2007 Honda Fit Sport Review


2007 Honda Fit Sport (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Honda Fit Sport

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2007 Honda Fit Sport

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Honda

Timing is everything. Like the original Civic back in the 1970s, in a time of high gasoline prices Honda's new 2007 Fit subcompact hatchback offers great fuel economy, snappy fun-to-drive performance, and a very reasonable price. It should fit the needs of a wide variety of people, from commuters through low-budget enthusiasts.

But wait... isn't that combination of economy and character the province of the Honda Civic? Well, yes. But, as seems to be the natural order in the automotive world, the Civic has grown over the years. If not ``upscale,'' the current Civic is compact rather than subcompact, and equipped and priced above what passes for entry level. And there is no Civic hatchback in the current lineup.

The Fit, like its competitors from other Asian manufacturers, is new only to the North American market. It has been well-known and quite popular in Japan as the Fit and Europe as the Jazz. Here, as the Fit, it's positioned a little above pure entry level and offered in two very well-equipped trim levels, standard and Sport. Both come with a 109-horsepower 1.5-liter engine matched to a choice of five-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and a strong and lightweight unibody structure with the full complement of safety equipment, including six airbags and antilock brakes standard. Both offer a tall stance that gives more room than expected for four or even five people, and both offer cargo versatility unparalleled in the subcompact class - or in any vehicle this side of a minivan - thanks to Honda's innovative ``Magic Seat''(tm) multi-function rear seat design. Both offer a high level of interior amenities, including air conditioning, power doorlocks, windows, and mirrors, and an AM/FM/CD audio system. Inside, the Sport adds an upgraded audio system that can play MP3 or WMA CDs and has a jack for an auxiliary audio player. Automatic models get manual-mode operation with shift paddles mounted on the steering column. Outside, it upgrades the standard fourteen-inch wheels to fifteens, and adds sporty-looking lower body trim and a rear visor spoiler.

I first met the Fit at a media function last Spring, where I had the opportunity to drive an automatic-equipped Sport model for an hour or so on both secondary roads and the highway. I was impressed by its space utilization and driving character, especially its low-rpm torque, not something for which Hondas are usually known. It ran fine at highway speeds, although there wasn't much excess power at 70 mph.

When a Fit finally made its appearance in my driveway, it had the manual transmission. With its lower gearing and lighter weight, the manual version was unsurprisingly quicker than the automatic, with plenty of power everywhere, even on the highway. It had the sort of character that demanded and rewarded assertive, sporty driving, and still returned well over 30 mpg in mostly city and backroad driving. Add in good interior space, and that wonderfully useful rear seat, and in any form the Fit can be a fitting vehicle for many uses, with as many smiles per gallon as miles per gallon. Maybe it's secretly a new form of crossover vehicle: micro-minivan plus sports car.

APPEARANCE: It is the box it came in. In common with other current small hatchbacks, and the previous-generation Civic Si, the Fit has a one-and-a-half box shape that is almost like a shrunken minivan. Although at 60 inches tall and 66.2 inches wide it is wider than it is tall, it looks taller than it is wide, especially from the rear. At just over 13 feet in length, it's short enough to fit easily into any parking space. In profile, the windshield has nearly the same slope as the hood, and the wheels are pushed to the corners, with short overhangs. Because of the sloped windshield, there are small auxiliary windows ahead of the front doors, which do add important visibility. Even without the familiar ``H'' logo in its center, the five-sided grille, peaked hood, and large headlights establish an undeniable Honda look. The Sport model has fifteen-inch alloy wheels, lower-body ``aero kit'' additions all around, and a small spoiler at the top of the rear of the roofline.

COMFORT: Inside, the tall roofline and wheels at the corners pay large dividends with good passenger and cargo space for the Fit's small size. Styling is contemporary sport-compact, with mostly synthetic materials, a two-tone gray and black color scheme with multiple textures, and bright but matte-finished silvery plastic trim. Things that are options in many competitors, such as air conditioning, power windows, mirrors, and door locks and a good AM/FM/CD/MP3-WMA audio system are standard in the Fit Sport. The instruments are backlit for excellent visibility, and a stylish look, and the pedals are conveniently arranged for easy heel-and-toe driving. There is plenty of headroom, good visibility, and a comfortably upright seating position for all occupants. The front sport buckets provide good comfort and support for driving, and also fully recline for car camping. The rear seat cushion is a bit higher than the front, for visibility, with a minimal impact on headroom, and with the rear seat in position there is a very useful amount of luggage space, easily accessible via the hatchback tailgate. Versatility courtesy of the Magic Seat is the Fit's strong point, and here's how it works: the rear seat is split 60/40, not unusual. The cushions are supported by movable tubular legs, which allow some underseat, kind of out of sight, storage. Or... remove the legs from the clip on the floor that holds them, fold them into the cushion, and place it (either or both parts) vertically to place tall, narrow items on the floor. Or fold the seatbacks forward, and the cushions automatically reposition for a flat load floor. Recline the front passenger seat to carry extra-long items. It makes for an extremely useful vehicle.

SAFETY: All 2007 Fits come with front dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags as well as side and side curtain air bags. Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are also standard. The Fit is expected to receive a five-star rating for frontal crash performance from NHTSA and ``good'' ratings for both front and side impact protection from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The key to the Fit's success in both interior space and handling is its construction. Its unibody structure utilizes a high percentage of lightweight high-tensile steel to provide strength and rigidity in a relatively lightweight package. Although the suspension is typical for the class, with independent MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam in the rear, it is well-executed. The strut design is similar to that of the newest Civic, designed for good straight-line stability and cornering control. The torsion beam axle, and central location of the fuel tank, allow the low rear floor and Magic Seat position. Springs and shocks are soft but matched, with very good damping, for very good ride comfort. The Fit corners very well, albeit with considerable body roll. It ``corners on its door handles,'' as the old saying goes, but sticks well and is great fun to drive. Also, unusually for a small, lightweight car, it is stable in strong winds.

PERFORMANCE: For only having 109 horsepower (at 5800 rpm) and 105 lb-ft of torque (at 4800 rpm), the Fit's 1.5-liter engine feels remarkably strong. A curb weight under 2500 pounds helps, as does the low gearing of the five-speed gearbox and final drive. The 16-valve aluminum alloy engine has a single overhead camshaft with Honda's VTEC variable valve lift and timing system operating on the intake valves. This is its secret to producing both strong low-rpm torque and good high-rpm horsepower, along with low emissions and good fuel economy. Dual rocker arms for the intake valves allow optimization for both low- and high-speed operation, with changeover around 3400 rpm. Good shift linkage to the five-speed manual transmission adds to the driving experience, and the car's performance. It's good off the line, better above 3000 rpm, and was still pulling strongly in first through fourth when the rev-limiter reminded me to shift. The Fit has a wonderfully sporty drivetrain, and, with a 34-mpg average despite a more than nodding acquaintance with the upper reaches of the rpm range. It also has a low ULEV-2 emissions rating. Must be a Honda.

CONCLUSIONS: Honda scores big with its smallest car, the new Fit.


SPECIFICATIONS  
2007 Honda Fit Sport

Base Price		$ 15,170
Price As Tested	        $ 15,720
Engine Type		16-valve single overhead cam
                         aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder 
                         with VTEC variable valve timing 
                         and lift.
Engine Size		1.5 liters / 91 cu. in.
Horsepower		109 @ 5800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)		105 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission		5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length	96.5 in. / 157.4 in.
Curb Weight		2471 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	22.7
Fuel Capacity		10.8 gal.
Fuel Requirement	87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires			P195/55 HR15Dunlop SP 81
Brakes, front/rear	vented disc / drum, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear	independent MacPherson strut/
			semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain		front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE  
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		33 / 38 / 34
0 to 60 mph				est 9.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES  
Destination charge			$ 550

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