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Test Drive Impressions

Test Drives with Colin Hefferon

Reviewed by Colin Hefferon

The Honda Fit
The Honda Fit.  Bigger than you imagine.

Small is bigger than you imagined. In the last 10 years, the Civic has grown up and moved out. Oh, it still comes by to visit, but I hardly recognize it anymore. No longer a subcompact, the new Civic is bigger than ever, as is its price.

Enter Fit, Honda's new entry-level small car. The Honda Fit is all about being what the Civic once was. The Fit not only offers tremendous gas mileage and value, it's also huge fun to drive. Price range: $14,445 to $16,565. EPA MPG estimates: 33 city/38 highway (manual), 31/38 (automatic).

First Glance: New to us, known to Europe and Japan

If you are a world traveller and a car enthusiast, you'll probably recognize the Fit. It's very close to the Honda Jazz which has been for sale in Europe and Asia for some time. In fact, it was also Japanese Car of the Year in 2002. This car has not only been around a while, it's well-received, too. Welcome, Fit; sorry it took us so long to invite you.

While Honda's European and Japanese design teams collaborated on the Fit, the exterior proportions show a strong European influence. The wheels are set out at the extreme four corners, which lends the Fit the balanced, athletic look associated with European styling studios. The steeply raked windshield also contributes to the mildly aggressive look.

Only from the rear does the 2,500 lb Fit's tall body fail to delight. Unlike with the Toyota Yaris, Fit's archrival in the sub-compact segment, the design team's emphasis on functionality seems to have been at the expense of originality. The best that can be said about the rear fascia is that it's practical, but derivative and dull. Derivative? It could have been lifted from the Korean-made Chevrolet Aveo.

In the Driver's Seat: Lots of room for people, stuff and bad puns

Lovely dash shows that inexpensive does not mean cheap There are so many (bad) puns one could make about this new Honda: "Everything fits in a Fit "or "All your stuff will fit in your Fit." (Now you know why I write reviews and not ads.) All that aside, the Fit just excels in space and functionality. The source of the enormous interior volume: Instead of placing the gas tank ahead of the rear axle, as in most cars, Honda put the Fit's gas tank under the front seats. This allowed all kinds of wonderful things to be done with the rear seats, like the ability to fold them flat to the floor. Where the Fit differs from many other vehicles (including some vans and SUVs) is that "flat to the floor" means just that. Except for one or two minivans whose second and third row seats actually fold into hollowed out compartments in the floor, in most others only the seatbacks fold forward, only sometimes forming a flat platform.

Honda calls the two rows of seating "magic seats." The rear and the front seats each can be configured in four possible ways either to maximize cargo carrying capacity or to maximize driver and/or passenger comfort. And the one-handed operation is completely painless.

I wish I had more room for puns: "You'll never have a fit over your Fit." OK, I'll stop now.

On the Road: Engine isn't latest and greatest, but it's still very good

Changes were made to the European Jazz to fine-tune the Honda Fit for the North American market. The independent front suspension (with stabilizer bar) and torsion beam rear suspension have been softened somewhat to fit American and Canadian driving patterns and roads better. And rather than the CVT offered in Japan and Europe here the only automatic transmission offered is a 5-speed.

And while we get an aluminum alloy 1.5L inline-4, with VTEC technology and drive-by-wire throttle, Europe, Japan and other markets (including South Africa, for heaven's sake) get Honda's brilliant new hi-tech 1.3L I-DSI engine. Even though the 1.5L is not the latest to come out of Honda's miracle engine shop, it's still pretty darn good, especially the 38 MPG EPA highway figure for both manual and automatic Fits.

The Fit is a blast to drive. At the media introduction, we journalists were taken on a high speed run along the deserted roads of the Coast Mountain foothills east of Vancouver, Canada. Even though it was pouring rain and I was unfamiliar with the Fit, I felt completely secure behind the wheel. Later, we were allowed to drive as fast and as hard as we dared on the closed-off runways of a local airstrip. I'm still here, so all went well.

Journey's End: One more bad pun

Hatchback = Happiness The Fit fits in under the Civic in Honda's North American line-up. The Civic has been constantly moving up in both size and price since it was introduced here in 1973 and consequently opened up a place in Honda's line-up for an entry-level sub-compact. The Fit will be put up against the Toyota Yaris, which it closely resembles in refinement, driving characteristics and price. The Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio offer a similar usable space to size ratio but their handling and general level of refinement are not quite up to the Fit's standard. In defense of these two excellent sub-compacts, however, they are a bit less expensive than the Fit.

Drivers whose idea of a great time is a four or five hundred mile weekend run down the thruway with the family will probably think the Fit is too small for their needs. They'd be mistaken. The Fit will carry as many people and bags as almost any so-called full size car and it will do it in similar comfort and at similar speeds.

I can't praise the Fit enough. The Fit will do everything most full-size sedans will do except tow a trailer and guzzle gas at the rate of 15 to 20 MPG. In fact, if you don't get 35 - 40 MPG from your Fit, well... that's something worth throwing a Fit over.

Top photo © Honda.  Additional photos © Colin Hefferon

Vancouver-based Colin Hefferon regularly tests and reviews new vehicles. Though an automotive enthusiast by nature, Colin takes the perspective of the average car owner. Which, after all, is most of us! Colin Hefferon is the road test editor for About Cars where more of his car reviews may be found.

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