2009 Automobile All-Stars

Charlie Magee

The Master of Space Utilization:  Honda Fit

More than three decades after the original Honda Civic gave Americans a whole new notion of automotive space utilization, the Honda Fit has come along to amaze a new generation. Even more so than its forebear, Honda's latest small wonder encloses a vast interior in a diminutive footprint. The unusual placement of the Fit's fuel tank under the floor beneath the front seats allows greater cargo-carrying versatility than any other small hatchback, as the rear seats don't just fold and tumble in the usual fashion, but the cushion also can be tipped up to expose the wide, flat floor underneath.

The Fit is an equally commodious carrier of human cargo, offering both front and rear passengers supportive seats, a comfortably high seating position, and easy ingress and egress. A low cowl and a generous glass area allow occupants to enjoy the view out. As you'd expect, fuel economy is stellar (EPA ratings as high as 35 mpg highway and 28 mpg city) and yet performance is respectable, too; Honda's 1.5-liter four spins smoothly to its redline and sounds good doing so. All of these qualities were apparent when the Fit first landed on our shores less than three years ago, but that earlier version, already well into its life cycle when we got it, was not as refined as the new-for-2009 model.

The renewed model's extra polish vaults the Fit into All-Star territory. It elevates the small-car experience with its smoother gearbox, nicer cabin, sleeker exterior, and expanded equipment list - although we'd still welcome more feel from the electric power steering and a more widespread availability of stability control. As it is, the Fit is a winner not just in the pages of Automobile Magazine, but in today's tough retail sales arena, where it has been a runaway success. It has also reestablished, for a whole new generation, Honda's mastery of the small car that lives large.

-Joe Lorio

Base price range: $15,220-$18,580
Engine: 1.5L I-4, 117 hp, 106 lb-ft

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