Making a virtue out of practicality, the 2008 Honda Fit Sport doesn't offer breathtaking looks, rugged capability, or racetrack speed. What it does offer is low-speed power, maneuverability, nice cabin materials, and plenty of room inside for occupants and cargo. But even with these practical points, it's a car that doesn't live up to its potential.
From our Car Tech perspective, there is very little special about the Fit. As is typical with the segment, GPS navigation isn't available. Nor does it offer Bluetooth cell phone integration, like the Nissan Versa. Also, you won't get iPod intergration, like in the Scion xD. The Fit's biggest tech feature is its fairly mundane stereo.
Test the tech: Let's run, sport
After driving the Fit around San Francisco for a few days, we really began enjoying its responsive steering and sprightly throttle. Maybe our test car's bright red paint job and Sport trim level went to our heads, but we thought it might be a good autocross car. Unfortunately, and probably for the best, we couldn't find an opportunity to put the Fit through an autocross course while we had it.
So we did the next best performance test we could think of: We took it for zero to 60 mph runs. Editors Kevin Massy and Wayne Cunningham drove the car out to our testing grounds, and on the way discussed how fast they thought the car might make it to 60 mph. Massy assumed the car could make it in 7.2 seconds, while Cunningham gave a more conservative estimate of 8.5 seconds.
With the performance computer hooked up, Massy took the first run. He set the five-speed automatic transmission to Sport mode, enabling the wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection. On his green light, he stomped the accelerator, keeping it in first gear up close to 7,000rpm. We weren't thrown back into our seats, and the car's front wheels didn't spin out of control. Rather, the car jogged forward, its speedo needle lazily climbing. In second, Massy held the gear until near redline, the car forcing him to shift to third gear about 55 mph. In third he crossed 60 mph, and a look at the performance computer revealed the dismal result: 11.87 seconds. Obviously we had been a little off about this car's potential.
Cunningham took over next, and with everything reset, he launched the car, altering strategy by modulating the accelerator instead of just slamming it to the floor. Also using the paddle shifters, Cunningham ran the tach up to about 4,500 rpm, where it felt like first gear had given the car everything it could. A shift up to second gave the car renewed vigor, the kind of boost we had been used to in San Francisco traffic. Feeling he had wrung everything he could out of second, he shifted to third gear well short of redline. In that gear, the Fit went over the 60 mph mark with the best, but decidedly nonsporty, time of the day of 11.15 seconds.
In the cabin
We were impressed with materials and general look of the cabin. Honda uses soft surfaces where they make sense, and smooth, hard plastic where it counts. The interior is also surprisingly roomy, partly because of the height of the car. Four adults could sit in this car and have plenty of legroom, and there would still be plenty of cargo space in back.
But the sole piece of tech in the cabin is the stereo. However, the stereo isn't particularly impressive. The audio system uses six speakers--better than four--but the audio quality is still generally muddy and rough. Although Honda boasts a 200-watt amplifier, we turned it all the way up and didn't need to cover our ears. The amp might be limited so as not to rattle the speakers, which didn't sound overly distorted at maximum volume. Along with treble and bass settings, it includes five EQ presets with names like Groove, Beat, and Vocals.
For audio sources, the stereo lets you choose from radio, CD, or auxiliary input using a nicely designed set of buttons radiating around the volume knob. The single-CD player can handle MP3 and WMA tracks, and will show artist, album, and song name from the track's tags. The auxiliary input is placed at the front of the console, with a convenient compartment for your MP3 player, but it is a long reach down to program in music. There is no iPod-integration option or satellite radio.
We found it most deplorable that this audio system is not aftermarket friendly. The face plate and control arrangement doesn't conform to a standard single or double DIN-sized opening. If you want to upgrade the Fit with one of the many stereos offering advanced tech features, such as Bluetooth or navigation, you will need to get a special kit with a replacement cover for the stack. For a car in this price range, Honda should have made the stereo more easily swappable.
Under the hood
On its face, the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine sounds like a good idea for a city and suburban car. An engine of this size should offer excellent mileage and low emissions, but the Honda Fit falls a little short. Its EPA numbers are 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, exactly the same as the 1.8-liter Nissan Versa. Likewise, the Fit's emissions rating is LEV II, the minimum required for California and the other states that follow California Air Resources Board standards. We would expect better from such a small engine.
The 109 horsepower from this engine doesn't move the car very fast. During our acceleration testing, it moved well to about 35 mph, but above that it crawled. Similarly, we found its passing acceleration lacking, as we couldn't get much oomph out of it when we were already traveling at 55 mph.
We noted that our car had paddle shifters for manual gear selection. This feature is an attribute of the Sport model, and pretty much unnecessary. First, they are mounted on the steering wheel, making them useless when you turn the wheel. And although they do let you hold gears pretty close to redline, the engine just isn't powerful enough to justify them. We weren't all that impressed with the transmission. It only has five speeds. Beyond normal Drive mode and manual gear selection, it also has a Sport mode, which only seems to lock out fourth and fifth gears, without affecting the shift points.
The steering in the Fit seemed responsive, letting us maneuver in traffic easily, but the height of the car made it feel top-heavy. We also expected a better turning radius because of the size of the car, yet on a few wide, suburban streets, we had to make a three-point turn where we thought we could get away with a U-turn.
We tested a 2008 Honda Fit Sport with the automatic transmission option, which comes in at $16,070. Honda offers a few accessories, but no significant options. You can get the five-speed manual version for $15,270, and the non-Sport, base level Fit with manual transmission for $13,950.
Although we recognize that cars in this segment don't offer much tech, the Fit was more devoid than most. We weren't impressed with the lack of cabin tech or the quality of what was present. Likewise, the powertrain tech doesn't offer much. If we're getting a small engine with low power, we at least want to brag about its environmental merits, but the Fit doesn't make up for its weaknesses with any real strengths. We do like the design, and give it points for the amount of interior space, the usability of its stereo, and the nice exterior look.