Honda, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2008 Honda Fit Sport – Road Test

I saw the Fit several months before Honda announced it was actually going to be sold in North America. It was different enough to catch my eye amongst all the generic-looking Civics and Accords in the Honda parking lot. I gave it a quick once-over and walked away thinking it would never see the light of day in this part of the world. Several months later and Honda announced that – yes indeed – the Fit was coming to North America!

Already an established and very popular vehicle in Asia and Europe, (sold as the Honda Jazz in Europe and a number of other countries), the Fit comes to North America and it’s been winning accolades from all the major newspapers and magazines since it arrived from Japan. The Fit first appeared in Japan during the summer of 2001 and is now sold in 117 countries around the globe. It has earned numerous awards worldwide, including “Car of the Year” awards in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.  So what makes it so special?

According to Honda, the Fit’s target market is first-time new car buyers, empty nesters, and those who are looking for a smaller affordable car with the flexibility to transport passengers and a wide range of cargo. After spending a week with the Fit, I’d have to say they’ve hit a bulls-eye! Honda aim to establish the Fit as “THE” car in the small car market. With a surprisingly high level of content, interior adaptability and sporty driving character, along with Honda’s renowned refinement and dependability – plus an extraordinary array of safety features – the Fit must have other manufacturers’ looking over their shoulders! Oh, and did I mention all of this is available at a bargain-basement price?

First Impressions
As with most vehicles, the sport version is better looking than the plain-vanilla base model. In the case of the Fit, the Sport model adds a lower body kit, roof spoiler and larger 15” alloy rims to the look. If customers order the automatic transmission with the Sport model, they get a 5-speed with paddle shifters, just like Formula1 and Champ Cars.

The steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters offer two shifting profiles -Drive or Sport – and allow drivers to manually shift gears up or down. When the Fit’s main shifter is in D, the paddle shifter can be used to downshift for increased power on hill climbs or engine braking on descents, with the transmission automatically shifting up when conditions return to normal. In Sport mode the driver has a lot more control. The transmission holds whichever gear is chosen by the driver and instead of automatically up-shifting, the transmission holds the selected gear until it is manually shifted. This system works well and doesn’t decide for the driver when to shift gears – unlike other manufacturers’ versions. Kudos to Honda for giving the driver more control – and for programming the transmission to shift at the red line, when it’s left in full automatic-mode.

Climbing behind the wheel, the Fit was not what I’d expected. The headroom available is enormous – much of it because the seat sits so low in the car, I always felt like I was sitting on the floor. The front passenger seat is about an inch higher than the driver’s seat for some strange reason and there’s no height adjustment, so it’s not like I was over-looking that aspect. The steering tilts, but unfortunately it doesn’t telescope – this would have been a big help, as I found the gas pedal was too close when I was comfortably gripping the wheel. To get comfortable I had to drive with my arms fully extended or have my right leg bent at an awkward angle. Otherwise, the seating and orientation was very good.

The cloth seats were supportive on the sides, but lacked a good lumbar support or adjustment. They were however comfortable, even on longer journeys. The material is more like velour than the more common seat material being utilized of late. My wife felt the Fit wasn’t very “Honda,” and that it was a very budget-minded Honda albeit one that is very well appointed.

2008 Honda Fit Sport, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org

Firing up the engine and driving off, the first thing that stood out was the steering feel. The electric steering, combined with the tight rack and pinion accuracy was a very pleasant surprise. Input is instantaneous and you really feel like you’re driving a far sportier vehicle – it certainly inspires confidence while bombing down the back roads. Entering the freeway was very interesting – I mashed the go pedal and the engine revved loudly, but we didn’t pick up much speed. The first thing that flashed through my mind was “Oh no! Not another Matrix!!” Fortunately, the Fit isn’t a close cousin of the Toyota Matrix, and we were soon up to highway speed. Once there, the Fit was surprisingly quiet – even at 80+ mph. I’d expected a lot of vibration and even more noise, but alas once again Honda have delivered more than expected with the Fit.

The tiny car had no problem keeping up with and even leading traffic, but things became a little more problematic when someone jumped into my lane and I had to ease off the gas. With the forward momentum stalled, the Fit took a bit of time to get going again once the moving speed bump had returned to the middle lane. When we encountered steep hills or bridges, the forward progress was again thwarted as the transmission geared down and the revs rose to deafening levels, all while the car continued working its way up the grade – slowly. Although the Fit has a 5-speed gearbox, I found that it continually searched for the proper gear when driving on the highway. On one occasion I set the cruise control but the transmission kept downshifting whenever we got a strong gust of headwind! While ascending or descending hills at lower speeds (30-50 mph) however, the transmission was absolutely perfect. I used the paddle shifter to choose my own gears, but I never got it just right – either the engine was wailing away or getting bogged down because I’d up-shifted – yet when I left it to make its own decisions, the transmission was flawless. One other point about the transmission – shifting is completely unperceivable – the only tell-tale sign is the engine changing notes, you never feel the transmission actually shift.

2008 Honda Fit Sport, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org

The dashboard layout is nice and clean with everything clearly marked and logically placed. Dials and buttons are big enough that you can even operate them while wearing gloves. I liked the layout of the stereo system with clearly marked buttons surrounding the dominant volume control button. The 200-watt AM/FM/WMA/MP3 single-disc CD player was very good considering the Fit is to be considered a budget vehicle (the base model makes do with 160-watts AM/FM single-disc CD unit). There’s a power outlet and auxiliary input for those who wish to connect their iPod to the sound system.

There is a reasonable amount of storage below the centre console for CD cases, but otherwise storage compartments in the Fit are mediocre at best. There’s no armrest or storage area between the front seats even though there’s plenty of room for one, and the glove box is a reasonable size, but nothing to get excited about. That was probably one of my biggest disappointments in the Fit – the lack of proper covered storage (even the rear cargo area doesn’t have a cover).

One reason the Fit stands out among all other small and budget-conscious vehicles is its enormous list of standard features in the base model. The Fit employs many safety features as standard – such as a 4-channel ABS system with electronic brake distribution (EBD), 14-inch tires (15-inch on Fit Sport), front seat-mounted side airbags, side curtain airbags in addition to the dual front air bags. Honda engineers have designed the Fit to achieve a 5-star frontal crash rating from the U.S. government’s National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), and “Good” ratings in offset frontal and side-impact tests conducted by the U.S.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The Fit’s 1.5-litre, 16-valve, 4-cylinder engine includes Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) and the Drive-by-Wire throttle control is connected to a standard 5-speed manual transmission. An available 5-speed automatic transmission uses a direct control system and interacts with the Drive-by-Wire throttle to help the transmission make shifts quickly and smoothly in all gears, as well as a lockup clutch that allows engagement at low speeds to help the automatic transmission models achieve similar fuel economy as the 5-speed manual.

Standard features include a 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, and power windows with auto-down driver’s window.

The Fit is available in two trim levels in the U.S., (LX and Sport), and three in Canada (base DX model, LX and Sport). The Fit LX adds power door locks, power side mirrors, air conditioning with air filtration system and two additional rear audio speakers. The Fit Sport model adds a security system with keyless entry, cruise control with illuminated steering wheel-mounted controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, underbody spoiler kit and rear roofline spoiler, fog lights, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and drive/sport mode gear indicator (automatic transmission only), 15-inch alloy wheels, a powerful 200-watt, AM/FM/CD audio system with 6 speakers, MP3/WMA playback capability, and a 5-mode equalizer.

Another benefit of the Fit is the surprisingly large passenger and cargo areas as well as it utility – thanks to the ingenious interior design of the seating.  Honda calls it: Fit’s Magic Seat®. The Magic Seat has four distinct modes for people, cargo or both.  It’s an innovative 60/40-split rear seat that allows the seatbacks to fold down or the seat bottoms to flip up, providing four distinct seating and four cargo-carrying configurations (Tall mode, Long mode, Utility mode, and Refresh mode) in addition to the standard five-passenger mode.

With the rear bench seat in its traditional upright seating position, the Fit has 90.1 cu-ft. of passenger volume (front and rear) and seats 5 passengers, while the rear hatch can carry up to 21.3 cu-ft. of cargo in the standard cargo area. The rear seatback in the Fit can completely fold forward without removing the headrests to create a virtually flat cargo floor (Utility mode) and cargo capacity increases to 41.9 cu-ft…or, the seat bottoms can flip up to carry taller items in the middle of the interior (Tall mode), allowing cargo to sit flat on the vehicle floor (up to 50” tall). Also, the Fit’s front seats can recline flush with the rear seats to create a long, flat surface perfect for relaxing when the vehicle is parked (Refresh mode). Additionally, the front passenger seat can recline down to the floor while in utility mode to create an area for long items – up to 7’10.” It’s very easy to flip and fold the seats into their various positions. To increase cargo capacity, just pull the lever and fold the seatback forward – locking it in place. To get the Fit into the “Tall Mode” you just pull the same lever and the seat cushion lifts along with the seatback – resulting in two separate cargo storage areas. To return the seats to normal, just pull on the legs and the seat cushion drops down and locks in place. It’s absolutely incredible how Honda have made it so easy to use!

2008 Honda Fit Sport, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org

In order to make the Fit so spacious on the inside and to create the “tall mode,” Honda “centrally-mounted” the fuel tank thereby allowing the floor in the rear to be lowered. The best I could figure is – the front seats are actually mounted on top of the fuel tank, that’s the only way to explain the bump in the otherwise completely flat floor.

Virtually everyone I spoke to asked me how the Fit compared to the Toyota Matrix. Fortunately, I’d driven the Matrix only a week or so prior to the Fit, so it was quite easy for me to compare. First of all, in price alone the Fit is a bargain compared to the Matrix. Throw in all the standard safety features the Fit has, that the Matrix either offers in packages or doesn’t offer at all – it’s a no-brainer which is the better car. However, having said that, the Matrix just “feels” better – it’s something I can’t explain – even though the Fit is superior in all other comparisons. In an apples-to-apples comparison, the Matrix has to be ordered with the XR and either a package #1 or #2 to get the ABS brakes, and power goodies like windows door locks and mirrors. The 4-speed automatic transmission will tack on $751 [$1,045 Cdn] putting it well above the price of the Fit. In fact, the base model of the Matrix is actually more expensive than the Fit Sport with a 5-speed automatic!

For more details and options go to: Automobiles.Honda.com (www.Honda.com) or www.Honda.ca

The Conclusion
I liked the Fit a lot. It’s very adaptable and the seating configurations are pure genius. It’s quiet, sporty and practical. It’s got more room than you’d imagine from the outside and it puts many of its competitors to shame. It provides great fuel economy and it’s very maneuverable in parking lots. Honda has put a lot of extras into the Fit that you wouldn’t expect in this price bracket – especially safety features. If I were in the market for a very adaptable entry-level car the Fit would definitely be at the top of my shopping list.

2008 Honda Fit Sport, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org
Warranty:
A fully comprehensive bumper to bumper warranty covers you for 3 years/36,000-miles [60,000 kms], and a 5-year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty. Roadside assistance is also included.

 Pricing for the 2007 Honda Fit
The Fit Sport starts at: $15,170 [$19,580 Cdn]
As tested: $15,970 [$20,880 Cdn]

 Fuel Consumption:  [Regular]
The 5-speed automatic is rated at 31 mpg City [7.6 L/100 kms] and 37 mpg Highway [6.35 L/100 kms]
I averaged 29.8 mpg [7.9 L/100km] in combined driving, and 30 mpg [7.8 L/100km] during 100% highway driving.

 + PLUSES:
Surprisingly quiet at all speeds
Abundance of space and adaptability in a very compact package
Incredibly adaptable interior
Stuffed with standard safety features that similar cars don’t even offer as optional
Outstanding fuel economy

– MINUSES:
The automatic spent a lot of time changing gears on the highway
Tailgate window doesn’t open independently of the rear door

Immediate Competition:
Hyundai Elantra GT, Kia Spectra5, Mazda3 Sport, Suzuki SX4, Toyota Matrix, VW Golf

By The Numbers…
Powertrain:        1.5 Litre 16-valve, 4-cylinder VTEC engine; 5-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shift; FWD
Horsepower:      109 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque:               105 @ 4,800 rpm
0-60 mph:          12.6 seconds

Interior
9 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
9 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
8 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

Ergonomics
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
8 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
9 – Driving Position/Controls

Exterior
8 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

Performance
7 – Engine
9 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
9 – Bang for the $$
10 – Fuel Economy
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134 Total / 150


Copyright © 2008 by Iain Shankland

Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Honda