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2012 Honda Fit Sport (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)
2012 Honda Fit Sport (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)

Road Test

Honda Fit feels the squeeze Add to ...

Honda’s small hatchback Fit barely created a blip on the new-car radar scopes when it appeared half a dozen years ago, didn’t spark much more electron activity when the second generation arrived for 2009 and now the 2012 models, with only minimal changes, are slipping further into the background clutter.

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Subcompacts don’t tend to make the headlines, even if they are frugal and fairly feisty like the Fit. But they do increasingly fit the transportation needs of a growing number of Canadians hard-pressed by the economy, threatened by rising gas prices or who have simply, heretical as it sounds, decided that spending money on a larger and fancier vehicle than they need doesn’t make much sense.

Canadians bought 104,532 subcompacts last year, up 3.5 per cent from 2010. Add that to the 348,482 compacts and you can quickly see where our car-buying priorities are.

The Fit ran mid-field, accounting for 2,835 of subcompact sales, down significantly from the 7,900 sold the year before. But buyers in this category are now making their choices from a total of 18 models, a number of them newer than the Fit. Honda dealers and Fit fans will have to wait until at least next year for a third generation to appear, rumoured to be arriving for the 2014 model year.

In the meantime, the 2012 Fit is still a good choice, available in three versions starting at $14,880 and topping out with the unlikely-named Sport model – considering its econo-class configuration and performance that isn’t likely to encourage automotive hooliganism – priced at $18,780, or $19,980 with automatic. You can also pay a bit more and get a nav system and some additional odds and ends. The test Fit was a Sport automatic.

The Fit acquired its current look a few years ago, but it still wears well, and only minor changes to the front fascia and grille, black headlight trim, smart-looking new “machined-look” wheels and body-colour side mirror mounts differentiate it from last year’s version.

Its look is mini-minivan, but is far from frumpy, and the bodywork wraps an interior that, Tardis-like, seems bigger than the outside dimensions – it’s only 4,105 mm long after all – would suggest. Extended A-pillars that incorporate small windows and a flat-ish windscreen also make it feel micro-minivan-like from the driver’s seat.

Its insides have also been tweaked for 2012 and the dash is now all-black versus two-tone black and grey, brightened by new touches of chrome here and there. Redesigned centre cup-holders are more easily accessible and the seats in the Sport come with a “premium” cloth that looks and feels like it merits the term, at least if used with a small-p. They are comfortable and are adjustable over a fairly wide range to suit the long and the short and the tall. Additional sound insulation improves overall cabin noise levels.

Updating the Sport Fit to face competition that now boasts increased electronic toys is Bluetooth HandsFreeLink on LX and Sport models (which also gain a USB port), and stability/traction control is now fitted as standard on all models. And, of course, Fits at the Sport level come with air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks, tilt/telescope steering column, leather-wrapped wheel and a perfectly acceptable 160-watt multi-speaker audio system.

Lift the useful-sized rear hatch and you open up a space that you can load 585 litres of things into with the 60/40 split rear seatbacks upright, aided by a deep depression in the floor. With the seats folded, the cargo capacity rises to a surprisingly generous 1,622 litres and it is tall enough in there to hold a mountain bike (so Honda claims). Well, maybe a small one.

What will be harder to fit is the five people it also says will fit in a Fit. It can undoubtedly be done, but you wouldn’t want to be three-up in the back seat for long, although two will find it comfortable, and getting in and out isn’t too awkward. Headroom is okay, too.

Nothing has changed under the hood where a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, single-overhead-cam engine with i-VTEC valve control generates 117hp at 6,600 rpm and 106 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm.

It’s smooth and revvy but sounds a little throaty when your foot is into the throttle, although no worse than others in this category. It launches the Fit across an intersection with enthusiasm and will accelerate you up to highway speeds quickly enough. A pedal prod produces a downshift that will get you past cars on two-lane roads with minimal exposure. There’s enough power that you’re not continually mashing the pedal to the floor in exasperation.

And, as you’d expect, it also doesn’t use much fuel. Official ratings are 7.1 litres/100 km city and 5.4 highway and, after a week of mostly rural road-running bracketed by a couple of highway trips, the average use readout was bang on 7.1 litres/100 km. At a high highway cruise, it was burning fuel at a 7.6 litres/100 km rate. The small engine is working hard at this speed and the tall top gear in the transmission won’t pull it up steeper highway hills, forcing downshifts.

The Sport Fit comes with a rear anti-roll bar and 16-inch wheels shod with P185/55R16 all-seasons, the front steered by an electric power assist system with some feel dialled in and the combination makes the feel sporty only in relation to its baser brethren. But it is responsive and reasonably agile, and the ride is acceptable.

The Fit might not be quite the latest thing in the subcompact class but it’s still a good “thing” to put on the list if your shopping for a small, fuel-efficient and versatile vehicle.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech specs: 2012 Honda Fit Sport

Type: Subcompact hatchback

Base Price: $18,780; as tested, $19,980

Engine: 1.5-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 117 hp/106 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.1 city/5.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio5, Mazda2, Nissan Versa

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