• Aug 20th 2008 at 12:28PM
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2009 Honda Fit Sport – Click above for high-res image gallery

When Honda introduced the first generation Fit to the North American market in mid-2006, its timing couldn't have been better. The entry level hatchback appeared just as fuel prices in the U.S. were heading skyward. Ever since then, the Fit has been selling as fast as Honda can bring them in from Japan. The Fit (or Jazz as its known in some markets) debuted in 2001 and the second-generation model went on sale in Japan last fall. Honda showed the new U.S.-spec Fit at the New York Auto Show last spring and we had our first opportunity to drive it on the roads north of Ann Arbor, MI last week.

As is typically the case with new models, the updated Fit has grown a bit (about 4 inches in overall length), but it's only about 44 pounds heavier than the outgoing model. Also in the usual fashion, Honda strove to increase the refinement of the Fit while not losing any of the fun-loving qualities of the original. In the process, it has had to deal with rising raw material and shipping costs while keeping the price from getting out of hand. Read on to find out if the spiritual descendants of Soichiro Honda have succeeded.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

The debut of the modern MINI earlier this decade clearly demonstrated that a small, fuel efficient car didn't have to be a cheap, plasticy, under-performing penalty box in which to suffer your commuting activities. The MINI's BMW origins, however, meant that it was a bit on the pricey side as well as having a minuscule back seat. The arrival of the Fit on our shores took those same driving qualities and added a more reasonable price and vastly more space for occupants. The Fit is taller and longer than the MINI, but smaller than cars like the Nissan Versa and Ford Focus.

The original Fit was designed well before Honda decided to bring the car to North America, so it didn't incorporate much in way of U.S. demands. Nonetheless, in its first two years on the market, American drivers took to the Fit and Honda sold as many as they could stuff on cargo ships from Japan. Besides its handling and fuel efficiency, features like the rear Magic Seats and ample cargo space also contributed to its popularity. For the second generation Fit, Honda wanted to build on what made the original a hot seller without diluting any of those properties.

The design philosophy behind the Fit is described as "Man-Maximum, Machine-Minimum," shrinking the car around the biggest possible user space. As we said, the new Fit has grown a bit, but not by much. Its limbo capabilities are unchanged at 60 inches, but it's about 0.6 inches wider and 4.3 inches longer. Following its New York Auto Show debut last spring, some observers complained about the longer nose compared to the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Fit that launched late last year. Honda explained that there were two reasons for this. One was aesthetic, as American consumers in clinics felt the Japanese Fit looked a little too mini-van like with its short nose. The other had to do with crash safety. U.S. standards require a certain level of occupant safety, even for those still ignorant enough not to wear seat-belts. Both of those needs led to a slightly longer nose that Honda now claims adds to a sportier looking new Fit. We'll let you be the judge of that.

Personally, we like the snub nose look of the JDM Fit, but the U.S. version looks fine as well. The rest of the car is a clear evolution of the original with the increased length and larger windows giving the appearance of a lower stance even though it is the same height. That vertical stature is one of the keys to the Fit's interior volume. Rear seat passengers sit upright with plenty of head room and knee room. The extra half inch of width allows for the addition of a driver seat center arm-rest and the distinct feeling of more elbow room. In spite of the slightly increased size, the mass for a comparably equipped model only goes up by the aforementioned 44 lbs.

An emphasis on safety in the new Fit plays a big part here. Honda has used a lot of high-strength steel to improve the structural integrity without bulking the car. As with other recent introductions, Honda has also incorporated Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE), which is intended to improve occupant protection in collisions between different sized vehicles.

For those unfamiliar with the rear Magic Seats, they provide immense flexibility. Like all hatchbacks, the rear seat backs fold down flat. The retracting rear head rests allow the flat fold even with the front seats all the way back. The front passenger seat back also folds forward for carrying larger items. The magic part is in the rear where the lower seat cushions also fold up against the seat back which is ideal for carrying taller items since you have unobstructed space from the floor to the ceiling between the seats.

The driver environment is well laid out with all controls close at hand. For those with a large thirst and bladder to match, the Fit's interior will be great for road trips as there are now 10 cup holders available. Two are located on the floor ahead of the shifter, one at either end of the dash board, one in each of the four doors and two more in the rear of the center console. A new top trim level has also been added to the Sport that includes an in-dash navigation system with a touch screen. Visibility out of the Fit is also excellent thanks to thinner A-pillars, larger quarter windows at the base of the more steeply raked pillars and a larger rear window. The steering wheel also adds fore-aft adjustment to its previous angle adjustment making it easier to get the right, ahem, fit.

We hit the road in a brilliant blue Fit Sport with a 5-speed manual gearbox and a navigation system for our first drive. Even for those not necessarily looking for a super-efficient car, the first generation Fit, especially in Sport form, provided a remarkably nimble and stable platform for tackling twisty roads. In spite of its tall stance, the original Fit never felt tippy and neither does this new one. Americans are generally averse to the idea of managing the gear ratio selection in their cars and predominantly opt for automatics. Thus, the new Fit carries over its five speed auto-box from the original and the Sport retains the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for those who like to play pretend.

For those who don't mind manipulating three pedals with two feet, the shift-it-yourself version proved remarkably adept. The shift throws were short and very precise. There was no slop to speak of in the shifter and the engagement of the clutch also made it very easy to drive smoothly and quickly. Also rating high praise was the Fit's steering. Unlike the Acura TL and TSX, which had inconsistent weighting and poor feedback from their electrically assisted systems, the Fit's system felt great. Honda increased the rigidity of the steering gear and changed the way it is mounted to the front sub-frame. During hard cornering, the forces going on at the tire/road interface were transmitted back through the reasonably thick rimmed wheel and there were no noticeable dead spots or free play.

The only sore spot were the brakes, and since we only had time to drive one example, it's not clear if this was a one-off problem or a common one. While the pedal feel was fine, during light braking typical of around town driving, it seemed to take more effort than expected to achieve the desired deceleration. It's possible that the pads were glazed from some over-enthusiastic use during a previous drive or perhaps they were green and needed braking in. Either way we'll be watching for this when we get a unit for a full review.

Other than that the Fit was very well behaved on curvy rural roads, highways and around town. The structure felt solid and the suspension was well damped while never feeling harsh. Wind and other ambient noise was remarkably low inside for an economy car. Probably the most remarkable aspect with regard to noise was when the car came to a stop. The Fit was so silent at idle that after recently driving other cars with auto start-stop systems, we thought the Honda was equipped with one. We had to glance at the tachometer to realize it was still running. Under hard acceleration the 1.5L four cylinder does make some noise but remains vibration free throughout the rev range.

The Fit's updated engine picks up 9 hp compared to the previous generation and 1 lb-ft of torque for a total of 117 hp and 106 lb-ft, respectively. If there is one thing that smooth running Honda four-cylinder engines can be criticized for are their relatively weak low end torque. What we'd love to see in the Fit is a 1.6L version of Honda's upcoming clean diesel. A torquey engine like in the MINI Cooper D blended with this chassis would be a perfect combination. It's not that the Fit is slow, but having the extra torque just feels better and provides more encouraging acceleration for passing or on-ramp merging.

The 2009 Fit also picks up one mpg across the board compared to the previous model, scoring 28 city/35 highway for the base model equipped with the automatic transmission . All Fits get anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution as standard equipment and the new Sport/navi version also includes stability control. The interior of the Fit clearly isn't a luxury car, but the shapes, color combinations and textures of the hard plastics keep it from feeling excessively cheap.

Honda scored big-time with the first generation Fit and expects to do even better this time. Capacity will limit sales to about 85,000 units for 2009, which we think will all be sold with no trouble. Honda has essentially run out of 2008 Fits over the past couple of months with supplies at most dealers in the single digits. It hasn't set a precise on sale date for the '09 model, but instead will allow dealers to start selling cars as they arrive in the next few weeks rather than waiting to fill the pipeline. All North American dealers should be selling them shortly after Labor Day, though. Finally, we'll have word on Honda's pricing for the Fit in a later post, but we think there's enough here in the new 2009 Fit to justify a few extra bucks in Honda's pocket.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      No mention of the follow-up hybrid variant? Any dates yet? Is automatic engine stop-start coming for the non-hybrid?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Nice Minivan.

      Now where's my CRX!
        • 7 Years Ago
        Exactly. It's a mini Odyssey. This is what it would look like if a Prius and an Odyssey had a baby.

        Cons: fugly a pillar, odd shape, razor blade front end, tiny wheels, flat-looking rear seats.

        Pros: Nav, price, not too fussy inside, and the spoiler.

        But for the most part I don't like it.

        Not saying I don't like it, I'm just saying I'd still get a Yaris. Looks better- especially the new 4 door hatch.
      • 7 Years Ago
      One huge problem with this car: If you want a vehicle stability assist, you have to go with the Sport, and also have to order Navi which adds an additional $1850 on top of the Sport price which boosts the price to over $19,000.

      Consumer reports says that "ESC (Electronic Stability Control) is, we believe, the single greatest advance in auto safety since the safety belt." (April 2008 issue, Have You Heard column). CR President Jim Guest goes on to say "If all cars had ESC, some 10,000 lives per year could be saved according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety."

      So Honda has chosen to force people to spend a lot more money for a B-segment sub-compact to save lives.

      ...Or they could just buy a car from another manufacturer.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Stability control will be required by law in 3 years so soon these games will be a thing of the past. Then you'll only have the trick where if you want leather you have to take the nav package and to get the nav you have to buy the sunroof but the sunroof requires the oversize chrome wheels which you can only get with the Supersized V6 that gets crappy mileage.

        I truly despise getting extorted into buying extra overpriced options I really don't want, but as with the airlines and their incessant fees, as long as everybody falls in line with the same unwritten rules of collusion then the consumer will continue to take it in the pants.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The 2010 Fit Sport comes with ESC in both models, not just the one with Navi.
        I am waiting for that when it arrives the second week of August 2009.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Perhaps instead of relying on electronics to save drivers from stupid mistakes, we should actually TEACH people how to drive in the US!

        It's retarded how easy it is to get a license here. The process is much more extensive and requires a lot more training in Europe.
      • 7 Years Ago
      how big is the gas tank on this? the old one's was puny - 10.8 gallons.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Still 10.8, smaller than the Mini Cooper's.

        I know it's fun to drive past gas stations and having fuel in your tank for longer, but hey, as long as you still see the savings.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Shrunken 2003 Civic Si...
        • 7 Years Ago
        It does. Hopefully this one resonates better than the Civic Si did. That was a rare Honda fail and probably a big reason why we don’t get the UK 3 and 5 door hatch now. Good thing the new Fit does not carry over the resemblance to the shifter. The old SI shifter looked like a donkey wang.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Except no.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Not really shrunken by much. It's taller and wider than a 2003 Si. It is shorter though.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The more I look at this car, the more hideous it is becoming. The rear 3/4 area with the rear wheel well inside the body is hideous....it makes the car look like a cartoon car.

      The amount of drama over this car when there are so many nicer vehicles available in Europe to be brought over is ridiculous.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I like the snub-nose better too. People who don't like the pointy look could pick up the JDM bumper and rebar and put them on the car; quite a few EP3 (02-05 Civic Si) owners have done it for the same reason.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Honda Fit Sport: another oxymoron enters the lexicon.
      • 7 Years Ago
      For the comments on the price being over $19,000, that is not what R&T just said. "While the base Fit starts at $14,550, the Fit Sport ($16,060) hits the sweet spot, its aero kit, more aggressive nose and 16-in. alloy wheels showing off the body's forward-sloping wedge shape to best effect. The Fit Sport "Navi" ($17,910) pairs in-dash navigation with a yaw-control system."
      • 7 Years Ago
      For the guy who said 3000lbs fit, hey maybe you weigh 556lbs but not most of us.

      About the weird design hey if you don't like it then just go to the nearest JDM your car shop and walla solved money can buy everything.

      The mazda3 guy who said no HID. This is AMERICA everything brought from Japan are watered down cars. Back in 1997 JDM civic have Navi and HID as option and what do we get here? more cup holders. If you want HID just buy one for less than $100 they are cheaper than your OEM HIDs everyone knows that.

      Not mazda1. Too bad no Mazda2. Its voted international car of the year. the new ford fiesta are based on mazda2 but slightly heavier. And yes mazda2 got the fun factor and score well in almost every test because of the WEIGHT.
      • 7 Years Ago
      That interior pic is hilarious. I'm gonna bookmark it to use for people who act up about the Cobalt interior.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Maybe its just me, but I really, really like the Fit's interior. I reckon it's approprate to have a slightly over-styled interior on a car like this. That said, the Cobalt's interior is fine, just very conservative.

        Sometimes when people bitch about the interiors of these things they forget we are talking about sub- $15,000 cars!
        • 7 Years Ago
        I agree Ken. Can't expect too much at this price point. A more appropriate candidate for comparison would've been the Aveo.
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