That leaves the stereo as the main tech feature in our 2009 Honda Fit Sport. We quickly found the USB connector in the upper glovebox (yes, there is also a lower glovebox), which works for USB drives and iPods. But it took us awhile to figure out how to find music on a connected iPod. We came very close to actually consulting the manual, until we found we could change from Playlist to Album, Artist, and Genre selection by pressing down on the big volume knob on the car's instrument panel. With a list of artists displayed, for example, the volume knob suddenly worked as a selection knob, scrolling through artist names. There is also a single-disc slot with a player that can read MP3 CDs, but as usual, we found the USB port more generally useful.
We had some differing opinions on staff about the audio quality from the stereo's six speakers. Some were impressed by the sound, while others thought it was mediocre, with tinny highs. A majority of our staff found that, while it was good that bass-heavy tracks didn't rattle the doors, the speakers tended to cut out midlevels in favor of highs, losing vocals. The 160-watt amplifier certainly doesn't lack for volume, but crank it up and those same highs the speakers favor become shrill.
Under the hood
The 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the 2009 Honda Fit Sport seems tiny, but it gets the car around easily enough, especially with the five-speed manual. Load the car down with four passengers and cargo, and it will be a different story. A five-speed automatic, complete with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, is available in lieu of the five-speed manual. The engine makes 117 horsepower at 6,600rpm, although you won't want to put the needle close to that mark if you're trying to maximize mileage. Torque is 106 foot-pounds at 4,800rpm, but feels adequate at lower engine speeds to get the car moving.
We were pretty happy with the manual transmission in our test car. First, it let us shift up quickly, even going to fourth on city streets at just over 30 mph, maximizing fuel economy. Second, it shifts very well, with an easy, precise feeling, no rowing required. As a further fuel-saving technology, Honda fits the, um, Fit with electric power steering, lessening the general load on the engine. Remarkably, the electric power steering wasn't obvious. In other cars, we've heard the whirr of an electric motor as we spun the wheel around, noting the electrically driven nature from the wheel's very light feel. Honda keeps the power-assist tamed in the Fit, allowing for better road-feedback, and keeps its electric motor quiet.
Our main criticism about driving the Fit concerns the ride quality. We don't expect too much from a small, inexpensive car, so we weren't surprised, but driving over rough sections of pavement at freeway speeds left us feeling like we would need some dental work. The Fit wouldn't be our first choice for a road trip. Stability proved good, though, as we coasted down mountain curves, not wanting to touch the brakes for fear of losing hard-won kinetic energy. The Fit uses disc brakes on front and drums on the rear, with antilock brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution standard. Traction and stability control only come on the Fit Sport with navigation.
We detailed the fuel economy of the car above, in our opinion one of the strongest features of the Fit. Even after we got the average mileage, as reported by the trip computer, above 40 mpg, it didn't recede much during subsequent drives around traffic-heavy San Francisco. It dropped down to 39.2, then closer to 40 mpg again with a little highway driving by the time we had to give the car up. Where the previous generation of the Fit was only rated as a LEV II, the minimum for California, the 2009 model ups that rating to ULEV II, more appropriate to the car's small engine.
The pricing of our 2009 Honda Fit Sport came in at an easy $16,060; $16,730 with destination, and that includes the iPod connector. The same car with an automatic transmission would have cost $16,910. Honda doesn't price out navigation as a separate option, rather, you can buy the 2009 Honda Fit Sport with navigation for $17,910, or a bit more for the car with an automatic transmission. Other cars to consider at this price level are the more option-laden Scion xB or the Sync-equipped Ford Focus. The Focus in particular can be coaxed up to similar mileage figures as the Fit, and Sync gives you a voice-activated MP3 player connection and Bluetooth phone support.
In our ratings we give the Fit high marks all around. Its engine is economical and gets a better emissions rating and more power than the previous generation. The electric power steering is a nice feature. Antilock brakes are standard, and we give it credit for having stability control available on at least one version of the car. Likewise, navigation is available on the Sport trim, and the standard iPod connector is a great feature. But we have to ding it for the lack of Bluetooth, and the audio system was a bit weak. Design is generally very good, with the only fault being the nonintuitive interface for selecting digital music.