2008 Honda Fit Sport Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Towards A More Perfect Fit:

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2008 Honda Fit Sport

No sooner had the 2008 Honda Fit Sport I had requested for test purposes been delivered than Honda let it be known that an all-new 2009 version would debut at the New York International Auto Show at the end of March, then about a month away. Oops. Does this mean that the 2008 Fit is a lame duck, unworthy of review?

Hardly. It's still model year 2008, the `09 won't be out for a while, and despite increasing competition the current Fit still is the premium entry in the subcompact sedan/hatchback class.

And no, "premium subcompact" is not a classic oxymoron. While not as quiet and refined as a $50,000 luxury car, the Fit compares well with any car a class or two above. Most importantly, despite its diminutive size - which makes parking a snap - there is more than adequate room inside for four real adults. Or five, if the center rear passenger is small. Safety is not compromised, as the Fit has a full complement of safety features, including antilock brakes, as standard equipment. With 109 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque, performance is more than adequate, and thirty miles or more is easily extracted from each gallon of unleaded regular.

There are two trim levels, called Fit and Fit Sport. Differences? The Sport gets remote entry and a security system, fog lights and aero kit trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, alloy wheels with upgraded tires, and an upgraded audio system. For both, a five-speed manual transmission is standard, with a five (not the common four) speed automatic available. Sport automatics get easy manual shifting by way of paddles behind the steering wheel spokes as in larger and more expensive automatic sports sedans.

I've just finished a week with a well-equipped Fit Sport automatic. The first Fit I drove, two years ago and for a short time, was an automatic. It impressed me with useful low- and midrange torque (imagine that from Honda!) and an automatic that did not destroy the car's sporty character. When I got a Fit as a test car a few months later, it was a manual. And now, an automatic again. Comparison? I personally prefer a manual, but if my life involved copious commute traffic, I could live happily with the automatic. It has only a minor effect on performance, and the easy manual shifting means that it could be driven like a manual if and when desired.

But the Fit is about more than a fine drivetrain and sporty chassis. It's an excellent example of space utilization. It seems larger inside than out. Its four-door hatchback body makes access easy for people or things. And its "Magic Seat"(tm) gives it remarkable versatility when it comes time to carry cargo. Given its combination of comfortable space, interior versatility, good fuel economy, and fun-to-drive character, it's no wonder that the Honda Fit is the benchmark in the subcompact class.

APPEARANCE: A 2008 Fit looks just like a 2007 fit. It's still the box it came in, with a one-and-a-half box shape that is almost like a shrunken minivan. At 60 inches tall and 66.2 inches wide it is wider than it is tall, but looks otherwise, especially from the rear. At just over 13 feet in length, it's short enough to fit easily into any parking space, with room to spare. 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. 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 both trim levels. The instruments are backlit for excellent visibility, and a stylish look. 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. With the rear seat in passenger 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 2008 Fits come with front dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags as well as side and side curtain air bags. Antilock brakes - disc front, drum rear - with electronic brake-force distribution are also standard. The Fit has a five-star rating for frontal crash performance from NHTSA. New this year is a tire pressure monitoring system.

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 without excessive weight. 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 when pushed hard. 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 around 2500 pounds helps, as does the gearing of either five-speed transmission 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, for 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. The automatic's top two gears are overdrives, contributing to the Fit's fine fuel economy, and the engine produces enough low- and mid-range torque that manual mode can be considered entertainment, not necessity. If the driver does want to downshift, tapping the left shift paddle will do so. Right for upshift. In "D", automatic control will soon reassert itself; in "S" gears are held unless the rev limiter says otherwise. I averaged 30 mpg despite entertaining myself with manual mode and the higher reaches of the engine's power band.

CONCLUSIONS: The Honda Fit is functional, frugal, and fun.

SPECIFICATIONS
2008 Honda Fit Sport Automatic

Base Price			$ 16,070 with automatic transmission
Price As Tested			$ 18,193
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 automatic (opt) +800
Wheelbase / Length		96.5 in. / 157.4 in.
Curb Weight			2551 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		23.4
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			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		27 / 33 / 30
0 to 60 mph				est 10.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
alloy wheels				$ 1,164
Wheel locks				$    55
Carpet Floor Mats			$   101
Cargo cover				$   168
Destination charge			$   635

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