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2009 Honda Fit Sport Review

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2009 Honda Fit Sport

"Premium subcompact hatchback"? Isn't that a classic oxymoron, on the order of "business ethics", "military intelligence", or "computer security"?

Not, not if the subcompact hatchback in question is a Honda Fit. When it debuted a few years ago, Honda deliberately placed it above its Asian competitors in standard equipment level and pricing. And performance. Although adhering to the basic "econobox" formula -- small size, hatchback body, front-wheel drive, and MacPherson strut/torsion beam axle suspension, in design and execution the original Fit was a step or three above any other Oriental machine. Only the Mini and VW GTI out-did it as a premium hatch, but at a potentially considerably higher price level.

A second generation of Fit makes its debut for model year 2009, and adds a little more room, a touch more performance -- with no fuel economy penalty -- and more visual flair to its repertoire. Its unibody structure is stronger and more rigid, benefitting both ride and handling and safety, with no weight penalty, while developments to the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine have allowed a small but noticeable gain in power -- 8 hp -- on the same small amount of unleaded regular.

As before, there are two trim levels, the regular Fit and the Fit Sport. The Sport is, well, sportier, with the obligatory "aero-kit" look outside, fancier trim inside, and upgraded wheels, tires, and suspension. Both are offered with five-speed manual or automatic transmissions; the Sport gets manual-mode paddle-shifters on the steering column with its automatic.

I've just finished a week with a manual Fit Sport, and I'm sad. It's gone. I should probably recuse myself from reviewing it as I liked it entirely too much. But what's not to like?

The Fit Sport comes as close to being my (personal) ideal car as anything in production today, with a winning combination of a small, easy-to-park external size, plenty of interior, and great access to and reconfigurability for that interior, entertaining performance and handling, all with a frugal appetite for fuel. It's economical and it's, at heart, a (very useful) box, but it's no "econobox".

The Fit is more like the reincarnation of the CRX than ever, but with more room inside that the late CRX and four doors for better access to that room.

APPEARANCE: This is a car that looks like it's having fun even when standing still. It's a development of the first-generation Fit, and has style far beyond "basic transportation". With its huge, well-raked windshield and short hood -- the base of the windshield is at the front axle line -- the new Fit is almost a one-box design with the wheels at the extreme corners, and there's little boxiness anywhere. Honda calls it "super-forward aero form". Its high, narrow, and short proportions suggest youth, in the manner of a kitten or puppy or baby. The bulging headlights and smiling grille make a happy face, and sharp character lines add interest to the hood and sides without excessive busyness. The Sport model is distinguished by foglamps and chin spoilers in front, sill extensions at the sides, and a visor-type spoiler, faux venturi panel, and chrome exhaust tip at the rear. And lower-profile tires on larger, 16-inch, alloy wheels.

COMFORT: Inside as well, the Fit Sport is far from basic. It also seems to be larger inside than outside, although it really isn't and the laws of physics are not violated. Visibility is good, and the front quarter windows are far more apparent from the driver's seat than from the outside. Although the top of the instrument panel is a vast expanse, it produces little distracting glare. Both Fit trim levels feature power windows, mirrors, and door locks, and a good HVAC system with simple controls. The Sport gets a leather wrap on the rim of its tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, cruise control, and some minor details. Instrumentation is complete, and well-designed, and the AM/FM/6CD audio system accepts MP3 CDs and auxiliary audio players through either a mini-jack or a USB port in the auxiliary glovebox. The manually-adjustable front seats look sporty, with good bolstering, and are considerably more comfortable than expected in a subcompact. Still, the Fit's key interior feature is the rear "Magic Seat"(tm). It has good head an leg room for two, a bit of a squeeze for three, and is split 60/40. Nothing unusual there. But, the cushions are supported by movable tubular legs, which allow some underseat 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. All that makes for an extremely useful vehicle.

SAFETY: With its Advanced Compatibility Engineering(tm) (ACE(tm)) design and increased use of lightweight but strong high-tensile steel, strength and rigidity have been increased, benefitting both passenger protection and handling - passive and active safety. Dual-stage, dual-threshold front, front side, and full-length head curtain airbags and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution further protect passengers. The VSA stability-enhancement system is available in the Sport model.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The new Fit's increased structural rigidity benefits its abilities on the road as well as passenger protection. It's an evolution of the first generation, with no radical differences but plenty of detail improvements. The MacPherson strut front, torsion-beam rear suspension is standard fare in the subcompact class as it allows more passenger and cargo space than an all-double wishbone system. Ultimate cornering ability might (might) be less, but only at track levels, not in the real world. Changes in geometry at both the front and rear and revised rear bushings improve the already-good cornering of the original, and the effort required by the electrically-assisted is just right. Brakes, again, are standard spec for the class, discs in front and drums at the rear, but antilock is standard in all Fits and because of the car's relatively light weight - around 2500 pounds - they're fine in daily use. The Sport gets plus-one wheels and tires -- lower-profile H-rated tires on larger (16 instead of 15-inch) alloy wheels and a rear stabilizer bar. It's great fun to drive and quiet for a small car with no luxury pretensions.

PERFORMANCE: Detail improvements are the story under the hood, too. The 1.5-liter, 16-valve single overhead cam four-cylinder engine gets an improved i-VTEC variable valve lift and timing system for the larger-diameter intake valves, a redesigned intake manifold, and other internal developments that mean increased low-rpm torque and more top-end horsepower -- with no decrease in fuel economy. Horsepower is up from 109 to 117 (at 6600 rpm, just under the 6800 redline and 1000 rpm higher than with the earlier engine), while maximum torque is little-changed from the old 105 lb-ft to 106, still at 4800 rpm. With gentle throttle application, fuel economy can be exceptional. 40 mpg is attainable on the highway. Run it full-throttle up to the rev limiter and the Fit moves sprightly, if a bit more thirstily. It pulls well from as low as 2000 rpm, but is happiest above 3000 -- and even there is commendably fuel-efficient. Improvements to the shift linkage of the five-speed manual gearbox further enhance the driving experience. It's not the quickest or fastest car on the road, but, as the old saying goes, it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2009 Honda Fit Sport puts the fun in functional with an excellent combination of useful space, entertaining driving characteristics, and excellent gas mileage.

2009 Honda Fit Sport

 Base Price $ 16,060 Price As Tested $ 16,730 Engine Type aluminum alloy single overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC variable valve lift and timing Engine Size 1.5 liters / 91 cu. in. Horsepower 117 @ 6600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 106 @ 4800 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 98.4 in. / 161.6 in. Curb Weight 2520 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21.5 Fuel Capacity 10.6 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline Tires 185/55R16 83H Dunlop SP Sport Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, ABS and EBD standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 27 / 33 / 33 0 to 60 mph 8.7 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination Charge: $670