Four Fuel Sippers: 2009 Honda Fit Sport, 2010 Ford Fiesta, 2010 Honda Insight, 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

We know. Gas is $2.50 a gallon, which means you’re not interested in fuel economy. But you will be. As our job market recovers, it’s almost a given that oil prices will too. Perhaps more importantly, the newly boosted CAFE requirements virtually guarantee that automakers will be trying to sell you smaller, more efficient cars.

Perfect evidence of the latter point has been our car board as of late. Editors recently had a choice of no fewer than four ultra-efficient small cars representing three different approaches to saving fuel. There was the Honda Insight, the most affordable purveyor yet of hybrid technology, along with the similarly priced and nearly-as-parsimonious Volkswagen Jetta TDI. Then we had the recently redesigned Honda Fit and yet-to-be-released Ford Fiesta, both of which get the most out of their fuel tanks the old fashion way, via small four-cylinder engines and low curb weights. Which approach and which car is the best way to prepare for this brave new world? Read on for our impressions.

2009 Honda Fit

The Fit exhibits all the talents one would expect of a small Honda, starting with its reasonably thrifty, 29 mpg combined fuel economy rating. That’s not going to scare a Toyota Prius, but its $14,460 starting price means you’ll have lots of extra fuel money compared to a pricey hybrid. More important for folks like us, the Fit’s sharp steering and absolutely faultless manual shifter provide a bit of the spunk and driver involvement that’s sorely missing in most hybrids.

A lot of thought clearly went into the design of the interior, which could give some crossovers a run for their money in terms of utility. The rear cargo hold is spacious and has a low load height, and if you need more space, say for a bike or some furniture, the rear “magic seats” either flip up or fold completely flat. We only wish the cabin were nicer to look at, as the shiny plastic dash and cheap, difficult-to-clean carpeting and upholstery scream “economy.” And our Fit, priced at $18,580 with optional equipment, is no cheap car.

The Fit’s Achilles heel though, is its highway ride. The 1.5-liter, 117-hp four-cylinder has no trouble attaining highway speeds but once there, the buzzy engine creates a constant drone in the cabin, and crosswinds are sure to grab your attention, as the Fit tends to dance around its lane. Adding a sixth gear and wider tires would help a lot.

Of course, vehicles of this size are called city cars for a reason. Those who spend more time navigating through traffic and searching for parking spaces than they do blitzing down the interstate will love the Fit’s small size and marvel at its surprising utility. The fact that it’s fun on a curvy road is a nice bonus.

  • Base Price: $16,930 (Fit Sport)
  • As Tested: $18,780 (Fit Sport w/ Navigation)
  • Body style: 4-door hatchback
  • Accommodation: 5 passengers
  • Powertrain  
  • Engine: 16-valve SOHC I-4
  • Displacement: 1.5 liters
  • Horsepower: 117 hp @ 6600 rpm
  • Torque: 106 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
  • Transmission type: 5-speed manual
  • Drive: Front-wheel
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 27/33/29 mpg (city/highway/combined)
  • On sale: Now