800rpm @ 80mph
That is a sad number. Doesn’t that unit redline around 3k?
Actually the redline was about 4500 IIRC.
That diesel was great on the open highway.
It could travel to 100mph without fuss.
4000rpm would be about 112mph although I would not say that I actually saw that happen. Life moves fast at 165ft/sec.
Wow, that an excellent redline for diesel. I didn’t realize they would rev that high.
Keep in mind that the VW TDI is a (relatively) small diesel engine. It is not a peterbilt diesel. 😉
dom, diesels can cover quite a range of rpm, even if they’re not specifically designed for it. Back in the day(I find myself saying this all the time but it’s germane to the story….and I admit to being full of them but I could never dream some of the things i’ve witnessed so I just tell them straight up), my BIL worked for a big nitrogen pumping service(oilfield). They had these pumper trucks that were tandem axle, twin screw jobs made to actually carry more weight than what the law allowed. They carried a tank of liquid nitrogen and were set up to pump that and hook to big transports also and what they called a “tubing unit” that sent a special tubing down as far as six miles to deliver nitrogen, not for their normal fracking but to break hydraulic stick on a drilling rig, the death of a great deal of money in pipe, tubing, casing etc. if you have to walk away from it.
There were a couple guys who ran a truck almost always together and they noticed these guys were getting much better speed, ruining lots more tires and generally hauling ass. My BIL was a higher up who started at the bottom so he knew it all. One day when they serviced the truck the guys started it and were warming it up so they could shut if off, check the lubricants and other things before returning to the yard.
These engines were Detroit Diesel 8V-71’s, a blown 2 cycle that literally screamed. They were factory limited to 2150 rpm just like nearly all truck diesels but were revving beasts. I had one myself and it was turned up to 2600 rpm. So BIL gets in the truck with it warmed up and running and opens it up since it will only go against the governor. The thing was though, this engine turned 3600 rpm. Yep, they’d turned it up, waaay up and it smoked everything out there. The engine was turned back down(probably only to be turned back up again)and kept running for years. Very few engines would take this but old 2 cycle Detroits would take just about anything. You never had to guess if you heard one running what it was. The 12V-71 was a monster and it would respond to lots more rpm just like the rest. I wouldn’t mind having one right now. I’ve run plenty 6-71’s, half the 12V, that would pull like crazy. They didn’t do well in high altitudes since they had no turbo but Detroit’s next generation engine were blown and turbo’d both and they’d suck you off the road. Detroit then went to 4 cycle engines and i’ve seen some of those friends had that were triple digit trucks….and that’s hauling ass.
Several of the diesel-powered cars I’ve driven recently had comparatively high redlines – around 5,000 RPM, or close to what the redline of the typical gas V-8 of the ’70s/’80s had.
But the thing to keep in mind is that the diesels make so much torque (relative to a gas engine) that they typically don’t need to be revved much above 3,500 or so to deliver very strong acceleration – and because of the gearing in modern cars, cruise RPM is typically a fast idle – in some cases, less than 2,000 RPM at 60-70 MPH.
The 2001 VW Golf 2.0 Gas engine was 4000rpm @ 80 mph although it had a higher redline than the diesel.
I’m moving past my years where a small car is sufficient—I notice ride quality now more than ever—but this little ride is pretty tempting. I’ve always been especially impressed with the cleverness of the seat configurations. You could nearly fit a little calf in there crossways! (Just be sure to put his rubber underwear on though).
Thanks for the review, Eric.
The highest and best expression of an economy car…to date.
Peppy but economical. Compact outside, but cavernous inside. Fun to drive. Good looking to my eye. Will probably continue that Honda quality, reliability, and high resale vale.
And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s basically a baby station wagon. That rocks!
This is one instance where like you, I too would prefer the manual transmission. I still think a good modern auto transmission is generally superior. But CVTs…..don’t like them.
I don’t like CVTs, either.
Beyond their thrashiness, I have concerns about long-term durability (and repair costs).
In a small (and small-engined) car, a manual is the only way to go….
Boo! You can’t get the manual transmission in either the EX-L or the EX-L + Nav trim levels. They’re CVT-only. And I hate CVTs.
Agree, Chip – but, who needs factory navigation? Garmins do the job just as well.
I’d buy the base LX with the six-speed an call it a day.
The integration is nice, but the car makers generally do a poor job of keeping the maps up to date. I’m going to update my maps later this year when the 2014 edition comes out — at a cost of $170 (I’m still running on the disc from 2004 and it’s way out of date). The exception is Ford, who will update your maps for free when you make a service visit (not sure if they just swap the SD card, or do it via the ODB-II connector).
The 2 main reasons for going to the EX-L trim level is to get the leather seats. If you have a pet or small children, they’re much easier to keep clean – just wipe them down. And to get the better radio with Pandora integration.