Road Test: 2009 Honda Fit Sport
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2013.
By Tony Swan of Car and Driver
The Honda Fit made its U.S. debut in 2006 and promptly won our endorsement as the best of a new breed of subcompacts — little cars that deliver more than just basic transportation and attractive mpg numbers. The Fit was inexpensive to buy and own, with lots of utility, interior volume to rival the larger Civic, interior appointments ditto, and fun to drive to boot — more than enough to win a spot on our 10Best Cars list.
Yet here we are, just two-and-a-half years into the car's North American product cycle, scrutinizing a Fit that Honda calls "all-new" with more justification than most applications of that much-abused description.
If you were expecting a mere midterm face lift, you're probably amazed. So were we — until we stopped to consider that the current Fit has been around in other parts of the world, where it's known as the Jazz, since 2001.
Even so, amazing still applies. We called the Fit best of breed in '06, yet the new one is better in almost every respect — more power, more room, more features, better looks, higher structural rigidity — without diluting the car's thriftiness or eager character.
Where to begin? Dimensions are critical among the smallest of cars, so let's start with package size. The wheelbase stretches almost two inches, from 96.5 to 98.4 inches, length goes from 157.4 to 161.6 inches, and width expands by a half-inch, to 66.7. Only height — 60 inches — is unchanged.
The bones of the new Fit have been substantially stiffened in the redesign, in part owing to increased use of high-tensile steel in the unit body. Honda claims an increase in front-end rigidity of 164 percent, which suggests that either the engineering department has adopted a new accounting system or the previous unit body employed linguine in its structure. Since we thought the previous Fit was made of pretty stern stuff — an opinion fortified by the car's nimble footwork — we have trouble digesting this claim. But there's certainly no question that the new Fit retains the terrier spirit and moves of the original.
More size usually means more weight, and that's true here. The Fit Sport that humiliated its six opponents in a comparison test a couple years back ["$15,000 Cheap Skates," May 2006] weighed 2481 pounds, and our long-term test car, another Sport model, weighed 2448. This '09 test car weighs 2506 pounds. Also, thanks to the '09 Fit's longer snoot — sculpted to give the car a little more curbside flash — forward weight bias goes from 61.5 percent to 62.3, making it pretty much the nose-heaviest car in this class.
Nose heavy and front drive is usually a prescription for reluctant transient response and porcine understeer, but that's not the case here. There have been minor changes in the geometry of the suspension — still struts up front and a twist-beam axle at the rear, with anti-roll bars at both ends for the Sport — but as noted earlier, the Fit retains its athletic character. The electric power steering is light, quick (2.5 turns lock-to-lock), and precise. Grip — delivered by a set of Bridgestone Turanza 185/55 all-season tires on new 16-inch aluminum wheels — is adequate at 0.80 g. Body motions are subdued. The Fit communicates its eager responses in a way that's reminiscent of a sports car.
We mentioned more power, but don't get too excited. The 1.5-liter, SOHC 16-valve VTEC aluminum four in the old Fit made 109 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 105 pound-feet of torque at 4800. Displacement is unaltered at 1497cc, but there's a new intake manifold. Intake-valve timing is now of the steplessly variable variety (i-VTEC), intake valves are bigger (by four percent, to 28 millimeters), and there are new pistons with revised crowns and skirts and a skirt-coating process designed for oil retention. There's a higher power peak, too: The updated Fit four produces 117 horsepower at 6600 rpm and 106 pound-feet at 4800.
As before, the standard five-speed manual transmission is a pleasure to use. Internal ratios are taller, but the final drive is shorter, leaving all ratios except fifth shorter overall. The new Fit gets to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds at 83 mph. There's obviously no danger of organ displacement with this kind of acceleration, but both times are a tick or two quicker than we've recorded for any previous Fit.
The taller fifth-gear ratio was obviously selected for fuel economy, and the bigger Fit's EPA ratings remain about the same: 27-28 mpg city/33-35 mpg highway. Ratings for our manual test car were 27/33, and we logged 31 mpg through the course of our evaluation.
Honda's stylists worked hard to give the second-gen Fit a little more eye appeal, particularly up front. Character lines and fender flares make the profile a little less slab-sided, and the bigger front quarter-windows actually improve the driver's view of what's going on out there. The Sport model adds the 16-inch alloys, fog lights, rocker-panel extensions, a rear wing, and, very important, a chrome echo can on the exhaust pipe.
But the real beauty lies within. Honda has redesigned a dashboard and instrument package we already thought was cool. The result is cooler still, and the mpg read out, one of several digital info items available in a small display set into the speedo, will be handy for fuel stretchers.
Honda has added a nav system with voice recognition to the Fit's inventory of options, and the screen flips over for access to the in-dash CD player. Pretty slick.
More significant, we think, is the new steering column, adjustable for reach as well as rake. The column in the previous Fit was tilt only, which made it impossible for some staffers to achieve a comfortable driving position. Our long-term Fit's logbook also contained complaints about the absence of a driver's footrest, and this, too, has been addressed in the new car.
Surprising Improvement on a Terrific Original
The longer wheelbase allowed Honda to create more rear-seat legroom, in turn making it possible to flop the seatbacks forward and flat regardless of the front-seat position, something accomplished with a single flip of a lever. The rear compartment also benefits from a smaller fuel tank (10.6 gallons versus 10.8), and the tank has been moved a bit farther forward. It now resides beneath the front seats, à la Model T Ford. (Fortunately, you don't have to check the fuel level via a dipstick, as was the case with the old Ford.)
Something else that's expanded is the Fit's inventory of safety features, which adds active front head restraints and the option of Vehicle Stability Assist, which is baked into the nav-system package and is limited to Sport models.
This brings us to another area of bigger: prices, which are almost five-percent higher model for model and go up from there. A basic Fit with a manual transmission is $15,220 versus $14,620 for the previous model. Add $800 if you want the five-speed automatic. A Sport model with a manual gearbox starts at $16,730 versus $15,940 for its predecessor, and a Sport manual with nav and stability control such as our test sample runs $18,580, a substantial overlap with the Civic family.
Although this is a surprising improvement on a terrific original, we do have a few reservations. Besides noise and ride issues, we found the air-conditioning system a little slow to quell cabin heat, something that was true of the old Fit. There were also remarks about the old Fit's short front-seat cushions, another original sin that carries over. And in a car that offers a nav system, we wondered why there's no satellite-radio option. Honda says its research indicated a preference among target buyers for auxiliary and USB inputs for audio interface (Sport model only), but why does this have to be an either-or?
So, some asterisks. Nevertheless, the new Fit amplifies the practical elements of the original — lots of storage for all objects great and small, low operating costs — without compromising the trait that we hold so dear. In terms of fun-to-drive, the Fit is still the champ and figures to hold that title at least until the Ford Fiesta comes along in 2010. But that's another story.