For 2009, Honda is introducing an all-new Fit, and -- wait, what? Didn't the Fit just go on sale in, like, 2007? Yes it did, but while the 2007 Honda Fit was new to North America, it was old hat to the rest of the world. Rather than make us wait, Honda is already launching the new Fit here -- so is it an improvement? Read on. Price range $15,220 - $19,430, EPA fuel economy estimates 27-28 MPG city, 33-35 MPG highway.
First Glance: What's old is new
Before we start talking about the new Fit, let's talk a bit about the old Fit. The original Fit earned a place on my Best New Cars of 2007 list, despite being just one of several new mini-cars introduced to the US market that year. What made the Fit so great was the apportioning of space between front seat, back seat and cargo bay. Thanks to some fancy engineering, the Fit was the one subcompact that allowed you to haul four adults and their luggage at the same time -- and in relative comfort. Good news: Though the 2009 Fit is an all-new design, it hasn't changed much -- it's still the champ when it comes to hauling people and stuff all at once.
If I had one complaint about the old Fit, it was the geeky, goggle-eyed styling. The 2009 Fit has a brand new look; the windshield has been pulled down farther into the hood and the face is more aggressive. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I'm sure most people will agree with me that this is one handsome little car. That said, the new Fit ain't quite as little -- it's 4.2 inches longer and a half-inch wider than the old Fit. The new Fit uses Honda's ACE (Advanced Compatibility Engineering) body structure, which means it's better equipped to protect drivers in crashes with bigger vehicles -- and in the case of the Fit, that's pretty much everything else on the road.
In the Driver's Seat: Amazing space
Inside, the Fit sports a funkier look than most of its rivals; the contoured and creviced dash looks like it was designed by a comic book artist, but it does have lots of storage space for small stuff. Honda is particularly proud of the new cupholders, which are mounted at the edge of the dash right in front of the air conditioning vents. Cold coffee, anyone?
If you ask me, the Fit's cargo bay (link goes to photo) is its most impressive feature. It offers a whopping 20.6 cubic feet of space -- compare that to 17.8 cubes for the Nissan Versa, 10.5 for the Scion xD, and 7.1 for the Chevy Aveo5. In fact, the Fit offers more cargo space than bigger cars like the VW Rabbit (15 cu. ft.) and Pontiac Vibe (20.1).
But wait -- it gets better! The Fit's fuel tank is located under the front seat, rather than under the back seat like most cars. That allows the back seats to be folded nearly flat into the floor, opening up a whopping 57.3 cubic feet of cargo space -- 12 more cubes than a full-size Chevy Suburban SUV. The seat bottoms also fold up, making it easy to carry tall items in the back seat area.
Honda offers the Fit in Base ($15,220) and Sport ($16,730) models. All Fits get power windows, mirrors and locks, air conditioning, power steering, a CD player, and a tilt-and-telescope steering column; the Sport adds alloy wheels, cruise control, iPod adapter and remote keyless entry. In keeping with Honda tradition, there are few factory-installed options; one is a GPS-linked navigation system, available exclusively on the Fit Sport.
On the Road: Whip it good
The new Fit is powered by a 1.5 liter four-cylinder engine; power ratings (117 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque) are comparable to most of its rivals. The Fit offers a lovely 5-speed manual transmission with a gentle clutch and such good shift feel that I found myself changing gears just for the sheer joy of it. But getting at the power requires revving the daylights out of the engine, to the point that I began to feel like I was taking a whip to the poor thing. Much as I loved the stick-shift, I felt less guilty letting the 5-speed automatic (optional at $850) do the whipping for me. I took an automatic Fit for an extended highway run, and thought it had more than enough juice for the job. Off the freeway, the Fit's excellent visibility makes it fun to thread through traffic and a cinch to park.
EPA fuel economy figures are down slightly from last year's Fit. Check the specs and you'll see that the automatic Fit Sport uses a bit more gas than the automatic base model; that's because it has slightly different gearing for snappier acceleration. A week of mostly-highway driving in manual-trans Fit Base yielded an astonishing 39.3 miles per gallon, and during a quick highway spin in an automatic Sport I averaged an equally-impressive 36 MPG.
Safety-wise, the Fit comes standard with six airbags and antilock brakes. The good news: Electronic stability control (a.k.a. ESC; Honda calls it Vehicle Stability Assist, or VSA) is optional, a rarity in the subcompact class. The bad news: It's only available on the Fit Sport, and it only comes bundled with the navigation system for $1,850.
Journey's End: Still the people-plus-cargo champ
As you can tell, I was pretty impressed with the new Fit. By far, the Fit's ability to haul people and cargo is its best attribute -- but I also like the Fit's new look and its respect for high gas prices. As a Honda owner (two Accords and a CRX), I can tell you that Honda's reputation for quality and durability is thoroughly deserved. And the Fit's a good value -- once you start equipping cheaper rivals like the Chevrolet Aveo5, Kia Spectra, and Hyundai Accent to match the base-model Fit, the price gap shrinks to just a few hundred bucks. That said, automatic Fit Sport models with navigation and ESC will set you back almost $19,500, as much as a nicely equipped Honda Civic. Demand for Fits is bound to be high, so don't expect any smokin' deals.
The Fit's best rival is the Nissan Versa. While it doesn't offer as much cargo space, it's got a bigger cabin, significantly more back-seat room, and more grown-up interior décor. It's also a better deal -- for about the same price as a base-model Fit, you can get a Versa with all the same equipment plus cruise control and remote keyless entry. If you're into minimalist motoring, consider the two-seat Smart Fortwo, which offers an automatic transmission and electronic stability control as standard for under $13k.
Bottom line: Just like the original Fit, the new Fit is a perfect car for the times -- small outside, big inside, and practical all around. And there's other way the new Fit is like the old Fit: You'll find it on my Best New Cars of 2009 list. -- Aaron Gold