Fit for fun and flexibility
The 2007 Honda Fit is a triumph of creativity, proof that good ideas don't have to be expensive. Within the Lilliputian dimensions of this five-door hatchback is a world of imagination that knows few limits. It seats four comfortably (five in a pinch), offers great fuel economy (above 33 mpg), and is as easy to live with as your best friend.
Let's daydream for a moment about a world where all the cars are like this little Honda. Picture highways with traffic that flows freely. Imagine twice the number of open parking spaces. And best of all, see gas stations with tumbling fuel prices. That may be a coming attraction if the world catches on to the benefits of small cars.
One more daydream before we move on to specifics: Perhaps the Fit — and other little cars in this segment which are sprouting up like wildflowers — signals the beginning of the end of an era of insanity, that is to say the end of the SUV age. We have nothing against SUVs when used for their intended purpose. But SUVs for image or to give the driver a sense of power and superiority (not to mention a false sense of safety): now that's crazy.
A feeling of space
Judging by the Fit, the new frontier of car design lies not in exterior styling, not in wildly boosted horsepower, but inside the car. And that's where the Fit excels. Look at it from the outside next to a "normal" car, and it looks teeny. But step inside and you'll find that Honda has created space and, more importantly, a feeling of space. We urged a 6-foot, 4-inch friend to sit behind the wheel and his first words were "plenty of headroom, good front legroom."
While drivers rave about the road feel and the awesome sensation of the five-speed manual transmission, Honda is busy promoting the Fit based on its second-row "Magic Seat" design, which effortlessly provides outstanding flexibility. It has four different modes that entail folding the seats this way and that like an origami creation.
The key is a single control on the top side of the front seats that slides the seat forward. No bending, no straining. The front seat slides forward, the backseat folds down without your needing to remove the headrests. When the front seat is moved back in place, the now reclined rear-seat headrests slide neatly under the cushion. Why the heck didn't someone think of that sooner?
With the seats in the conventional position, there is adequate cargo room accessible through the hatchback for say, a week's groceries (21 cubic feet and 23 cubic feet with the seats folded down). In the "long" mode, a 7-foot, 10-inch surfboard can be stowed inside. We took the Fit to Malibu and found a surfer to consult on this vital subject and we were told that the car would definitely appeal to wave riders: "Fold the seats down, throw the board in and boom — you're good to go."
For carrying taller items, the Fit's backseat cushions fold up to give you 50 inches of vertical room, floor to ceiling, because Honda moved the gas tank forward to open up a deeper well. Besides the adaptability of the interior, the front seats are quite comfortable and the fabric is attractive. The backseats were a bit short on thigh support, but the legroom was adequate for smaller passengers. Additionally, there is under-seat storage for backpacks, purses or picnic baskets.
Economy and power
Both trim levels for this front-drive, five-door hatchback (the Fit is offered in base and Sport trim) feature a 1.5-liter, 109-horsepower VTEC four-cylinder engine. Delivering 105 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm, it posted a 9.3-second, 0-60-mph sprint. The EPA estimates it will get 33 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway, but our average for the test period was 32 mpg. Driving the Fit with a five-speed manual transmission revealed a sweet spot of acceleration in the midrange that emerges like a bonus on an already lively engine. While the car seems well insulated and less tinny than other cars in this class, at about 80 mph in 5th, the engine is revving up around 3,500 rpm and makes its presence known.
A huge favorite of ours was the meaty feel and action of the manual shifter. The action is precise, well defined and pleasing. The Fit Sport is also available with a five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters that we drove briefly at a press event. Thanks to the non-sequential drive-by-wire throttle control, the automatic almost seemed to have more zip than the manual. The rubber-backed shift paddles were pleasing to the touch and added a new dimension to the driving experience. The paddles can be used to initiate a shift even in the fully automatic mode; the transmission returns to full automatic after holding the gear for a period of time.
One editor criticized the small size of the fuel tank (only 10.8 gallons), noting that frequent fill-ups will make the owner feel it is not as fuel-efficient as promised. Depending on the driver's style, however, the range could still be as high as 350 miles (a Fit with an automatic transmission is estimated to get 31-37 mpg) — not bad for a car with a base price of $14,400 with the manual. The base Fit with an automatic transmission is $15,200; the Fit Sport with manual transmission is $15,720; and the Fit Sport with an automatic is $16,520 (all prices include the $550 destination charge).
Standard safety features
As if anticipating safety concerns from U.S. buyers, Honda has provided two key features standard on both the base and Sport models. Both trim levels come with four-wheel antilock brakes and side curtain airbags. The ABS operation was loud but the pedal feel was good, especially considering it comes with rear drum brakes (and front discs). Braking distances were exceptional, with the Fit stopping from 60 mph in as little as 123 feet. The use of high-tensile-strength steel on 36 percent of the Fit's unibody frame has kept the curb weight low — only 2,471 pounds (on the Sport with a manual transmission).
Honda's attention to safety is well-placed; Americans tie their egos — as well as their feelings of safety — to the sheer size of the vehicle. The bigger and heavier car will usually win in a head-to-head contest. However, Honda engineers are confident the Fit will win a five-star rating from the NHTSA on a front crash. Furthermore, they expect a "Good" rating from the IIHS in both the offset-frontal and side-impact tests.
Handles like a champ
The Fit drove like a champ, with quick steering and exquisite road feel. These impressions were confirmed on the track, where it slipped through the slalom in 6.1 seconds at 67.5 mph. The Fit felt stable and well balanced, and provided good feedback to the driver. It was about as much fun as you could have in a thrifty little car. Not only that, but the sporty handling didn't sacrifice comfort; it provided a pleasing, comfortable ride.
Matters of comfort, convenience and personal preference
The operation of the heating and air-conditioning system was the essence of simplicity. Three big knobs, conveniently located, were easy to use and provided all the combinations that drivers and passengers need to keep them comfortable. Similarly, the radio and CD player are stylish yet straightforward, and the system delivered impressive sound quality. A separate auxiliary input jack provides connection to an MP3 player, and the CD player in the Sport allows MP3 and WMA playback.
The build quality of our preproduction Fit Sport was impressively tight, with great attention to detail. Our only problem came with a pesky hatch that needed to be closed twice to catch properly. The materials throughout were high-quality and pleasing to the touch. Controls were nicely weighted, giving a feeling of durability and value.
Final Fit words
Honda has put so much fun in this Fit that it arrives like a breath of fresh air in an era of dwindling resources on a congested landscape of clogged roads and packed parking lots. How nice to see that the 2007 Honda Fit and some others (Nissan's Versa, Scion's xA and xB, and Toyota's Yaris) are cars built for the new millennium. While an SUV spills outside the dimensions of its parking space like a fat man in an airline seat, any space is an opportunity for a Fit. We guess you could say that, for many car buyers, this car will be a great fit.
System Score: 8.0
Components: Our Fit was a Sport model, which adds an upgraded stereo as part of the package. The upgraded system is actually quite nice and includes thoughtful features like the ability to play MP3 CDs as well as WMA files. The base stereo doesn't offer this. The Fit Sport comes with a 200-watt, six-speaker stereo and includes five sound profiles or preset equalizer settings. There's also an external mini-jack for connecting portable MP3 players, and an available Honda/Apple Music link that allows for direct iPod integration into the car's stereo.
Performance: The first thing we noticed about the Fit's stereo is that the head unit is very attractive. There's a large, round knob with good-sized buttons surrounding it. The screen is also large, with nice contrasting characters making it easy to read. The large display also makes it easier to navigate MP3 folders.
With six speakers, the Fit Sport's stereo sounds very good. We were expecting a compromised audio system given the car's price and size, but we were pleasantly surprised by the fullness of the sound. Bass response is adequate but not up to the standard set by Scion's Pioneer stereo. Because the Fit Sport has six speakers rather than the standard model's four, the additional door-mounted tweeters provide nice detail. The highs are bright and clear without being shrill or distracting.
The five EQ settings actually work well and seem to suit the type of music they're intended to enhance. We mention this because it's not always the case with built-in equalizer settings, no matter how much the car costs.
Best Feature: Flexibility.
Worst Feature: MP3 and WMA CD capability are only offered on upgraded Sport model.
Conclusion: A great little stereo that offers better-than-average sound, but world-class flexibility by allowing many options for playing music. — Brian Moody
Senior Features Editor Joanne Helperin says:
Tiny cars tend to get beaten up pretty badly by bigger cars when they collide. So the first questions many folks ask when looking at a subcompact are, "Is this car really safe?" or "Are my grandkids safe in the backseat?" Knowing this, Honda's engineers designed the Fit to have class-leading NHTSA and IIHS crash test scores.
Better, though, is that this safety doesn't cost anything on top of the Fit's base price: Front side airbags, side curtain airbags and ABS are all standard equipment, something the competition can't claim. Even the upcoming Nissan Versa, a 2007 model, will charge extra for side curtain airbags and ABS.
Once the safety bar is passed, I look for features to make my life as a busy working mom easier, such as roominess, flexibility and low maintenance. Here, too, the Fit is strong. Numerous flip-and-fold seating options offer tremendous versatility, giving the Fit 9 cubic feet of cargo space more than its Scion competitor, the xA. A worthwhile "peace of mind" feature is the Honda Maintenance Minder, an intelligent system that uses actual driving conditions — rather than the owner's manual — to indicate when the car needs service for oil, tire rotation and so on.
The Fit's excellent fuel economy (10 percent more mpg than the Kia Rio 5), low emissions, fun handling, comfortable seats and ample rear legroom should help the Fit appeal to anyone. The young (or young at heart) will also get a kick from the Fit's bright colors and MP3 compatibility — though that's standard only on the Sport trim.
Honda engineers seem to have carefully considered all the trade-offs necessary in a small car and designed their best all-around vehicle, making the 2006 Honda Fit one of the strongest contenders in an increasingly crowded contest.
Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot says:
What's the Honda Fit's best feature? Easy. Its Magic rear seat. That's Magic, with a capital "M" and it's Honda's official designation for the seats which can be configured four different ways in addition to the conventional three-across seating mode.
Flip the rear-seat bottom up against the seatbacks and you've got a cargo area tall enough and wide enough to slide a bicycle (minus its front wheel) through the rear doors.
And if you want to fold the rear seatbacks flat, Honda was smart enough to make the procedure simple. Because the rear-seat headrests interfere with the front seatbacks as they fold, the front seats must be temporarily slid forward to achieve a flat cargo area. Traditionally, this means running around to the front seats, pulling the release and sliding each seat forward. But Honda made the task no-duh simple by placing a release on the backrest of each front seat. Now the whole job can be done at once without any musical chairs. It's a simple, elegant solution that typifies the Fit's convenience.
Combine this usability with excellent control feel and relatively nimble handling, and the Fit is as rewarding to drive as it is practical.
"Please change the marketing on the Fit ASAP. The message should be that the Fit drives like the Base Mini Cooper, but for thousands less. Or something similar. Don't even try to market it as a budget car when it's not. Market it as a smaller Civic. Oh — and ditch the Orange for Yellow." — plekto February 7, 2006
"It worked with the Element. Now Honda utilizes students to help launch the Fit. More students will implement their own creative marketing campaign to assist Honda in targeting the Gen Y market and introducing them to the new Honda Fit." — jonniedee, February 8, 2006
"Honda is a global company, and they understand cultural differences. Their marketing shows that they think that the Fit will mainly sell as a young first-time buyer's car. The problem with that thinking is that they really didn't design a kid's car with the Fit. This car was designed for other markets in the world in a category known as 'supermini.' Think of it as a small minivan, packed with space and innovation. So even when Honda brings this to the U.S. and slaps some gaudy trim on it, and hires Barney the dinosaur as its ad firm, it is still a supermini Honda Jazz. I predict that after the first year of this car when the word gets out about how affordable, reliable, and feature packed the Fit is, that the marketing of this car will change to meet the unexpectedly broad demographic that actually purchases it. It's kind of like putting glasses on Clark Kent; he's still obviously Superman!" — Mebman, February 8, 2006