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2009 Honda Fit Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail
2009 Honda Fit Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail

Honda Fit

Small has never been so big Add to ...

What to do with the pressed-back chairs? They're Canadian heritage pieces except for the Made in China stamps underneath, yet after years of service they've got to go because swank new upholstered units already are in place around the dining room table.

By fortunate coincidence the Eco Driver test car of the week is the Honda Fit. And these five chairs fit the Fit with no fuss at all. Touring local antique stores - junk stores if it comes to that - promises to turn up a new home for the pressed backs.

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Not every econo-box can swallow five chairs and still seat both driver and passenger (i.e., negotiator in seat sales). Few large cars, for that matter, have that adaptable an interior. The Fit, though, is more like a shrunken minivan than a swollen econo-box. Like a schoolboy's backpack, it totes about twice as much of anything than might reasonably be expected.

Among the leading small cars typically selling around $20,000, each enjoys a clear advantage over the others in at least one respect, yet none is head-and-shoulders over the others as best choice. Nissan Versa, for instance, is the most comfortable with its smooth ride and low noise levels. Toyota Yaris uses the least fuel (and wins the cutie-pie award). Honda's entry holds the most, the easiest.

If everything about the Fit were as superior as its innovative, foldaway rear-seat design, it'd set the standard for the class. It'd be the most fuel-efficient, the most fun, boast the quietest powertrain and ride the best. But it doesn't.

We average 9.5 litres/100/km in a week's city driving. That's good, not great, considering the Natural Resources Canada rating of 7.1 L/100 km. Our real-driving result of 9.5 is better than that of most small cars tested in this Eco Driver series, but far off the Toyota Yaris's 8.0.

So-so fuel efficiency would be more acceptable if the Fit were a powerhouse among its peers, but this engine is a ho-hum exception in a long history of superior Honda four-cylinders. It's neither strong at low rpm nor lively at high rpm, and is more memorable for its noisiness in acceleration than the performance benefits of its 117 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque.

The automatic transmission smoothly employs five gears. No room for criticism here, beyond the minor quibble of the shifter gate encouraging selection of third gear rather than D.

The Fit's nimbleness and large glass area facilitate city driving. Too bad there's not more to commend. Handling is better than average for the class but the rudimentary suspension cannot overcome the car's feeling of being both top-heavy and nose-heavy. And ride quality is low quality over rough pavement.

Our test car is the top-of-the-line Sport model. Less expensive Fits with smaller wheels may ride better; because our car's 16-inch wheels with Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires certainly aren't intended primarily for comfort.

We'd opt for the LX model instead, $18,580 with automatic transmission, for its 15-inch alloy wheels, but the $20,480 Fit Sport will be the obvious choice for those drivers who take pleasure in the nifty appearance of its underbody spoiler, chrome headlamp bezels and integrated fog lights and value the handling benefits of the rear sway bar.

Standard equipment at this price level includes remote lock, air, heated mirrors and 160-watt stereo with six speakers, tweeters and a five-mode equalizer. A USB jack is exclusive to the Sport whereas all models have MP3/WMA capability and an auxiliary input jack.

What our Sport doesn't have is a spare tire. Only those equipped with manual transmissions get spares. Instead, any automatic Fit has listed among its standard equipment features "Under cargo floor storage." That, of course, would be the cavity formerly occupied by the spare. A portable air compressor and tire repair kit are provided.

The space afforded by the rear seat, really, is what makes any Fit unlike any other car. And the impressive capacity of 585 litres with the seat up, 1,622 down, are made more significant by the adaptability.

With a flip of one hand, the rear seat stands up to create floor-to-headliner storage: two of the taller pressed-back chairs actually stand in there with room to spare. Or another flip of the hand creates a normal wagon configuration with a totally flat cargo bay in which all five chairs can be entangled.

What to do with the pressed backs? In the end, a neighbour assumes ownership, as it turns out.

After all of this trying on for size, no driving is necessary. Having the option of touring Ontario's antique and junk shops, though, underlines the Fit's unique position in the continuing econo-box sales derby.

2009 HONDA FIT SPORT

TYPE: Four-door subcompact hatchback

BASE PRICE: $20,480; as tested, $21,342

ENGINE: 1.5-litre, DOHC, inline-four-cylinder

HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 117 hp, 106 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic

DRIVE: Front-wheel-drive

FUEL ECONOMY (litres/100 km): 7.1 city/5.5 highway; in Eco Driver's city-area test driving, 9.5; regular gasoline

ALTERNATIVES: Toyota Yaris, Chevy Aveo5, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent

Like

  • Incredible cargo capacity
  • Great visibility in all directions
  • Agile urban specialist

Don't like

  • Engine noise when accelerating
  • Somewhat tinny body

globeauto@globeandmail.com

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