The cars we loved.

2008 to Current Honda Fit: Packaging Is Everything

2007 Honda Fit

2007 Honda Fit

In much of the civilized world where streets are narrow and cities are crowded, small cars rule. So popular are they in places outside of the US, that any traveler to Europe, Asia or South America would be startled by how they outnumber standard sized cars – they are in fact the standard for some parts of the world. Honda has long produced sub compacts that have been sold everywhere, but America. The Fit, or Jazz depending on where you go, is Honda’s first subcompact to be sold in America since the Civic grew in size and became a compact during the 90’s.

Honda was well aware of America’s disdain for super small cars. And for good reason. Tiny cars like the Geo Metro, Daihatsu Charade and Ford’s Festiva were stripped down, underpowered and cramped. Not to mention sometimes ugly with all the charm of a grocery cart (and not even the nice plastic ones at Target). High gas mileage was a plus, but the prospect of long trips or sharing the road with big SUV’s in city traffic made commutes in them daring exercises of braveness.
All that changed when gas prices spiked up towards $4.00 a gallon in 2008. Right about that time Honda released its popular selling Fit to the US market and the rest was history. The public took quickly to the small cute upright sedan that resembled a half scale minivan. Honda sold two variations in America (Base/Sport) and three in Canada (DX,LX and Sport). All the variations shared the same engine and were only available in front wheel drive configurations. In Japan, it’s available in four-wheel drive with a range of engine choices.
2009 Honda Fit dash

2009 Honda Fit dash

Honda struggled to keep up with demand at first. Known for well-built small cars that were as fun to drive as they were efficient, the Fit became an instant hit with those looking to score more utility than with the typical Civic.

The Fit’s charms lie more with it clever packaging and utility than gas mileage. At only 32-34 mpg, it was no more efficient than a Civic, but the Fit had more functional cargo space that the larger Crosstour. A semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension allowed a lower load floor, increasing cargo space significantly.

The high ceiling gave the feeling of being in a much larger vehicle, although the Fit is a true sub-compact by EPA standards. The magical use of space might be at the forefront of the Fit’s charms. Sales were so good that Honda was prompted to push out the second generation a model year early in 2008. Priced almost as much as some larger more equipped compacts when loaded like the Mazda 3 and Honda’s own Civic, the Fit went a long way towards changing American perceptions of sub compacts. The Fit almost single-handedly proved tha Americans will buy sub compacts if they offer the right mix of efficiency, practically and fun.

The Fit is fun to drive, especially with a manual transmission, but Honda made no pretensions to marketing it as a performance car. Even as it offered various sport appearance packages to appease tuner boys (and girls), the Fit was always about utility and fuel efficiency, the core values that the Civic seemed to have abandoned in its quest to go upmarket. The sole engine available in North America models was a 1.5 litre, SOHC 109 hp 4 cylinder mated to either a 5-speed manual or automatic. Not exactly the stuff of performance dreams. Despite that, the Fit delivers sprightly performance around town with a 0 to 60 time of just under 8 seconds. The Fit was designed as an urban car and as a highway cruiser, it is less than ideal. Its high-profile makes it a target of small cross winds and its small engine struggles in some high-speed traffic situations.

More than a few in the Automotive press have praised the Fit’s utility while making note of the cars tendency to track unevenly and feel underpowered on the highway. Those limitations were not enough to deter the Fit from finding its way to numerous top ten and best buy lists, not to mention American driveways.

The biggest impact of the Fit may go beyond its role as reprising the spirit of the original Civic at the entry point of Honda’s line up. It may have more importantly made Americans hip to the ideal that small cars can be cool. Soon, a whole slew of new sub-compacts from Ford, Chrysler and others will put this theory to the test. Hopefully $4 a gallon gas won’t be the only compelling reason for Americans to try these new smaller cars.  Maybe we here in The States don’t know any better, with our sad history of sub-compacts, but if the Fit is indicative of the next wave of small cars coming here, we have a lot to look forward to.

2009 Honda Fit Sport

2009 Honda Fit Sport


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This entry was posted on August 1, 2010 by in 00's, Honda and tagged , , , , .
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