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Honda Fit fills the subcompact niche

Published: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 1:40 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 1:42 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Honda)
The 2015 Honda Fit EX subcompact is small enough to fit easily anywhere in the city, large enough to handle the essential transportation and cargo needs of a young family (or senior couple).

Ordinary things done exceptionally well yield extraordinary products. Witness the subject of this week's column, the 2015 Honda Fit EX subcompact hatchback.

It is an ordinary car — small, fuel-efficient, relatively inexpensive. It is an automobile for first-time car buyers and empty nesters no longer weighted with the responsibility of transporting sibling troops. It has been on sale in the United States going on eight years. It was brilliant at inception. Remarkably, it is even more brilliant in its first major revision since its introduction.

The primary appeal of the Honda Fit has always been its packaging — small enough to fit easily anywhere in the city, large enough to handle the essential transportation and cargo needs of a young family (or senior couple).

That is even more the case with the 2015 model, which is a packaging marvel. It has been redesigned to provide more headroom and legroom for taller adults, a change accomplished with the sacrifice of 5.6 inches in cargo space with the rear seats up. But that loss is nothing to mourn about, thanks to smart engineering/design of rear-seat stowage. At the lift of their respective levers, those seats fall quickly to the floor, creating a remarkable 57.3 cubic feet of flat load space.

So the "lost" cargo space with all seats up is no real loss at all. It instead is a rearrangement of priorities — the transportation of people, or movement of stuff. If your transportation priority is people, you have more space for five bodies with all seats up. If your primary need is the movement of stuff, you have more easily accessible and usable load space with the rear seats down.

And there are stowage compartments everywhere, including hideaway places for small items (purses, cameras, mobile phones) in those magical rear seats. There are 10 cup holders, including one conveniently located on the driver's side to the left of the steering wheel. The car is a subcompact carryall.

The new Fit is 1.6 inches shorter than its predecessor. But it is longer where it matters — the wheelbase, which is the centerline distance between the front and rear wheels. Coupled with suspension improvements (MacPherson struts front, torsion-beam rear with stabilizer bars front and rear), the slightly larger wheelbase yields better handling and a bit smoother ride.

The caveat is needed because a small car is a small car, which, by its very nature, suffers in ride and handling on poorly maintained roads — all too common in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, where I drove the Fit EX for nearly 600 miles.

But I love this little car and happily would drive it on trips long and short. It is a motorized pencil. It goes where pointed at the exact moment pointed, a delightfully responsive and obedient automobile.

It is peppy, equipped with a new direct-injection 1.5-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine (130 horsepower, 114 pound-feet of torque — 13 more horsepower and seven pound-feet more torque than the previous Fit). Yet the new engine is also competitively fuel-efficient with all other subcompacts, getting 33 miles per gallon in the city and 41 on the highway when outfitted with a continuously variable automatic transmission, as was the Fit driven for this column.

"Peppy," here, means the Fit is highway-competitive. It changes lanes easily and quickly moves out of dicey expressway traffic situations. It is a reliable travel companion.

Accepted for what it is — one of the best subcompact economy cars available, with one of the most useful interiors available in a car large or small — the new Honda Fit is hard to beat. Bought for what it absolutely isn't, a high-performance pocket rocket, the Honda Fit would be a big disappointment.

Buy it for what it is and be happy.

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