Driving the 2015 Honda Fit, made smaller to get bigger

Steve Siler
9 April 2014
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If you think the Accord sedan is a big deal to Honda here in the U.S., you’re right. Ditto the compact, economical Civic. But at a global level, those cars may not necessarily be what Honda considers its most important car. For the future of the Honda brand, think small.

Honda has been gone on record saying that its future rests on its small cars, which explains why Honda has made the new 2015 Fit so good at its job. As ever, the 2015 Fit’s mantra is “small on the outside, big on the inside.” And so the wheelbase has grown 1.2 inches to 99.6, but length has shrunk 1.6 inches to 160 inches. 

Since such stubby proportions tend to make cars look about as sexy as Danny DeVito in a chaise lounge, Honda designers tried to make the new Fit look longer and wider than it is, starting with a higher beltline and narrower windows. New horizontal headlamps replace last year’s triangular assemblies and are connected by a chunky, three-dimensional black grille underscored a thin band of chrome.

The Fit’s new upside-down question mark LED taillamp shape is cool, mimicking those found on new Volvos, though unlike their Swedish lookalikes, the upper portions in the pillar are just red plastic and do not light up. That minor gripe aside, the Fit projects some bona fide coolness, especially next to some of its dowdy competitors like the Scion xB and Toyota Yaris.

However little the Fit’s overall size and profile have changed, some beneficial redecorating has occurred inside. Refined design replaces the last model’s low-rent décor, with more metallic trim, soft touch materials and a dashboard that is as sensible as ever but more aesthetically pleasing.

Under the hood is a heavily reworked, direct injected 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine bumped in horsepower from 117 hp to 130 hp at 6600 rpm, with torque gathering another eight lb-ft, to 114 lb.-ft. at a reasonably accessible 4600 rpm.

Even bigger changes have occurred in the transmission department, starting with a new six-speed manual transmission that replaces the last model’s ancient five-speed unit. The old Fit’s five-speed automatic has also gone away in favor of a new continuously variable transmission, which features a sport mode that keeps the engine revving at higher rpms and seven simulated gear ratios through which one can manually shift via shift paddles on EX and EX-L models.

Alas, in terms of weight, the Fit remains pretty fit: much of the body structure and suspension pieces were lightened, which allowing the fitment of many new features without adding much to the curb weight. More remarkable is the jump in fuel economy, from 27 mpg city / 33 mph highway and 28/35 for last year’s manual and automatic transmission models, respectively, to an impressive 29/37 city/highway mpg for the manual, and 33/41 mpg for the CVT.

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Passenger space and front shoulder room are both up, but the big news is in back. Between the added wheelbase and the clever location of the gas tank (beneath the front seats, rather than the customary location beneath the rears) Honda was able to move the back row rearward by several inches, yielding a huge 4.8-in growth in rear legroom. Honda still calls the rear bench its “magic seat” on account of the many acrobatic ways it flips up, flips down, splits and slides. Adding to the versatility is a flat-folding front passenger seat, which even allows surfers to carry longboards inside, and both front seats that can recline fully to meet the rear seat cushion, for a lounge-like arrangement. The new configuration takes an eight percent toll on cargo space, but it’s a worthwhile trade, especially for the adults you may put in back. New goodies include driver seat height adjustment, automatic headlamps, and a three-view rear camera that shows wide, super-wide, and straight-down views behind the car. Also new is the availability of heated front seats, leather with contrast stitching, a moonroof, and keyless starting.

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Honda is one of the first automakers to start using app-based infotainment features, with one’s compatible smartphone to be loaded with a suite of HondaApps that manage phone, audio stuff and more. The Honda navigation app requires the smartphone to be connected via a hardwire in the lower dash. We tried using it, and let’s just say that the navigation technology in particular is in its infancy, requiring that the phone user deactivate push notifications, else the system shuts off and the screen goes black each time an email comes in. If you don’t turn off notifications, you may find, as we did, that emails can have particularly evil timing, occurring just before indicated turns. The advantage here is that it is possible to add navigation to an EX model for just $60. Fortunately, Honda still offers a traditional satellite-linked nav system on EX-L models, with more functionality and real-time traffic, for $1,000.

The Fit has never been fast, but with more power and torque, marked transmission updates, and roughly the same amount of mass to lug around, we hoped for a bit more liveliness during our first drive opportunity on the roads in and around San Diego, California. While acceleration feels about the same as before, the CVT is surprisingly responsive and manual shifts are executed immediately after flicking the paddles on models so equipped. Still, we would definitely choose the manual, with its near-perfect shifter quality—notchy, but not obstinate, just the way we like it. The clutch pedal on our tester was a bit too light and didn’t tell our left foot a thing about when the gears were being engaged, but we’ll chock that up to its pre-production status, with some kinks having yet to be worked out.

Like the Mazda Miata and the Mini Cooper, the Fit is one of those cars that doesn’t need to win stoplight drag races to put a smile on your face; the fun comes in carrying speed through corners with control. Nicely tuned electric steering is both quick and direct, and the redesigned suspension keeps body lean under control in spite of its retention of a twist beam design in back. Furthermore, the Fit’s freeway ride quality is worlds better than the previous model, although road and engine noise do make themselves heard at highway speeds, despite added sound-deadening materials and improved sealing throughout the structure.

Prices for the Fit remain within a couple hundred dollars of last year’s prices, starting at $16,315 for the base LX model, and $18,225 for the better equipped EX (including destination). Add another $800 if you want the CVT automatic. The CVT-only EX-L and EX-L with Navigation cost $20,590 and $21,590, respectively. All models feature enough added content to more than justify the price increase, nevermind the added refinement. If the future of Honda is small, the future of Honda looks bright.

The manufacturer provided transportation, lodging and meals for this review.

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