2015 Honda Fit: First Drive Page 2

April 9, 2014
If the Honda Fit had one other edge over the competition before, we would have pointed to its sporty driving characteristics. In a class of cheap entries that are often anything but cheerful—feeling often like buzzy, boomy penalty boxes, the Fit always managed to pack a level of verve and responsiveness that elevated it above the rest. And even after the introduction of the Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2 to the U.S. market, it kept its status as one of the best.

Now for what we see as an inconvenient truth about the 2015 Fit: Honda has made all kinds of significant and major change underneath—new structure, new front suspension geometry, new front subframe, new rear damping setup, smaller rear trailing arms—and while it might technically add up to greater stability, as the company claims, it's just not as much fun from the driver's seat as the previous, outgoing model.

Greater refinement, yes; but some sporty edge lost in translation

On some narrow, somewhat pitchy backroads near San Diego, we found the Fit to be less 'battened down' that we might have expected—as if we were more often in a middle state of suspension loading or unloading—and that might be that the somewhat softer tune and greater suspension travel in front. Honda said that it targeted a more 'linear' feel, and we see that being true; it's not as willing to whip back and forth, or bite hard into a tight corner with the front end barely flinching, as the current model, and ultimately that might make it more stable and predictable...on charts and graphs.

What's missing in turn is the seat-of-the-pants directness that was so ever-present in the previous Fit. In full admission, what we describe here as charming was probably also why the previous Fit made some enemies, with more road noise in the cabin than some other models in its class, and why the ride quality was by no means at the top. The 2015 Fit improves by leaps and bounds in that—with input-separation damper mounts, for example, helping to isolate major road shocks without any loss in control.

There are still plenty of signs, too, that Honda's applying a higher level of detail to the driving experience, yet working with what the masses want. The electric power steering system in the Fit is column-mounted, but it feels more responsive, precise, and reasonably well-weighted than you'll find in just about any other small car. It's also just not up to the high bar of the outgoing model's steering. The brake pedal is also precise and easy to mete out, stopping within an inch or two of where you intend. And the instrument cluster is simple and sophisticated, with round gauges that stand in stark contrast to the gimmicky setup of some other models in this class.

Stronger, more efficient

The new Fit weighs slightly more than the outgoing car, but it gets a power boost that more than makes up for it—along with two transmissions that help make even more of it. The 1.5-liter in-line four that powers all versions of the Fit in the U.S. now has direct injection plus other improvements and makes 130 horsepower 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque—both significant gains over last year's engine. This new engine has direct injection, improved block cooling, piston oil jets, and a reduced-weight crankshaft, along with an all-composite intake manifold.

Last year's five-speed automatic transmission is gone from the lineup, replaced by a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that actually does a really good job in avoiding the rubber-band responsiveness and engine drone that can drive commuters crazy. Honda's so-called 'G-design Shift' programming, as is used in the Accord, works as it should here, raising revs naturally with speed then ramping down to low rpm at cruise. The only exception comes when you push the accelerator most of the way to the floor and discover that speed isn't gathering all that much quicker but you're generating a lot more noise (peak torque arrives at 4,600 rpm, and the engine becomes much noisier around there (by the way, the engine isn't tuned to sound 'good' in any way, so it's not a pleasant noise).

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