2015 Honda Fit

The last time we left our subcompact hero, the plucky Honda Fit was getting a bit long in the tooth. But the second-generation model was still holding its own rather well, and for the enthusiast on a tight budget who wanted it all, it remained the car of record in its class. If you desired an endlessly practical and reliable little hatch that was fun to drive, it didn't get much better than the Fit. Even with nearly every competitor having been fully freshened since the model's introduction in 2009, the Honda managed to fight off also-ran status simply because of how incredibly functional and great to drive it was. Long story short: we loved this car.

Of course, there were a few caveats to the Fit's superhero status. It wasn't particularly fuel efficient, only mustering up, at best, 33 miles per gallon on the highway in a segment where 40-mpg quickly became the new benchmark. What's more, its onboard technology and infotainment was seriously showing its age. While we'd praise the Fit's behind-the-wheel goodness all day long, this shining beacon of great steering and suspension tuning never proved to be all that wonderful for long-distance highway cruising.

Now, say hello to the 2015 Fit, hitting dealerships this spring. Worry not – it's still clever as ever from a packaging standpoint, and comes fitted with lots of newness both inside and out. It's a far more competitive vehicle than its predecessor, and has everything it takes to fight even the toughest of classmates. But just as before, our recommendation doesn't come without a few caveats.

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The Fit looks less like the two-box, upright hatchback it did before, taking on more of a small MPV shape.

Visually, the 2015 Fit loses much of its cute-as-a-bug demeanor in favor of something decidedly more aggressive and modern, especially up front. By and large, we like the new look, but we aren't sold on the strong character line that rises dramatically on the front door, only to broaden from a point to a channel as it goes further up along the car's profile, finally dropping off over the wider rear fenders. It's an interesting design idea, but one we don't find particularly successful – it's especially hard to swallow from the rear three-quarter angle. From that same view, the Fit looks less like the two-box, upright hatchback it did before, taking on more of a small MPV shape. A quick poll of the Autoblog staff reveals that we like this new design better, but some of us still miss those large, wedge-shaped headlamps and cutesy cues of the previous car. We'll have to see how this new design ages, but it certainly falls more in line with the rest of Honda's restyled range.

The Fit hasn't grown much since we last saw it – in fact, certain dimensions have actually decreased. It rides on a 99.6-inch wheelbase – an increase of 1.2 inches versus the outgoing model – but its overall length has been shortened, now sitting at an even 160 inches compared to its predecessor's 161.6. Width is up by 0.3 inches and height remains unchanged at 60 inches. Extending the wheelbase and shortening the length means the front overhang – a particular point of issue on the old car – has been reduced, and the overall shape is less bulgy than before, despite the added curves.

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The dashboard and center stack designs lose a lot of the previous car's cleanliness.

Honda is offering a fresh crop of new colors that work well with the restyled shape, including Pikachu Yellow (okay, it's really Mystic Yellow Pearl). Base LX models roll on 15-inch steel wheels with drab plastic covers, but EX, EX-L and EX-L Navi trims use the handsome 16-inch alloy wheels seen on our test car. Halogen headlamps remain standard up front, but the Fit now uses LED taillamps out back. It's all pretty good looking, this Fit, and new darker colors like Passion Berry, Modern Steel and even the Aegean Blue do a lot to hide the character line that rounds out the rump. We do wish Honda would lose the chrome strip below the rear window, though. There's very little of the shiny stuff on the rest of the body, and a blacked-out panel like the one in the grille would likely look better.

Inside, there's a lot going on, and the dashboard and center stack designs lose a lot of the previous car's cleanliness. Chunky plastic moldings on the dash are met with aluminum accents and strips of faux-leather with unconvincing fake stitching, and the new center console has been canted to be more driver-focused, with the old car's vertical arrangement of heating/cooling controls now neatly organized below the radio (or new-generation infotainment system on higher-end models). What's in front of the driver is particularly clustered, with two-tier vents to the left of the redesigned steering wheel and gauges, and in redesigning the HVAC module, Honda has killed the volume control knob for the stereo – it's now annoyingly housed digitally in the touchscreen. Speaking of that screen, all Fit models now come standard with a rear-view camera. Sadly, the two-compartment glove box is gone, with usable storage space only found below the passenger's knees on the new car.

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Honda's executives proudly note that the car's packaging is its "single-greatest competitive advantage."

Despite its busier visuals, the new Fit's interior is a far more premium space than before. The hatch now offers amenities like leather upholstery, heated front seats and a sunroof – all things you couldn't get on the outgoing model. The Fit remains a hugely functional machine, and Honda's executives proudly note that the car's packaging is its "single-greatest competitive advantage." Despite a minimally increased wheelbase, the Fit now offers a whopping 39.3 inches of rear legroom. That's a gain of 4.8 inches versus the previous Fit, imbuing the subcompact with more rear seat legroom than the larger Civic and Accord. Combine that with a more upright seating position, and you'll find the rear bench is extremely spacious, not a penalty box like other subcompacts. Regardless of cloth or leather upholstery, the seats are decently comfortable, and even though front legroom has grown by a tenth of an inch, the seats seem to be closer to the floor than before. That's not something your five-foot, seven-inch author really noticed, but taller passengers weren't pleased during our test drive.

That nifty rear Magic Seat is still the star of the show, able to be reconfigured many ways, all totaling a massive 52.7 cubic feet of storage space with the seats down. Oddly, that's 4.6 fewer cubes than before, but the Fit's cargo area is still far more capacious than anything else in the class. For comparison's sake, a Ford Fiesta hatchback can only muster 25.4 cubic feet, less than half the Honda's total. In fact, that's more cargo space than the much larger Hyundai Elantra GT yields, 51 cubes. Said another way, flip the seats up, fold them down, whatever – you won't even notice the loss of space versus the outgoing model. And considering you can lay the front seats nearly flat to accommodate longer items, it's still possible to, well, fit nearly anything you want inside this Honda. We recently heard a rival automaker's PR person describe the Fit as "the Sistine Chapel of packaging." Indeed.

Clever packaging and a spacious, airy interior will be the Fit's biggest selling points as it strives to have more mass-market appeal. Elsewhere, the powertrain has been updated with Honda's new Earth Dreams technology and two new transmissions that result in better economy and overall driving refinement. But with those improvements, this new Fit unfortunately loses some of its spunkiness.

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A 1.5-liter Earth Dreams inline four-cylinder engine is nestled under that short hood, with 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque available, peaking at 6,600 rpm and 4,600 rpm, respectively – improvements of 13 hp and 8 lb-ft compared to the outgoing 1.5-liter engine. The Fit hasn't gained much weight in its overhaul, the base car tipping the scales at just 2,513 pounds (up from 2,496). Loaded to the gills, the top-spec Fit EX-L Navi comes in at a respectable 2,628 pounds.

This new Fit unfortunately loses some of its spunkiness.

The new, direct-injected powertrain means the 2015 Fit is quite a bit more fuel-efficient than before. With the continuously variable transmission, base models are estimated to achieve 33 miles per gallon in the city and 41 on the highway – large increases of 6 mpg city and 8 mpg highway versus the outgoing five-speed automatic-equipped car. For folks who like to row their own, a six-speed manual transmission is still available in LX and EX models, and fuel economy is rated at 29 mpg city and 37 mpg highway – gains of 2 and 4 mpg – over the old five-speed stick.

Now, don't freak out over the use of a CVT here – it's not a bad transmission, and Honda offers paddle shifters on so-equipped Fits with seven built-in "shift points." This unit is essentially the same CVT from the 2014 Civic – a more compact version of the transmission used in the Accord. We used the paddles briefly on our drive around San Diego, CA, but found that you're generally better off just leaving the transmission alone. It's one of the more nicely behaved continuously variable units out there.

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We'd be remiss not to point out that the Fit's newfound composure has come at the expense some of the car's great-to-drive pleasantries.

Like the outgoing Fit, the new 1.5-liter engine is pretty gutless in the low end of its powerband, and you'll really be digging into the throttle under acceleration, especially uphill. With either transmission, that sort of order is met with an audibly buzzy engine soundtrack – in fact, despite Honda's efforts to quiet the cabin, the Fit feels louder in terms of powertrain, road and wind noise than many competitors. The benefit of the CVT's wide ratio spread, though, is that when you're cruising, the engine settles into lower revs. The manual, on the other hand, holds 'em high at cruising speeds – sixth gear uses the same ratio as fifth gear in the old car, and on the highway at 80 miles per hour, you're revving at some 4,000 rpm. And it doesn't sound great. That said, Honda's manual transmissions have always been nice to use, and that doesn't change here with the new six-speed unit – the clutch pedal is nicely weighted and the gearbox itself offers crisp action. Good stuff, despite the audible highway drone.

Honda admits that current Fit customers have complained about the car not being terribly pleasant to drive over long distances at highway speeds, and the new model does a lot to solve those problems. The suspension is more compliant for highway cruising than before, offering a more comfortable ride. While that's all well and good for the majority of Fit owners, we'd be remiss not to point out that this newfound composure has come at the expense some of the car's great-to-drive pleasantries on more interesting roads. Gone is the rear stabilizer bar from previous Fit Sport models, and the torsion-beam rear suspension loads weight oddly when cornering. Braking feel and power are fine, but the long and short of it is that this car doesn't instill as much driver confidence on winding roads, with noticeable understeer and a rear end that just doesn't feel as planted as in the previous model.

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The driving dynamics are still better than the majority of the Fit's competitive set.

On top of that, the newly electric power steering isn't as nice to use as the rack from the outgoing Fit. The ratio has been increased from 12.7 to 13.1 in the new car, with turn-in that lacks crispness and an overall level of feedback that isn't as rewarding as before. That's a bummer, especially since Honda – and particularly, the Fit – has long been known for excellent steering feel. But all is not lost – it's still near the front of the class. The toughest competition for the Fit in terms of driving dynamics is arguably the refreshed Ford Fiesta, with its dual-clutch transmission, nicely weighted steering and more engaging chassis tuning. Classmates like the Chevy Sonic, Nissan Versa Note and Toyota Yaris still lag somewhat behind in this regard. Even so, good as the last Fit was, the Mazda2 still felt more involving from the seat of our pants. But the old Fit's versatility, economy and interior refinement still made it a better daily choice than the entertainment-above-all Mazda.

This sounds like a long list of disappointments, but really, that isn't so. Sure, the 2015 Fit's less-involving driving dynamics are a step back from the outgoing car, but it's still better than the majority of its competitive set. It isn't the far-and-away-better, great-to-manhandle hatch that it used to be, but for daily use, we don't think the overwhelming majority of consumers will mind – most probably won't even notice. We even spoke to a couple of current Fit owners, who said they'd be willing to sacrifice some of that sharp handling for something that's a bit more at ease on imperfect pavement. So it goes.

2015 Honda Fit

It all comes back to the Fit needing to have more appeal to a greater range of buyers than before. After all, this hatch is Honda's fourth-best-selling model in the United States, behind the successful Accord, Civic and CR-V. And don't forget: the Fit's chassis will also underpin the upcoming small crossover (known as Vezel elsewhere, and rumored to be called HR-V when it lands here), meaning its basic architecture will have to accommodate a broader variety of priorities.

In a class where cars have to be everything to everyone, you could certainly do a lot worse than this capacious little Honda.

Pricing is still competitive, with the base Fit LX 6MT slotting at $15,525, not including $790 for destination – an increase of $100 compared to the outgoing model. From there, the volume-leading EX starts at $17,435, EX-L models command $19,800, and the top-notch EX-L Navi reaches to $20,800. The current top-shelf Fit Sport Navi starts at $19,790, and considering the new model adds things like leather, better tech, a sunroof and more, the extra coin seems absolutely worth it to us. For comparison, a comparably equipped Fiesta Titanium hatch comes in at $21,285, not including destination.

So, is the Fit still our subcompact hero? Yes and no. For us, that wishy-washy answer all comes down to it being less engaging from a driver's perspective. But its gains in interior refinement, onboard tech and the ever-excellent functionality and packaging go a long way toward making up for its less tossable and communicative nature. It may no longer be the clear driver's choice, but in a class where cars have to be everything to everyone, you could certainly do a lot worse than this capacious little Honda.