While out testing the 2013 Honda Fit EV, I wanted to run its range down from a full charge to under 10 miles. My problem: the trip computer showed 14 miles left and I was in the middle of San Francisco. It might take me half an hour to get to the CNET garage, but I would only cover about 3 miles getting there. That's city driving for you.
So I cheated by hitting the Sport button, which not only brought up red accent lighting on the instrument panel but also recalculated the remaining range, bringing it down to 9 miles.
As with most electric cars currently on the market, the Fit EV gets less than 100 miles range on a full charge, 82 miles as estimated by the EPA. In my experience, the car's trip computer showed anywhere from 90 to 100 miles' range on a full charge and in Eco mode.
For my journey mentioned above, I covered 67.4 miles and rolled into the garage with 10 miles left in Eco mode, making for a total of 77.4 miles. However, I had spent 46.8 miles of that trip traveling at 65 mph on the freeway, a particularly energy-intensive exercise for the barely aerodynamic Fit EV. On surface streets, I had mostly kept it in Eco mode, going to Normal for the freeway.
More than a few people could complete a daily commute with the kind of range I got from the Fit EV and have substantial miles left over.
During my time with the Fit EV, I became familiar with something electric-car owners enjoy: starting each day with a fully charged battery. That fact made me realize the inconvenience of how gasoline-fueled cars make you plan a special trip or detour to a gas station. Some decades from now, people will consider trips to the gas station quaint, somewhat like having the ice man come by to fill up the icebox would seem today.
I also got to experience electric-car owner smugness as I sat in traffic and noticed the rippling effect of the exhaust and heat being emitted by all the other cars around me. I enjoyed the fact that my own little ride was running much cooler, spitting zero CO2 or pollutants into the surrounding air, and getting the equivalent of 118 mpg, according to EPA mileage figures. Environmental superiority for the win.
As you can guess by its name, the Fit EV is a relative of Honda's gasoline-powered Fit model. When automakers build electric cars, they can either retrofit an existing model or design something new from the ground up. The former tends to be cheaper, but the latter strategy results in a better overall car. Witness the Tesla Model S, the Nissan Leaf, and the BMW i3.
Honda went the former route with its Fit EV, but managed some pretty serious engineering changes to compensate for the problems of a retrofit. Jamming batteries into any available space can lead to poor weight balance, so Honda lifted the Fit EV's body slightly, making space for the battery pack under the floorboards, evening out the weight distribution, and lowering the center of gravity.
To accommodate the approximately 750-pound weight gain of the Fit EV over the standard Fit, Honda swapped the rear torsion bar suspension for a more advanced multilink system. That change undoubtedly helps the car's handling, but does not wholly defeat the oddly heavy ride feel.
Beyond eliminating the tailpipe, Honda made a few other changes to the Fit's exterior. A wide, chrome smile replaces the front grille, as the electric motor and battery cooling system does not need a big air intake. The fuel filler goes away, replaced by a J1772 charging port up the left-front fender.
The interior feels as roomy as the standard Fit, but gone is the versatile Magic Seat that opened up so much cargo space. The Fit EV comes with a simple rear fold-down seat, necessitated by the structural changes. Honda notes that the seat coverings consist of bio-fabric polyethylene terephthalate and feel as funky as that name sounds. However, this material comes from renewable sugar cane, so another point for environmental superiority.
Instead of traditional instruments, the Fit EV gets analog power-usage and charge-level gauges. Dominating the center of the instrument panel, an LCD shows the car's current speed in digital format, plus a driver-configurable screen for trip data, with the all-important remaining range.
Going against the high-tech grain, a lever-style handbrake adorns the console, and a metal key starts the car.
The Fit EV's drive modes, Eco, Normal, and Sport, not only affected what the trip computer showed, but drastically changed the driving character. In Eco, signified by green accents on the instrument cluster, the car responded mushily to the accelerator. When I hit the Normal button, the accelerator released the 189 pound-feet of torque from the 92-kilowatt drive motor more readily. Sport mode unleashed the motor's full capability, twisting the front wheels aggressively with my least touch of the accelerator pedal.