Test Drive: New Honda Fit nifty, thrifty

Test Drive: New Honda Fit nifty, thrifty

June 28th, 2014 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The Honda Fit is redesigned for 2015 with new sheet metal and a new gas-sipping engine.

Photo by Mark Kennedy/Times Free Press.

FAST FACTS

Model: 2015 Honda Fit EX-L

Exterior color: Modern Steel

Interior color: Black

Engine: 1.5 liter, four-cylinder

Horsepower: 130

Transmission: continuously variable

Fuel economy: 38 mpg highway, 32 mpg city

Dealer: Honda of Cleveland

Price (as tested): $20,590

The word "fit" has two common meanings. It can mean ideal dimensions, as in: "The man's suit fit perfectly." Or it can mean an efficient level of performance, as in: "The soccer player is physically fit."

Fittingly, the redesigned-for-2015 Honda Fit lives up to both definitions.

Long a consumer favorite for its cavernous storage area and nimble handling, the new Fit now has a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine that gets 38 miles per gallon of gas in highway driving. By reducing friction in its next-generation "Earth Dreams" engines, Honda has been able to improve both fuel efficiency and horsepower.

Honda of Cleveland sales manager Jeremy Holsomback says the Fit -- a sub-compact hatchback -- is designed to be a customer's "first Honda." If Honda can snare entry-level buyers, it has a chance to hold on to them for life, which is reason enough for the company to pack plenty of value into the Fit.

Holsomback loaned us the keys to a top-of-the-line Modern Steel (metallic gray) Fit with black interior. Even with nearly every available option, the Fit EX-L carried a sticker price of just $20,590, including a $790 destination fee. A base Fit LX with automatic transmission starts at $16,325.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The Fit is a miracle of packaging. With the rear seat folded flat, it has 52 cubic feet of storage space, enough to carry a full-size adult bicycle laid flat on the floor. Drop the back seat down and lean the front passenger seat forward and you can carry a skinny item that's 7 feet, 9 inches long -- an unheard-of amount of space for a sub-compact. Leave the back seat upright and fold back the front passenger seat (removing the headrest) and you can create the equivalent of a chaise lounge. Honda calls this "refresh mode," we call it a nap waiting to happen.

And that's the beauty of this vehicle, although it's technically a sub-compact, the Fit has as about as much real-world utility as a small SUV. In many respects, it seems to be the perfect car to send a child off to college with, and it should last until he or she is out of school and gainfully employed.

Our EX-L test car included a host of standard features. Honda keeps its trim levels simple and tries to limit a la carte options. The EX-L Fit includes leather interior surfaces, heated front seats, push-button start, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and 16-inch alloy wheels. Also standard is my favorite safety feature available on any car today, a lane-change camera that checks your blind spot when merging right in freeway traffic. A seven-inch display screen acts as the switchboard for the stereo, smartphone apps and a Pandora interface.

The interior is functional and uncluttered. It's easy to find a good driving position inside the Fit, and its huge windshield gives an unobstructed view of the road ahead. If there's one nit to pick it might be that the rear seat headrests partially obscure the view from the rear-view mirror. That's where the back-up and lane-change cameras come to the rescue.

The exterior of the Fit is all new, and more modern looking to my eye. The overhangs are short and a nice character line creates a graceful channel down the side of the car. The rear of the hatchback is well-tailored and features LED brake lights. The grille features a black background and a chrome accent that makes the car look as if it's smiling -- part of the Fit's feel-good vibe.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The new Fit is powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 130 horsepower. It won't win any drag races, but it will return about 35 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.

Base models come with a six-speed manual transmission, but most real-world Fits will be equipped with Honda's well-executed continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT allows the Fit to run at the most efficient RPM level at any given speed, which aids fuel economy. If you're up for a little fun, the Fit also has paddle shifters on the steering wheel that let you simulate gear changes without a clutch.

On a short test drive on South Lee Highway near Cleveland, Tenn., the Fit handled well and exhibited none of the engine drone that plagues some small cars. Several reviewers have noted that improvements in this second-generation Fit include a much more composed highway ride, which is crucial for a commuter car.

BOTTOM LINE

The 2015 Fits have just started arriving at area Honda dealers, so selection may be spotty for a few weeks. In the meantime, don't pitch a fit, there should be plenty of supply of this fun, practical little car in the months ahead.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.com