It's only been a couple of years since Honda introduced the Fit to the U.S., but the company already has a significant update ready for the 2009 model year. No, Honda hasn't dramatically shortened its design cycles, rather, the 2007 Fit was an import of a model called the Honda Jazz in other countries. We just got a hold of it midcycle. The 2009 Honda Fit features some new body work, a little more horsepower, and some essential cabin tech. And we still think the U.S. got the best deal on the car's name.
There is a lot to like about this Fit, not least of all the immense cargo area, surprising in such a small car. We like the design touches in the front grille, which gets some angles reminiscent of the Transformers. Honda also makes a navigation system available, which we didn't have in our test car, but in a big oversight, Bluetooth isn't an option. Besides the cabin tech, what interested us most about this little car was the fuel economy.
Test the tech: Zero to 40 mpg
When we tested the 2008 Honda Fit, we put it to timed 60-mph runs because it was the Sport version. At more than 11 seconds for its best time, we decided acceleration wasn't the car's forte. Our 2009 Honda Fit was also the Sport version, but with this one, we set out to maximize its fuel economy.
The 1.5-liter engine in the Fit is designed more for economy than sport.
The EPA rates the 2009 Honda Fit Sport, with manual transmission, at 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. These numbers are good but not particularly impressive. We thought we could do better given the Fit's 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The car's instrument cluster is well-designed to help maximize economical driving, with an instant fuel economy meter right above an average mpg display from the trip computer.
We took the car on a drive from San Francisco southbound ending up at the coastal city of Seaside, then back home. For most of the trip, we were on fast freeways, with speed limits of 65 mph. While starting off on this trip, we decided our challenge was to keep the economy meter above the 40 mpg mark as much as possible, without dropping much below the posted speed limits. The first section, along a hilly freeway, was difficult--we could coast on the descents, but had to hit the gas for the ascents. Even with this terrain, the average economy climbed, edging up past the 30 mpg mark.
A run over some flat land boosted our economy even further, but then a particularly mountainous section made us lose precious tenths. We practiced hyper-miling techniques, stabbing the gas pedal for a quick burst, then coasting, all the while trying to keep the economy meter over 40 mpg and our speed up with traffic. Along the coast, a good stretch of flatland, and a smaller stretch of 45 mph traffic, helped us boost the Fit's economy up past the 36 mpg mark. We were well past the EPA highway rating and started thinking we could achieve 40 mpg as our average.
We finally break 40 mpg on the trip computer.
At our turnaround point, the Fit broke 37 mpg, but its upward progress had slowed. Had it hit its plateau? We faced the same economy-killing mountain pass on the way back, but took advantage of as much coasting on the downhill side as we could. We opted for a flatter route back into San Francisco, but still had to maintain freeway speeds. We fought for every tenth past 39 mpg, feathering the gas peddle to urge the Fit past its wind resistance. At 39.8 mpg we thought it wouldn't go any higher, but then traffic slowed down a bit. We took advantage of 60 mph speeds, and watched our average fuel economy tick over 40 mpg, still 20 miles short of San Francisco. During the rest of the trip, we urged it even higher, getting it up to 40.3 mpg.
In the cabin
Honda did some nice work on the cabin for the 2009 Fit, giving it an impression of quality, if not luxury. The seats get a soft fabric and the cabin switchgear generally feels solid. Some parts hint at 1980s hard plastic, but they are mercifully few. One thing the Fit excels at is cargo space. With room for four in the cabin, there is still space in back for seven grocery bags. Put the back seats down, which they do very easily, and you've got so much cargo space you'll be looking at the outside of the car to see if it's gotten bigger.
Although our test car didn't have the navigation option, it is available, a nice tech feature for an economy car. Having used Honda's navigation systems in many other models from the company, we have little doubt that it would work equally well in the Fit. What Honda hasn't added is a Bluetooth phone system, a common feature in its Acura cars.
You can play tracks from an iPod or USB drive through the stereo, although the interface for choosing tracks isn't all that intuitive.
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.
Honda knows how to make a good manual transmission.
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.