SAs we told you yesterday, we asked our many-layered friend John Krewson to take a spin in the new 2009 Honda Fit. After yesterday's taste of the new-and-now-priced-to-move-starting-at-$14,550 Honda Fit, he's brought us the whole red pepper of a review today. — Ed.
It's always been hard for me to find someone who doesn't like the Honda Fit. And what's not to like? It's earned a reputation for being nimble, thrifty, capable, and perhaps most importantly, charismatic. It might not be all that muscular, and it might be just the slightest bit IKEAesque inside, but for about fifteen grand it's hard to think of another subcompact that's quite as, well, friendly to live with. If the Fit were a transformer, it would fold out into a cheerful, helpful little brother with freckles and a turned-up nose.
Sadly, we're entering a time when tighter budgets and higher fuel costs are going to make people start hating their cars again. And they've gone and redesigned the Fit for 2009, making it a bit larger (4.2 inches longer), a tad heavier (2489 lb. with a manual vs. 2432 lb. for the old one), a dash more powerful (117 HP and 106 ft-lb of torque vs. 109 HP and 105 ft-lb) and a dollop less chunky in the midsection (less than an inch wider). So is the Fit still worthy of affection? Or is it starting to outgrow us as it grows up?
Because this car is certainly growing up. Inside, it's roomier, with head and legroom for robust full-sized people. The 60/40 split rear "Magic Seat" fits actual humans too, plus it now folds down flat to the floor with a single little lever and will let you carry, for example, a bicycle with the front wheel removed. Fold them up and you can carry houseplants or monster stereo speakers or any other lifestyle accessory. The nook-and-cranny factor has been expanded, with lots of little compartmentlets and even a small top-secret hidden stashbox under the rear seats where no one will ever find it. And it will hold the hell out of your cups, with ten receptacles provided for that purpose alone.
Outside, it looks much bigger as well, and not in a positive way. Those four inches don't sound like much, but this car looks like it could be the box the old Fit was shipped in. It's more bulbous, less of a bullpup and more of a breadvan. The front end starts out all right, with a decent grille and a large, aggressive headlight treatment, but then it just sort of, well, continues. Eventually, a rear end is achieved, apparently by default. Viewed from the front, its best angle, the effect is roughly comparable to looking at a box turtle that's been given an expensive pair of Oakley sunglasses and then polished to a high sheen. That's bad enough, but there's worse: From every other angle, it looks less like the hunkered-down old Fit and more like the box a Prius was shipped in.
Now, I'd rather drive the box a Prius was shipped in than a Prius itself, and luckily, when you're driving this car you're not looking at it. And it's really very good to drive indeed. There's just the one engine, the adequetastic 1.5 liter with kick-innable VTEC, but it's sufficient for its class. You'll want the Fit Sport with either the fun and obedient paddle-shifters or the five-speed manual, as the five-speed automatic is noteworthy for its extra gear but is, inevitably, merely decent. Its strut front/torsion-bar rear suspension may be nothing special, and the chassis may be designed more with crumpling than handling in mind, but it still goes down the road and through the turns very well, almost eagerly. On the fun roads you and your game little buddy can whip around with a abandon and build up quite a bit of speed before it starts to push, although by that time, you'll probably have noticed your bicycle and monster stereo speakers and houseplants flying about in the rear and calmed down anyway to just enjoy the view.
View enjoyment is very much a possibility, because the Fit's outward visibility is amazing, obstructed laterally by only the narrowest of pillars and interrupted overall only by the lack of an available sunroof and the continued spineless refusal of Honda, and all other cowardly automakers, to offer a glass-bottom option. The view in front is a bit spoiled by the business of the instruments, which feature abundant blue LEDs at important marks on the dials such as every ten MPH or every thousand RPM and so on. Further along the dash, there's also a USB-capable 160-watt stereo, which is nice, and an optional navigation system in the Fit Sport's Navi package, which is rather poorly integrated but functional and, sadly, also the only way to get stability control. But everyone gets an odometer that now doubles as a fuel economy meter which, happily, is almost always full of good news.
That good news is 28/35 miles per gallon for the automatic version and 27/33 for the manual and the Fit Sport. That's for all real-world purposes the same as the last model, even with a few more horsepower-Your pal doesn't want you spending lots of money. And the trusty Fit is now a ULEV-II vehicle, which means it's better at cleaning up after itself; in fact, Honda says they now use less nastiness such as PVCs and hexavalent chromium and demon bile and chloride and so on to build the Fit, so that when it finally stops running after about 300 years, the parts that aren't recycled can evidently, if I'm interpreting Honda's press kit correctly, be made into a delicious and healthy blueberry-wheatgrass smoothie.
So it's more capacious, just as economical, greenier, and still pretty fun to drive. No, it's certainly not pretty, and right now shopping for one can be downright ugly, with demand forcing poor unfortunate dealers to ask for large premiums above the MSRP, no doubt against their will. But since Honda aims to give people 85,000 Fits over the next year, pricing could very well fall back into line. That would pit it against the Yaris, a slightly more powerful but softer and more wallowy car; the Versa, a car for people for whom driving is something to get over with as soon as possible, unless that means driving quickly; and the Scion xD, a kit car built by Toyota marketers in their spare time as a clumsy way of bonding with their tweenaged children.
The Fit, though, is an actual automobile, aimed not just at people who want a first car, but people who want a good car that just happens to start at $14,550. If it turns out to be the kind of car you can be friends with, so much the better. These days, cars need all the friends they can get.