One of our favorite (really) small cars gets a full makeover
What is it?
The previous Honda Fit had been with us since the 2009 model year. Since then, Ford’;s brought the Fiesta over from Europe (and subsequently refreshed it), Chevrolet’;s launched its first real B-segment contender, Toyota’;s redesigned the Yaris, Fiat’;s returned from exile with its idiosyncratic little 500, Nissan’;s given us the Versa Note and along the way, Hyundai/Kia discovered a little thing called styling.
Despite myriad new contenders and pretenders, the Fit’;s stellar rep kept the units moving; demand so outstripped supply that Honda built a new plant in Celaya, Mexico to churn out all the Fits Americans care to consume. The facility will also build its utelike sibling, the HR-V (sold elsewhere as the Honda Vezel).
If the transition from the first-generation car to the second seemed evolutionary, the new subcompact seems nearly radical. It adopts Honda’;s corporate face, slashes at the sides with character lines aplenty, visually widens the rear with a broad chrome bar. The car seems bigger; it’;s a cybernetic pony keg.
The thing is, despite the visual heft, the new Fit is only really larger on the inside. The new car is 1.6 shorter. The one dimension that’;s seen a significant increase passenger-compartment volume, it’;s up 4.9 cubic feet. Perhaps even more staggering is the 4.8-inch increase in rear legroom, a remarkable feat in such a small car. It’;s more fuel efficent and more powerful, now making 130 hp.
What’;s it like to drive?
Reduced thirst and more ponies are generally a recipe for more cheap fun, but it seems as if Honda’;s put their engineering might into the packaging of the Fit and skimped on the driving enjoyment.
The steering is direct and precise, if uninspiring. Throttle tip-in is on the jumpy side, but it’;s nothing that an owner wouldn’;t get used to quickly. Honda claims the more rigid body structure reduces noise, but we found the wind irritatingly audible at freeway speeds.
If you’;re the sort who prefers rowing his or her own gears, you’;re stuck with the lower-spec LX and EX models. Uplevel EX-L Fits are only available with a CVT. Neither gearbox is particularly thrilling. The CVT’;s not up to the level of the excellent unit in Subaru’;s new WRX (now the gold standard for all transmissions of the type), though it’;s not the worst we’;ve sampled. The paddle shifters hold “gears” well in hilly terrain, the better to listen to the 1.5L i-VTEC 4 wind out.
As for the manual? The clutch is about 3 shades too light, as is the 6-speed’;s action. We’;d accept a modicum of rubberiness in trade for a measure of positive engagement. Brakes are easily modulated and provide segment-appropriate stopping power.
Do I want one?
The refreshed Fiesta is more fun to drive. The Koreans are more stylish. The Fiat 500 only comes in a 3-door configuration and the Yaris pairs the Fiesta’;s compromised practicality with an uninspired interior and desultory dynamics.
For frugal practicality in a new car, the Fit remains your choice. If you were previously charmed by its just-right combination of low-power athleticism and band-beating cargo capacity, you might be a mite let down. Your rear-seat passengers, however, will treasure their newfound legroom.
On Sale: April 2014
Base Price: $ 16,315
Powertrain: 130hp/114 lb ft 1.5L I4; FWD, 6-speed manual or CVT
Curb weight: 2,513 (manual)
0-60: 8.5 (est)
Fuel Economy: 29/37/32 (manual) 33/41/36 (CVT)
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