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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Honda Fit

2013 Honda Fit EV drive event, Pasadena, CA, June 2012

The subcompact Honda Fit, nearing the end of its second generation in the U.S. market, is now the oldest car in its sector. It competes with the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa Note, and Toyota Yaris--all offered as hatchbacks, like the Fit, and redesigned in 2011 or even more recently. There's also the low-volume and plain but sporty Mazda2.

But the Honda Fit remains the subcompact with the most flexible and reconfigurable interior, and offers space efficiency that simply can't be matched by any other entrant. Launched as a 2009 model in fall 2008, the Fit will likely be redesigned and updated for the 2015 model year.

The Fit has had only minor upgrades to equipment and features since its launch. There were no significant changes for the 2013 model year; changes for 2012 included expanded steering-wheel controls and upgraded fabrics.

There's only  a single engine offered in the Fit: a 117-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder, which can be ordered with a five-speed automatic transmission, but comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. The automatic models come with paddle shifters for a sportier feeling, along with an optional touch-screen navigation system and better audio connectivity. One place where the Fit shows its age, however, is the lack of Bluetooth--increasingly a sore point among  young buyers.

It's the so-called Magic Seat that gives the Fit its astonishing and generous cargo space. The design allows the back seat to fold into several different positions, including both forward and backward. Owners can create a low, flat cargo floor or provide space for exceptionally tall cargo, like a potted plant or a mountain bike. The clever seat arrangement premiered on the original 2007-2008 Fit, and was carried over to the redesigned 2009 Fit.

The first-generation Fit had been sold overseas as early as 2001, gaining awards and praise for its excellent reliability, low running costs, and good resale value, before it landed on our shores for 2007. It also won hearts because both the first and second generations of Honda Fits were just more fun to drive than their competitors--though the Ford Fiesta and Chevy Sonic in particular have substantially closed that gap.

The first Fit's 109-horsepower, 1.5-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine, paired with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive, gave the Fit good performance, along with steering and suspension that felt slightly more on the sporty side than its rivals at the time.

The model lineup for each model year includes Fit and Fit Sport models, with the Sport in recent years adding alloy wheels, fog lamps, and a rear stabilizer bar, plus cruise control, keyless entry, and steering-wheel controls.

Safety has been a strong point for the Fit all along, but 2009 and 2010 models have available stability control, while standard safety features include side and side-curtain bags and active head restraints. The Fit was one of the few small cars to get top scores from the IIHS for frontal and side impacts.

The 2013 Honda Fit EV all-electric model will be offered in very small numbers only to customers in California and Oregon. Honda will lease only 1,100 of them for a three-year term, in order to comply with California zero-emission vehicle requirements for the carmakers with the highest in-state sales. While its light, eager driving feel, powerful electric motor, and EPA-rated range of 82 miles might make it a bigger success, Honda is strictly limiting Fit EV volume to what's needed to meet the law.

The current generation Fit's last year is most likely 2014, with a new Honda Fit to be rolled out--and built in Mexico--for the 2015 model year. The next generation Honda Fit will become a range of models, including not only the five-door hatchback but also a four-door sedan and a small crossover to compete with vehicles like the Nissan Juke and Mini Cooper Countryman. That latter model was previewed by a concept shown at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show in January 2013.

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