Call it the Swiss Army Knife of grocery-getters. Or the bread-boxy runabout with the flip-and-fold-and-tuck rear seating and the centrally located gas tank that turns the cargo hold into a mini-minivan-like hauler with the fuel economy of a gasoline-electric hybrid.
Call it the Honda Fit, imported from China and starting at $14,480, though the Sport version lists for $18,780.
Now slapping on the Sport label is not going to make this monumentally functional hatchback racy and sexy and get your blood boiling. Not a bit. The Fit (or what’s called the Jazz in other markets) is all about function over form. And the best form for function is a box.
Even though this one is as aerodynamic as a brick, fuel economy from the 1.5-litre four-banger (117 horsepower) is sterling: 7.1 litres/100 km in the city, 5.7 highway. Add in a decently tuned suspension and you have a hatch with a zippy quality. I won’t say errand-running is a joy in the Fit – errand-hopping is a joyless experience at the best of time. Painless is the word that comes to mind.
Hyundai has the Accent, a surprisingly attractive rival starting at $13,599 in hatchback form and has a 138-hp direct-injection four-cylinder and shockingly good fuel economy (6.7 city/4.9 highway). This entry trades on fuel economy and good looks, but the driving dynamics are only so-so. On the other hand, it has class-leading power and a stylish interior.
Ford’s Fiesta is perhaps the niftiest handler in this class, though the hatchback has a base sticker of $15,999. At 120 hp, the Fiesta has enough power, is available with a fancy PowerShift automatic gearbox ($1,250) and fuel economy is among the best (6.9 city/5.1 highway). The Fiesta may have the most upscale cabin in this class and while Ford offers the Fiesta with all sorts of gadgets and features, the interior isn’t as roomy as the Fit’s.
The rest? Kia has a Rio hatchback with a base price of $14,095. Nissan’s Versa hatchback baselines at $14,678, the Chevrolet Sonic hatch starts at $15,495, the Mazda2 hatch enters the market at $14,095 and the recently reinvented Toyota Yaris four-door hatch starts at $14,890.
And don’t overlook the Scion xB. The xB is even boxier than the Fit – yes, it’s possible – and at $18,360 lists for about the same amount as the Fit Sport.
The winner? There’s never an easy answer to this. Buying a new ride is all about so many factors: personal styling preference; brand loyalty; performance, ride and handling; safety issues; fuel economy; the “deal”; functionality versus good looks.
The Fit for 2012 has more insulation than before, so the cabin is quieter and that makes it feel less econo-boxish. The exterior styling isn’t beautiful, but it does catch your eye. But it’s the spacious interior that stands out most.
The Fit has as much cargo room as some small crossover SUVs and the space is flexible as a 14-year-old Olympic gymnast. It starts with the fold-flat front passenger seat, continues to the 60/40-split rear seat with bottom cushions that you can fold up. Huh? This is to make room for especially tall cargo. The rear seatbacks also fold down to create a perfectly flat load floor. Swiss Army Knife, right?
All that utility does not mean the Fit is stripped-down snoozer, though. The Fit Sport’s standard fare includes stability control, air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, an iPod/USB audio input, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 16-inch silver aluminum wheels, a rear spoiler, a sport body kit, fog lights, a driver-seat armrest, steering wheel with audio controls, shift paddles (automatic transmission only) and more.
Honestly, the automatic is the better transmission choice. The five-speed manual is only okay for smoothness and forces you to work the gears pretty aggressively to keep up with traffic because the 1.5-litre engine finds its power at higher engine speeds. Driven well, the manual is faster, but the autobox is less work.
In any guise, the Fit is safe as safe can be in this class of car. Aside from the standard stability and traction control and antilock brakes, this Honda has front- and side-impact air bags, side-curtain airbags that cover both rows and active front head restraints. It’s little, but it’s also a little cocoon.
In crash tests, the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Fit a top mark of “Good” in the frontal-offset and side crash tests, and a second-best rating of “Acceptable” in the roof-strength test.
When you live with the Fit, your life includes a cabin with a stylish design and so-so material quality. Seating comfort is about average for this class. The rear seats can handle two adults with nary a complaint. The off-centre placement of some controls takes some getting used to, but all them are easy to manage and the instruments are big and clear.
All told, the Fit isn’t gorgeous, but it’s a good fit if utility tops your list of runabout needs.
Type: Compact four-door hatchback
Price: $18,780 (freight $1,395)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 117 hp/106 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic ($1,200)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.1 city/5.7 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio5, Chevrolet Sonic, Mazda2, Toyota Yaris, Scion xB