Honda Fit

MSRP (base): $13,950

Engine: 1.5-liter, 16-valve, SOHC, VTEC 4-cylinder

Horsepower: 109 hp @ 5,800 rpm

Torque: 105 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm

MPG: City: 28; Highway: 34

Performance - 16/20

Honda's 2008 Fit is founded on the same unibody construction shared with last year's offering and makes good use of its front-wheel-drive setup. This formula, complete with high-resistant MacPherson struts and rear torsion-beam suspension are optimal for this pocket rocket's street performance. The Fit's mojo is supplied by a 1.5-liter 16-valve SOHC VTEC 4-cylinder engine that dishes out 109 hp @ 5,800 rpm and an adjoining 105 lb-ft of torque. Now before you get all worked up about the seemingly deficient output compared to the Caliber, consider the Fit's curb weight and how punchy it is low in the torque band. The Fit can be equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, complete with sport paddle shifters that can also be used in the sport mode on the automatic transmission. Transitioning from cluttered traffic to freeway motoring is effortless and, more importantly, fluid. The Fit posts a 9.0 second 0-60 mph time, and bests its competitor by over a second in the quarter mile.

Exterior design - 15/20

The Honda Fit's externals are more refined and functional than outlandishly chic. Still, the Euro-racer-inspired silhouette, with a rear spoiler available with the Sport trim, is instantly likable. Honda has applied a sharp, sloping nose, blade-esque headlamps and a slightly bulbous hood to present a more "modern" face. Minus the front clip and 14-inch alloys, it fails to distinguish itself in its class, which some say actually works in its favor. The blueprint's simplicity doesn't take too many risks, which has been a major downfall for others who have been rather overzealous in that department. Playing off the Mazda5 outline, the Fit mimics the hatch/wagon look to perfection -- and with class.

Interior design - 8/10

The cockpit of the Fit is where it truly shows its star qualities, merging sophisticated convenience and comfort with great design. The expert color matching, plush patterned threads and strategic accents complement the already brilliant decor. In short, Honda has assembled a package that's shockingly worthy of donning an Acura badge. The fuel tank was placed under the front seats so as to make for an Alice in Wonderland-type rabbit hole effect, which frees up 41.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats collapsed. Dubbed the "Swiss Army knife" of passenger placement is Honda's efficient "magic seat" that allows for four different arrangements according to storage needs. As if we needed any more persuasion, there is also adequate hip, head and leg room, an easy-to-decipher HUD and a soothing lighting tint for nighttime driving.

Sound system/goodies - 5/10

Sound in the Honda Fit is marginal for a car in this bracket, but can be improved by shelling out for the Sport rendition, which has a five-mode equalizer and an MP3 jack. The entry-level sound system boasts an AM/FM radio and single-disc CD setup, mated to a minimal four-speakers dispelling 160-watts, but no navigation package or connection for satellite radio. Beyond this, staples for all models include an air conditioning/air filtration system, power windows and door locks, and an adjustable steering column. The vehicle's safety rating is ace with its dual-stage, dual-threshold, front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags, ABS, and electronic brake distribution. The car also features cleverly located inertia-absorbing crush zones.

Bang for your buck - 17/20

Coming in just south of $14,000 is a base model that remains competitive with the higher trims of other marques. The Honda Fit covers all shades of versatility, and coupled with its perky performance is arguably one of the hottest hatches to come out of Japan -- save for the MAZDASPEED 3, of course.

Driving experience - 16/20

When unleashed on the blacktop, the Honda Fit showcases its firm ride ability and willingness to be slung into corners. There is a bit of body roll, but it's nothing too drastic. An excessive amount of throttle will cause the back end to break loose, but it does so in such a predictable manner that it just adds to the pilot's enjoyment. With responsive electronic steering and a fuel consumption rate of 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, the only visible drawback is the lack of lumbar support on longer outings.

Overall score - 77/100

The Honda Fit brings a strong sense of utility along with a whole trunk-load of work ethic. With a smart design, appealing package and an easy-on-the-wallet price tag, the Honda Fit is most definitely one of the most charming five-doors to hit showrooms in some time.

And the winner is ...

When Dodge decided to boot the Neon from its roster in favor of the Caliber following the Neon's lucrative seven-year run, we expected it to be replaced with a car of a similar, if not better, marketing potential. The Chrysler group's design team excelled in the aesthetic department, but didn't focus much on anything else -- and it shows. Honda, on the other hand, has applied the very same science and overall prowess that has made their vehicles so successful with the Fit. And so it's not surprise that the Fit really is the perfect fit when it comes to a great hatchback for 2008.

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