2009 Honda Fit: First Drive

August 19, 2008
2009 Honda Fit Sport

2009 Honda Fit Sport

Just a few days ago, after we’d already spent several hours driving and scrutinizing the 2009 Honda Fit, I felt the need to go back and spend some extra time with our test car just looking for flaws, for something worth criticizing, to counter the collection of beaming positives that I’d scribbled so far in my reporter’s notebook.

But I was hard-pressed to come up with anything, even after Honda had confidently assembled some well-equipped competing models nearby. And actually, the new Fit does it all so well that after a test drive you might be left wondering why your much larger, less fuel-efficient car feels cramped inside and less perky on the road. That’s quite a compliment for a car that, from its specs, would have been categorized as a dull econobox in the recent past.

The completely redesigned Fit gets a little more power—up to 117 hp from its 1.5-liter engine—but also gains close to 100 pounds of extra heft. Five-speed automatic and manual transmissions are still offered, with new ratios for the manual.

Is there enough pep? With the stick, definitely; the automatic is a little less responsive, but Fit Sport models with the auto come with paddle shifters alongside the steering wheel. With the shift selector in S, you can command shifts with the + and - paddles, while in D, the transmission returns to automatic mode some seconds later.

The outgoing Fit could ride quite harshly on some surfaces, with quite a bit of road noise entering the cabin. Even though the new Fit’s suspension feels softer and more compliant—and the ride is more hushed over rough patchwork—handling response in the Fit Sport feels even sharper. Body rigidity has greatly improved, and braking is top notch.

If our short drive is at all representative of real-world patterns, the EPA cycle doesn’t do it justice. At 28 mpg city, 35 highway for the automatic and just 27 mpg city, 33 highway for the manual, the Fit’s highway numbers are slightly lower than those of the heavier, larger (and larger-engined) Civic. We saw a much, much better 40.5 mpg on the trip computer on a Fit Sport with automatic in a 100-mile mix of leisurely country roads, suburban stoplights, and higher-speed cruising. However, on a short cruise at 80 mph followed by some stop-and-go in a manual car, our consumption increased to about 34 mpg.

Before I point out some interior details, in a post to follow, and really gush, let me just say that the Fit still isn’t quite pretty to all eyes, at all angles. The Fit’s proportions have been greatly improved, thanks to a more rakish windshield that’s been pushed forward nearly five inches and more than four inches of extra length and some nice details such as creases that run through the grille and hood. There’s less of a slab-sided look, and in a refreshing change of pace, the Fit’s beltline doesn’t rise defensively. The wheelbase has been increased by about two inches, allowing a bit more front legroom and rear knee space, and the roofline has been recontoured to bring a smidge more headroom in back. There’s just a little awkwardness from angles in back—perhaps the result of the so-called “Machine Minimum, Man Maximum,” form-follows-function concept behind the Fit’s design.

Beginning at $14,550 for the base Fit and ranging up to $18,760 for the Fit Sport with Navigation, not including destination, it’s not a screaming bargain. The difference between the sub-$11,000 Chevrolet Aveo and the over-$15,000 base Fit is noteworthy. But note its phenomenal resale value so far. Due to the rapidly rising demand for fuel-efficient small cars, new Fits have been scarce, and late-model used cars have in some cases—especially here on the West Coast—been selling at new MSRP or higher.

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