The best is enemy of the good.
The profoundest truths are paradoxical.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Honda's Perfect "Fit"
The Honda Fit: The Perfect Back-to-School Special
The Fit has reasserted itself as top of class in categories that are important to parents. It would make an excellent first car
KEEP YOUR BOAT. My financial goal is to get my twin girls through college, though hell bar the way. After that, I expect there will be a lot of daytime TV and assisted showering.
At some point, I'll probably buy the girls their first cars. Yes, as a teenager I was obliged to work and borrow to pay for mine. And I guess I was somehow taught self-reliance by the experience? Of course, I was self-reliant to start with and didn't actually need a crushing car payment for moral instruction.
Anyway, my hope is that my kids will turn away from personally owned transportation. Ride sharing and autonomous-driving technologies together will transform mobility and the private-ownership model, and not a minute too soon. By the time my kids are of college age, 12 years from now, the notion of shipping off a sizable chunk of monthly income for the privilege of driving your own car a few minutes a day will seem slightly mad, perhaps even in bad taste.
If so, that would certainly save me a few bucks. Otherwise, I'll be looking at cars.
What should their first car be? Something with advanced dude-repellent technologies, I think. At a minimum, something inconspicuous, full of purpose, a car that gets to classes on time. Less than $20,000, even if I could afford more. Megasafe, obviously (huge asterisk here). Inexpensive to operate—including long-term ownership costs, residual value and fuel economy. The first-car calculus is unforgiving. No sentiment allowed.
Also, it's really helpful, when moving between dorms and apartments, to have flexible cargo capacity. I once moved a full-size U.S. government metal desk in the back of a 1977 Datsun B-210 hatchback.
And… oh yeah, here's what we're looking for right here. The Honda Fit. They should call it the Frosh.
The 2015 model year will be a reboot for the Fit here in the States. The car gets a thoroughly modern engine and CVT transmission—and, consequently, top marks in its class for fuel economy (36 mpg, combined, with the CVT)—and the Fit is now produced for the North American market at Honda's new assembly hall in Celaya, Mexico. Apparently, Fit supply and logistics were holding back U.S. sales.
2015 Honda Fit EX
Price, as tested: $18,225
Powertrain: naturally aspirated 1.5-liter DOHC in-line four with variable valve timing; six-speed manual transmission;front-wheel drive
Horsepower/torque: 130 hp at 6,500 rpm and 114 lb-feet at 4,600 rpm
Speaking of assembly: Honda has developed an interesting approach to the chassis, with a sort of inner-and-outer-hull approach, with reinforcing pieces (as at the window sashes) and extensive sound-insulation sandwiched between the structure and body pieces. Sound insulation is key to the Fit's rejiggering, as we'll see.
Stuffed adorably under the Fit's tiny hood is a brand-new 1.5-liter, direct-injected dual-overhead cam engine (previously port-injected and SOHC) with Honda's broad-authority VTEC working the valves. Horsepower (130 hp at 6,500 rpm) is up 11%; torque (114 lb-ft. at 4,600 rpm) is up 7.5%; meanwhile, the Fit's fuel economy from the in-line four sees a whopping 16% improvement (EPA-rated 33/41 mpg, city/highway, with the CVT).
The Fit is available with a new 6-speed manual transmission and, of course, that's the version they sent me, on the theory that all auto journalists prefer manual shifting (effortless clutch, by the way). But only a small minority of Fits will leave dealerships with manual transmissions, if for no other reason than that the targeted cohort—18- to 34-year olds—doesn't actually know how to drive a stick. The CVT-equipped Fit is also a tick quicker to accelerate to 60 mph and gets 10% better fuel economy. The inherent weaknesses of a CVT transmission have to do with its driving character: When you accelerate, the car's powertrain tends to drone until the car reaches cruising speed, when the CVT's computer tells it to move to higher ratios. Also, a CVT won't have the crisp initial acceleration of a manual transmission. To cope with the thrumming powertrain, the Fit's redesign went heavy on sound-deadening materials in the rear fender liners, carpeting and crevasses between frame and body.
Although it kind of looks it, the new Fit is no slug: 0-60 mph under nine seconds, with the CVT or manual, and the little car has a winning, rev-happy eagerness. This is my daughters' car? Well, then, plenty fast.
This is the third iteration of Honda's front-wheel drive, subcompact five-door hatch ("tall wagon" also works) since 2007 and it is, again, a marvel of packaging. Overall, the Fit is 1.6 inches smaller, bumper to bumper, but 1.2 inches larger between the wheels (99.6-inch wheelbase) than the previous model.
And, come on, it's totally cute. Puffed out, with barely focused eyes and a stony expression, the Fit looks like a startled baby blowfish.
The designers were able to scrounge out an additional 1.4 inches of rear legroom by shortening up the rear suspension's trailing arms and re-profiling the fuel tank, which is situated under the front seats. The changes allowed the rear seat's 90-degree point, the tailbone hinge, if you like, to be moved 3.1 inches back.
These seemingly small changes total 5 cubic feet of additional passenger volume and add 4.8 inches to rear legroom overall. Honda now claims the Fit has class-leading cargo capacity, and more interior volume and rear legroom than the Nissan Versa Note (the competitive set includes Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Chevy Sonic, and Toyota Yaris).
But that's burying the lead. The thing that makes the Fit memorable is its variety of seat-folding schemes, called "Magic Seat," including the "tall" position that folds the rear bench vertically for stowage of upright items like potted plants. That's brilliant. And the Bonnaroo-ready "Refresh" position where the seats fold down into a little lounge space.
Even with the seats in their five-passenger position the Fit is notably spacious and open plan. Cabin panels are carved out to lay claim to every cubic inch. Honda says they put an additional 1.4 inches between the driver's and passenger's shoulders. So if there's a field in Dad's Excel spreadsheet for cubic cabin inches per dollar, the new Fit is right there.
As for vehicle safety, the Honda Fit has actually had a bad time with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's small overlap frontal crash test, which required that Honda reinforce the front bumper to achieve an "Acceptable" rating on the test (Honda will replace bumper beams on 2015 Fits already in customers' hands). More recently the IIHS proclaimed the 2015 Fit a "Top Safety Pick," so I guess all is forgiven. By other metrics the Fit, strategically reinforced with some pricey ultrahigh-strength steel around the passenger cell, is targeting five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the European New Car Assessment Programme, or NCAP.
Safety is more nuanced than just crashworthiness. Bluetooth, standard to the Fit this year, is a huge safety feature, helping to limit distraction. Anything in the driver assistance/support category is a bonus, including the Fit's Lane Watch—standard on EX trim and above. A camera is mounted in the right outside mirror, showing the blind spot when you signal a lane change. Also, the multiview rear-camera is a must-have. New drivers tend to rub up against things.
After its gentle decline into irrelevance in the past four years, the Fit has reasserted itself as top of the class in categories important to parents. It's reliable, affordable, useful, safe and egoless. It would make an excellent first car.