Road Test

ROAD TEST: 2015 Honda Fit

The new Honda Fit is effectively a compact car in a sub-compact body

2015 Honda Fit

With gasoline prices dropping like a barrel over Niagara Falls, fuel-efficiency might not be as high on your priority list as it was a few months ago. But the attraction of a fuel-sipper with an SUV-size interior is still pretty attractive.

The new Honda Fit fills that bill and it is a pretty remarkable piece of engineering, effectively a compact car in a sub-compact body.

This little devil can squeeze as much out of every drop of fuel as a hybrid, yet hidden inside that diminutive little box lies almost 1,500 litres of cargo space that can be arranged numerous layouts.

There are few vehicles on the market as versatile as the Honda Fit. It can be configured to carry more cargo than many SUVs and station wagons, especially tall or long items. You can carry a kayak or a mountain bike, AND two people. Yet its diminutive size allows it to squirt into and around crowded space with ease – while carrying four big adults comfortably.

Third generation

The Fit has been available globally since 2001, but did not arrive on our shores until 2006 as a 2007 model. By that time it had already earned a reputation for quality, reliability, fuel efficiency and space utilization. The latter is especially important in most global markets where roads and parking spaces are much smaller.

The second generation appeared in 2009 and for 2015 Honda has given us a third iteration. This is a completely new vehicle with only the overall appearance, engine and innovative seats carried over from the outgoing model .

That said, the new Fit looks much like the outgoing model – just more modern. The exterior has lost the chunky look, replaced by more rounded and contemporary panels. Honda refers to the new look as “Crossfade Monoform,” whatever that means. The front end has wrap-around headlights and there is a prominent character line along the sides.

Upgraded interior

The interior of the new Fit is a considerable improvement over the outgoing model in terms of design and materials used. There is still a fair amount of unfinished plastic on the armrests and the top of the instrument panel, but my tester was the EX model with a smattering of soft-touch material alongside the centre stack and on the cover directly in front of the passenger.

There is some faux aluminum trim for a touch of contrast. The centre console is large enough to accommodate an iPad and in another Apple-friendly touch iPhones can be connected via HondaLink to the seven-inch infotainment screen. This allows drivers to access some apps from their iPhones and even the navigation feature, using their own rate plan. Android and Blackberry users are out of luck, however.

The instrument panel consists of a pair of large and clear analog readouts for road and engine speed flanking a small digital display. EcoAssist lights ring the instruments, glowing green when you drive in an eco-friendly manner and blue when you do not.

The centre stack, slanted toward the driver, is topped by a clear 7-inch touch-screen with HVAC and audio controls beneath, both with large round control knobs. The steering wheel has redundant audio controls as well as those for the cruise control system.

One standard feature worthy of mention is Honda’s LaneWatch system. Activate the right-turn signal whether changing lanes or turning right and a tiny camera located in the right hand mirror displays a crystal clear view of the area in the driver’s blind spot on the big centre screen. You can also activate the feature by pushing a button on the end of the signal stalk. A rear view camera is standard and it's view is displayed on the same screen when reverse is engaged

Packaging magic

The Fit is all about space utilization and on that front, the wheelbase has been lengthened, the fuel tank relocated and rear suspension revised. The result? More headroom in the front seat and more legroom in the already-impressive rear seat.

These changes, and the new lower roofline have come at the cost of a slight decrease in cargo volume, but it remains amazing for something that casts such a small shadow.

Clever packaging abounds, but it is the “Magic Seat” feature that first appeared on the original Fit that has drawn the most attention, and praise. The seat backs can fold both forward and backward. You can establish a low, flat cargo floor or room for exceptionally tall cargo, like a mountain bike or potted plant.

The ability to configure the interior to such a wide array of layouts has always been the strength of this diminutive little wonder and nothing has changed with the new version. Honda has divided the possibilities into four general terms:

1)  Refresh – front passenger seat fully forward and reclined, with the head restraint removed. Sit in the rear seat and you have a chaise-lounge-like position complete with footrest.

2)  Long – same as above but with second row seatback reclined. Now you have the semblance of a bed or the ability to carry something 2.3-metres long, like a kayak or a mountain bike with both wheels intact as well as a second person behind the driver...

3)  Utility – both rear seats folded flat for a 1.7-metre long cargo area.

4)  Tall – the bottoms of the rear seat folded up resulting in a tall, narrow floor-to-ceiling space in front of the rear seats

With all seats in place there is still a respectable amount of cargo space in the rear with four metal tie-downs and a light for night loading and unloading. There is a tray beneath the cargo floor for small items you want to secure from prying eyes.

Because of the height and big doors,  getting into and out of the Fit is a breeze. Doing so in the rear reveals a surprising amount of legroom and enough headroom for an NBA centre. Unlike some configurable rear seats, these ones are comfortable and well-padded

Lower base price

The price of the base DX model in Canada has dropped by $140 to $14,495 while adding EcoAssist, USB/Aux input, keyless entry, a rearview camera, driver-seat height adjustment, five-inch infotainment screen, Hill Start Assist, map lights, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. This rare DX is also comes with heated mirrors and is only available with a manual transmission.

The volume-leader LX can be had with manual or automatic transmission. It also gets a number of upgrades and additional features for 2015. Next up is the EX and Honda has an EX-Navi model atop the ladder, bringing leather to the Fit for the first time

Honda has made safety a key component in all vehicles it produces, including the ability to survive an impact with larger vehicles. It has not found a way around the laws of physics, but rather a means of minimizing the results. The Fit is one of the few small cars to get top scores from the IIHS for frontal and side impact tests.

On the road

All models are powered by the same 1.5-litre engine used previously. But upgrades have resulted in 130 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque, increases of 11% and 7.5% respectively.

Throttle response is excellent, but it is a Honda so you have to get the revs into the upper regions to enjoy maximum poke. A six-speed manual is the standard transmission, and the automatic is of the continuously variable (CVT) variety which means a lot of moaning or motor-boating while getting up to speed.

On the road, the new Fit is quieter than the old with less intrusion from wind and road noise thanks to improved aerodynamics and insulation.

The ride is remarkably composed and comfortable for such a small and light vehicle on a short wheelbase. Those confounded laws of physics come into play though on major road blemishes where it can become upset.

The Fit is now built at a new plant in Mexico that will also produce the Fit-based HR-V next year. Honda says a lack of supply has hampered Fit sales. The new plant will eliminate that hurdle.

 SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2015 Honda Fit EX

Price: $14,495 base, $20,495 as tested including freight

Engine: 1.5-litre DOHC four-cylinder, 130-horsepower, 114 lb-ft of torque

Transmission: Continuously Variable  (CVT) automatic

Fuel consumption (city/highway): 7.3/6.1L/100 km

Length: 4,060 mm

Width: 1,702 mm

Wheelbase: 2,530 mm

Mass: 1,200 kg

Competitors: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda2, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris

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