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2015 Honda Fit: First Drive Page 3

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As with most CVTs in cars that have any kind of sporty touch, there's a Sport mode, and here it allows seven ratios through the steering-wheel paddle-shifters (included in all but base LX models). Use those when you're on a challenging road and you'll feel better about it. There's an ECON button, too, as in other Honda products; but don't use it here unless the roads are straight and you're in absolutely no hurry.

If you appreciate a good manual gearbox, you should go for it here. Honda has added a gear this year, and made the linkage both smoother and shorter. But we're torn on how we feel about it because Honda has assumed that everyone who chooses the manual will want a sportier driving feel; so instead of adding a deeper overdrive they've made most of the gears lower than before, kicking the ratio formerly used for fifth up to sixth. That means you still spin nearly 4,000 rpm at 80 mph—and definitely sacrifice some mileage for it (Honda told us otherwise, yet the CVT keeps much lower revs on the highway).

Magic Seat arrangement remains the best, by far

What the new Fit hasn't sacrificed one bit of is its Magic Seat convenience; you can still fold the seats flat with no need to worry about headrests, and even go to the vertical mode with one arm, while using the other to hold onto a bag or child's arm. With everything folded, the space feels more vanlike than ever (aided by shorter tailing arms and a lower-profile fuel tank).

What could use some more attention is in front. Taller drivers almost universally (we're talking any of those over six feet tall) wished for more rearward seat travel, while the cushions felt short and on the passenger side the lack of height adjustment and an odd angled floor led to splayed-out knees and discomfort. Ironically, at 6'-6”, I found myself more comfortable in the back seat than in the front passenger one—and getting in and out of the back seat was easy thanks to the high ceiling and large door cutlines.

You can get leather seats for the first time in the Fit (yes, of course with contrast stitching). They're quite nice; but there are some other less convincing things about the interior—like the molded-in faux stitching on the dash, and the various materials and trims that don't always match. And some other design attributes that we really liked—the double glove box, for instance, have been quietly removed (reach up from the current lower glovebox and theres a mostly empty space with ducting).

Prices still miserly, but features more generous

The first-generation Honda Fit felt a little bit like it was only here for a visit, with its not-completely changed JDM interior outclassing every other American-market econobox in sight. It wasn't so well configured for U.S. safety or American-size drivers, either, but the second-generation Fit, like a star student, seemingly solved all of those issues, one-upping the Civic in many minds but still coming up a bit short on features. Now the 2015 Fit kicks off an all-new generation of this now-global model (sold in 160 countries around the world, with global sales totaling 76 million units so far, and annual sales last at nearly 5.2 million)).

And our Mexico-built version allows more features and value—where new shoppers hopefully will notice. The 2015 Honda Fit starts at just $16,315 for the base manual-transmission LX. For the EX, it's $18,225; and in either case the CVT costs $800 more. A top-of-the-line EX-L with Navi will total $21,590. Those prices aren't up much versus comparable versions of the outgoing version.

Keyless entry, cruise control, a rearview camera, and air conditioning are among many items now included even on the base LX, while mid-level EX models get push-button start, upgraded infotainment, and Honda's impressive LaneWatch wide-angle lane-change aid from the Accord. EX-L models heap on leather and more luxury, while a Navi model at the top finally gets a navigation system worth the premium, with a high-contrast display and live traffic.

We'd argue that the 2014 Ford Fiesta—which we'd had an extensive drive in just a week before driving the Fit—offers a lot more driving enjoyment now that the Fit has been softened somewhat. Prices are comparable; but the Fiesta has nothing like the Fit's versatile cargo layout, and the infotainment interface on the Ford remains a confusing mess while the new Fit gets some clear, straightforward touch-screen systems that from first blush, do everything they should.

Overall, the 2015 Honda Fit is responsive, safe, and still sporty to most expectations. It's just not quite as much fun to drive as before. And while the formula has changed more than we'd hoped, one thing hasn't: It's still just as much of a cheerleader for why a hatchback could be a great fit for your household.

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