With its Fit, Honda hopes it will have a four-wheeled success story comparable to its bestselling vehicle ever — the Super Cub scooter, 76 million of which have been sold since 1958. If "you meet the nicest people on a Honda," as the Super Cub ads claimed back in the day, you'll meet the youngest and most safety-conscious, penny-pinching drivers ever behind the wheel of the 2015 Honda Fit.
For its third overhaul since its 2001 introduction, the Fit builds upon its most alluring attribute — a toppled-egg profile that belies an exceptionally roomy cabin — adding more fuel efficiency, standard safety features and technology without a significant increase in price. The 2015 Fit starts at $16,215, including destination charge.
Fuel economy and price being the most important factors in the subcompact market, the Fit re-do, like most subcompact updates, offers more power and more fuel economy. It's propelled with a new direct-injection 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that ups the horsepower by 11 percent and offers 16 percent better fuel economy than the outgoing model. The fuel economy for the CVT version is 36 mpg combined.
A six-speed manual transmission is available, but most drivers will get the new continuously variable transmission that replaces the five-speed automatic of the outgoing model.
The CVT's greatest triumph is improved fuel economy. But from the driving perspective, it feels slow and, even worse, loud. Despite Honda's efforts to quiet the cabin by tightening the seams of the body panels and adding baffling, the sound of the CVT's groaning effort to accelerate from a dead stop is a sonic intrusion.
The manual version is less loud and more fun, though not as torque-y as the Ford Fiesta 1-liter I drove recently. The manual transmission Fit is less expensive, but it is also less fuel efficient than the CVT, at 32 mpg combined.
Outfitted with a completely new chassis that will also be used in the new compact SUV Honda will trot out at the New York Auto Show next week and sell later this year, the suspension has been upgraded front and rear.
After driving the outgoing Fit to and from Honda's introduction of its replacement in San Diego in late March, the new model felt more planted in the turns. But the more noticeable improvement was to the steering, which felt more precise and easier to move now that its electronic power steering has been equipped with a torque sensor to damp vibration, and the addition of the same motion adaptive feature used on the Civic and Accord. The motion adaptive EPS senses the vehicle's speed and driver's steering behavior and, if it detects instability during cornering or braking, enhances steering force in the direction the driver needs to turn.
Still, what's most impressive about the 2015 Fit is the same as the outgoing model, only more so. It's not only surprisingly spacious for the driver but, with the 2015, also for the rear-seat passengers, who now have a shocking 4.8 inches of additional legroom.
Yes, the decimal is in the right place.
Even when the front seats were pushed all the way back, my long femur bones weren't compressed into my hip sockets. My knees had room to spare. For 2015, Honda reduced the Fit's overall vehicle length by 1.6 inches but increased the wheelbase by 1.2 inches to open up more interior room.
The most unusual feature about the Fit is the same act of contortion that allows its rear seats to fold up, creating unfettered space in the second row to easily accommodate cumbersome items like BMX bicycles or, for the urban gardening crowd, bales of hay and cartons of peeping chicks. The Fit's interior can be configured four ways to Sunday, with rear seats that fold flat and a front passenger seat that back bends for maximum load capacity, which remains best in its class.
If nothing else, the Fit is accurately named. For a subcompact, the driver's seat feels spacious and uncluttered — a feeling that was enhanced with a new center console that replaces an array of knobs and buttons and the sliver of a screen that showed the time and radio settings in the old model. A larger touch screen is now standard across all four versions of the Fit, as is a rearview camera.
The least expensive Fit model, the LX, has a 5-inch screen. The rest get 7-inchers. The more expensive EX is when the value really begins to ratchet up. A moonroof is standard, as are push-button start and a terrific lane-watch display that uses a camera mounted below the passenger side mirror to show whatever it sees on the right-hand side of the car on the center screen. The same lane-watch feature is standard on Honda's larger, more expensive Accord and Civic.
Like many automakers, Honda is leveraging drivers' smartphones to provide navigation services. It is not built in to the car except for the most expensive model, the EX-L Navi. The other three versions of the Fit all use HondaLink, Honda's next-generation in-car connectivity system.
HondaLink is an app that drivers download to their phones and sync with their cars. The advantage to the updated HondaLink app is that it's usable inside and outside the car. For navigation, drivers can program their destinations into the app before sliding into the driver's seat, negating the need to fumble with buttons while driving. In addition, the app can read aloud, through the car's speakers, the driver's Facebook feeds and texts.
Stylewise, the new Fit has been modernized with sharper lines and a more aerodynamic shape that is especially noticeable in the front, where the headlights have been narrowed and integrated into the grille. The interior is comparable to the outgoing model, with a mix of economy-oriented soft-touch plastics and fabrics.
With its 2015 redesign, the most impressive features of the Fit have been amplified. Whether they're enough to nudge the Fit's 5.16 million global sales toward the super-sales status of the Super Cub will take decades to find out. But its fuel economy, low purchase price and large interior space are a winning combination.