Hanging In There
2013 Honda Fit
“Why,” you may be asking, “are you writing reviews of 2013 models when we’re already a couple of months into 2014?” Well, the thing about the Honda Fit is that there isn’t a 2014 model. The tsunami in Japan last year messed up things at the factory in Sayama where the Fit is made, forcing them to skip the 2014 model year. A new 2015 model has been announced as the next refresh of the model, and it will be an all-round update to the car, inside and out. For now, though, the 2013 model is the only Fit you can buy.
A few years ago, if you wanted a small, spacious, economical—and fun-to-drive—hatchback of any sort, the Fit was the only thing you could buy, too. Now, of course, the similarly-sized Kias, Fords, and Mazdas are available. They all have nicer interiors, and fun driving dynamics, too. But while new competition has appeared, the 2013 Fit is essentially the exact same car as the 2009 Fit. So, the question, then, is whether or not the unchanged Fit of 2009 can stand up to the new competition in 2014.
How it looks
The Honda Fit has an unusual shape. The nose is oddly short and stubby, while the tail seems, to eyes accustomed to modern designs, oddly square. There’s a reason for this, as we shall discuss in due course, but the Fit looks more like a weirdly small minivan than it does a traditional hatchback. It’s not ugly, exactly, but there’s an indefinable weirdness to its shape. Seen from the front, the Fit’s face has a very scowly expression. It says, “Grrr. Angry hatchback is angry.”
Inside, the Fit is…well…pretty basic. It’s plastic as far as the eye can see. There are no natural materials visible anywhere. And it’s all in grayscale. The only hints of color are from the blue LCD instruments and dashboard instrument lights. There are odd recesses and cubbyholes in the dashboard, too, like the shelf under the glove box, or the bin mounted to the left of the steering wheel, which is too big to be a coin tray and too small to be anything else. Like everything else about the Fit’s design, it’s a bit odd and funky.
Then there are the seats. They are covered by a thin layer of velour-like material, and are flat and unbolstered. We’ve gotten used to car seats being curved to fit our buttocks and backs, but Honda didn’t have any truck with that foolishness in designing the Fit’s seats. Still, they are quite firm and supportive.
So far, it all seems fairly “meh”. And it is really. The competitors from Ford, Kia, and Mazda all have nicer interiors, and seem more upscale. On the positive side, the Fit comes with a starting MSRP $15,425, which is about $1,500 less than the Ford Focus. You can get a cheaper hatchback than the Fit. It’ll probably be nicer inside, too. It’ll also be a lot smaller and cramped inside.
Because that’s the real strength of the Honda Fit. Thanks to the odd, minivan shape, it’s massively roomy inside, as well as being cleverly designed. Sitting in the back seats gives you a huge amount and head and leg room. Adults can comfortably stretch out.
The rear seats fold down with the tug of a lanyard that flips the bottom of the rear seat forward, so that when the seat backs fold down, there’s a long, perfectly flat deck in the back. Thanks to the high roof line, the Fit gives up 57.3 cubic feet of cargo space, more than any other car in its class. Fold the front passenger seat down as well, and the Fit will carry items up to 7’9” long. It’s not quite a replacement for a pickup, but for a compact hatchback, the amount of storage is simply amazing.
But it gets better! If you keep the rear seat backs up, you can fold up the seat bottoms up too, and you get a tall cargo space in front of the rear seats, in case you need to transport a dresser or carry some small trees. Also, the undersides of the rear seats have secret storage places for stowing and concealing small valuables like jewelry, wallets, or bags of China White heroin.
Basically, the Honda Fit has enough storage space to comfortably carry around a couple of Great Danes. Or a pony. It’s really quite impressive, and no other car in its class has this combination of storage space and versatility.
From the driver’s seat, the controls seem a bit Spartan in the base model, though you do get a fully-adjustable, telescoping steering wheel, electric door locks and windows, and cruise control. You also get USB connectors and an auxiliary plug for the stereo. Cough up another $1,500 for some extra options, and you also get sat-nav and a large color screen for the center console.
Another thing you notice from the driver’s seat is the visibility. Sitting in the driver’s seat of the Fit is very much like what being in a fishbowl must be like. You can see everything around you. Thanks to the tall window height, you have essentially unrestricted visibility in all directions. Of course, that means you are just as visible from the outside, so exercise extreme care in nose-picking. Everyone will see it.
How it drives
The Honda Fit is powered by a 1.5-liter, 16-valve i-VTEC® engine that outputs 117 HP and 106 lb.-ft. of torque. That doesn’t sound very impressive, but the Fit’s light 2,496 lb. curb weight (in manual transmission spec) means that it scoots to 60 MPH in 8.2 seconds from a dead stop, and will hit the quarter-mile marker in a bit more than 16 seconds. The Fit is a bit slower and about 80 pounds heavier when fitted with an automatic transmission.
Having driven both of them, I’d recommend the manual transmission version, because it’s more fun and engaging to drive. The automatic transmission works just fine, but the manual transmission is about as good as you’d expect from a Honda, and it snicks nicely from gear to gear. The shifter throw is a bit longer than I’d like, but you can go from gear to gear with two fingers, while the friction point on the clutch kicks in at just about full depression of the pedal, and is easy to find.
Honda has long mastered the intricacies of variable valve timing in its engines, so the Fit’s motor gets as much power to the wheels as it can, almost anywhere in the first three gears. That’s helped by the short gearing in the manual transmission. The Fit seems peppy off the line, and more satisfying to drive than you’d expect. But, the tradeoff for the power is that you have to do a lot of manual shifting in traffic to keep the power coming on. That makes the Fit engaging to drive when you want to have fun, but might get a bit irritating when you want a relaxed daily commute. If the latter is your highest priority, maybe the automatic transmission would be a better fit for you. Fit. Get it? Ah, I kill me.
Another high point of the Fit is the handling, which is quite good. The Fit is flickable and maneuverable, but the tall body induces noticeable body roll, even in the Fit Sport model. The steering is very responsive though, and the Fit is eager to follow your steering inputs. In spirited driving, understeer raises its ugly head fairly early on, but this is a front-wheel drive economy hatchback, not a sports car. It’s a pretty fun economy hatchback, but it is what it is. And, for what it is, it’s a hoot.
The fun falls apart a bit when you get the Fit on the freeway, however. This is not a highway cruiser. At 70 MPH, the Fit struggles a bit to keep up with traffic. The revvy little engine may be fun to drive around town, but on the highway, it’s a bit buzzy, a bit loud, and has to work really hard to keep up with traffic. That’s about what you’d expect from a little 1.5L motor, so it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
The Fit’s ride is…acceptable. It’s not particularly harsh, but it seems unrefined. When it hits road imperfections, it transmits a touch of them to your butt, rather than gliding over them. Honestly, the competing cars ride noticeably better. This is an artifact of maintaining the current generation’s design essentially unchanged for over five years. Since the Fit was introduced, Honda’s competition has produced newer models, making the Fit look more dated. Presumably, the 2015 model will catch up, but for now, the Fit lags in ride quality.
It lags in braking as well. Braking is smooth and predictable, but it takes 134 feet to come to a stop from 60 MPH. That’s worse than every competitor, and is 10 feet longer than the average braking distance for its class. So, since the Fit won’t stop very fast, you will probably hit something in an emergency situation. In which case, you’ll be happy to hear that the Fit gets the highest IIHS safety rating in crash testing. So, you’ll probably walk away from the crash.
Fuel mileage is pretty good, with the manual transmission providing a combined 29 MPG, and the automatic transmission an even better 31 MPG.
What’s good about it
The Honda Fit is surprisingly fun to drive for a little hatchback. It has willing chassis, and is powered by The Little Engine that Could. It has the best visibility of any car I’ve driven in a long time. There’s loads of room for passengers. It has a crazy amount of cargo space, and a versatile cargo setup that no other competitor can match. A nice manual transmission is available.
What’s bad about it
The interior is a bit Spartan and the controls are dated. The automatic transmission version feels a bit sluggish in comparison to the manual, though it gets better gas mileage. The braking distance is the worst in its class. The technology is dated. The ride quality is merely OK. It’s a bit noisy on the highway, and struggles a bit to keep up at higher speeds.
The manual transmission version of the Honda Fit is, I think, the best car Honda makes. It harkens back to the fun Honda’s of the 1980s, before Honda decided to just make beige cars. It’s engaging, requires active driver inputs, and is eager and willing to please. The low price also makes it good value for money. The automatic version is less engaging, and, being a bit more expensive, a bit less of a value, though still surprisingly fun to drive.
The technology and ride quality is, admittedly a bit dated, as you’d expect from a car that’s been unchanged for half a decade. But the counter to that is the visibility and cargo versatility. It’s just about perfect—and I rarely say that—and I honestly don’t see how it could be improved.
The cargo versatility alone should keep the Honda Fit at the very top of the list of practical, economic hatchbacks.
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