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1005 2009 Honda Fit Sport Wrap Up
four seasons long-term tests

2009 Honda Fit Sport - Four Seasons Wrap-Up

A. J. Mueller
#Honda, #Fit
SPRING
2009 Honda Fit reviews to date

If there was ever a perfectly timed vehicle launch, it was the one for the 2009 Honda Fit. Just as gas prices had reached their zenith and the economy was entering its nosedive in the summer of 2008, Honda introduced the redesigned edition of its already strong-selling subcompact. Whereas most "B-segment" cars come with a bargain-basement price, good fuel economy, and not much else, the Fit sells on its design and versatility, and it can be ordered with all manner of features usually reserved for "real" cars. For suddenly fuel-economy-conscious consumers, it was like manna from heaven, and in the months after the car's debut, Honda had a hard time keeping Fits on dealer lots. We liked it, too, enough to name it a 2009 All-Star. And yet, we wondered if the typical American would really be happy - long-term - with such a small vehicle, especially once fuel prices went down. So, we ordered a Fit Sport with navigation and lived with it for a year. We found that the Fit certainly can be a replacement for the bigger, more powerful cars that we usually drive but not without some qualifications.

First, the basics: Over the 22,658 miles we drove our Fit, we observed fuel economy of 32 mpg and had not a single complaint for our dealer, whom we visited twice for oil changes and routine maintenance. Of course, we expected this Honda subcompact to be reliable and efficient. What we didn't expect was how much junk we would end up loading in its trunk. The list of cargo that our little metallic blue Honda hauled includes deputy editor Joe DeMatio's crated German shepherd, production editor Jennifer Misaros's self-propelled lawn mower, Web producer Evan McCausland's seven-foot-long bookshelf, and more than a few bicycles and full loads of groceries. The prize, however, probably goes to former motor gopher Steven Sherman, who moved three people out of his dorm in three trips and gushed, "The simplicity and functionality of the Fit's flip-up and flat-folding rear seats surpasses that of large, thirsty SUVs." Indeed, the combination of a high roof, a gas tank that's mounted farther forward than in most vehicles, and those flat-folding, "magic" rear seats means that the 2560-pound Fit has more total cargo room than many so-called utility vehicles, including Honda's own 3850-pound Accord Crosstour. And it's no less impressive hauling humans. "I had four tall guys in here, ranging from five-foot-eleven to about six-foot-five, and everyone fit without a problem," reported senior editor Joe Lorio. By the end of the year, no one thought twice about taking the Fit on runs to Ikea or loading it up with hockey bags and heading off to the ice rink. In other words, when it comes to transporting people and cargo, the Fit is at absolutely no disadvantage compared with most bigger cars.

If the Fit is revolutionary in its small-car packaging, it's more evolutionary in the way it drives. Its best attribute may be the expansive front windshield, which provides a nearly unobstructed and rather close-up view of the road. A few drivers found this disconcerting at first, but most agreed with DeMatio, who noted, "The Fit's broad, low beltline is a refreshing contrast to the bunkerlike windows that are in most modern cars." The Fit is also reasonably quick around town for a subcompact, dashing to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, according to our tests. Otherwise, the Fit provides everything we've come to expect of a small Honda, including responsive, superquick steering and a precise manual gearbox, although some found the shifts notchy at times. And even though the cabin is far from luxurious, we appreciated its comfortable chairs, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, and solid overall ergonomic design. "The Fit is remarkably nimble, light on its feet, and - dare I say - fun to flog during urban runs," enthused McCausland.

It was when we ventured beyond the city limits of Ann Arbor that the Fit often fell short of our expectations. "For a long trip, the Fit is my last choice out of the current Four Seasons cars," said senior Web editor Phil Floraday. The biggest issue is the car's tendency to wander in its lane on the highway. This tendency becomes a liability when there's a crosswind, leading Floraday to observe wryly, "The combination of light weight and a tall profile works better for sailboats than automobiles." Another problem is more basic: it's slow at highway speeds. The Fit's 117-hp four-cylinder, which feels so energetic on city streets, just doesn't have the muscle to push the Fit's tallish body through the air at higher speeds. Adding insult to injury, short gearing injects a constant drone on the interstate. It's not unusual for small cars to rev at 3500 rpm or higher at 70 mph, but the Fit proved unusually coarse and buzzy - a surprise considering Honda's reputation for building smooth and refined engines. Adding a sixth gear to the transmission (both the manual and optional automatic are five-speeds) would likely bring the noise down to a more tolerable level and improve highway fuel economy, which is currently rated at a decent but unexceptional 33 mpg. Despite all these flaws, the Fit is certainly suitable for an occasional long-distance drive - and indeed, we took it as far as Rockingham, North Carolina - but it's far from an ideal option. "Folks who have a long highway commute every day would be better off in a Civic," noted technical editor Don Sherman.

Sherman's point is relevant, considering that a Fit equipped like the one we tested is well within the price territory of better driving, more refined "C-segment" cars such as the Civic and the Mazda 3. Clearly, Honda is experimenting with how much feature content (read: profit) it can offer in a traditionally price-focused, low-margin segment. For the most part, it has been very successful. A base 2009 Fit, which includes safety features like side curtain air bags and ABS as well as power windows and locks, started at $15,460 - nearly $3000 to $5000 more than subcompact competitors such as the Chevrolet Aveo and the Nissan Versa - and yet the Honda has been one of the better sellers in the segment. The case for the Fit becomes more difficult, however, once you load it up as we did. Our Fit Sport with navigation adds some useful features not available on the base model, including an upgraded stereo, keyless entry, sixteen-inch wheels, and stability control, but it lists for a rather steep $18,580 (or $18,970 for a 2010 model). Flaws we'd have easily overlooked on a lesser Fit, including cheap, thin carpeting (which we addressed midway through the year with a set of Honda accessory floor mats) and poor noise isolation, proved damning on a car priced close to $20,000. "As a cheapish city car, the Fit shines, but as a do-it-all car in the $18,000-to-$19,000 range, I'd happily give up navigation to move up to a more substantial Mini Cooper or a larger Mazda 3," wrote Floraday. It doesn't help that the navigation interface itself (available only on the Sport edition) is not state-of-the-art, with slow, unintuitive radio buttons and limited ability to find points of interest.

So, the Honda Fit is not yet a car that does all things for all people. Those who spend a lot of time cruising the interstate will want to look elsewhere, and we wouldn't say that the Fit is premium in any sense of the word. And yet, for the large number of drivers who spend most of their time in cities and suburbs, the Fit will do everything that a bigger car does - and sometimes a bit more - while providing great fuel economy and a low overall cost of ownership. In that sense, the Fit is more than a flash in the pan: it's a breakthrough. "Honda has proven that subcompact cars need not be cramped, limiting, and poorly assembled," concluded McCausland, adding, "other automakers should take heed." In fact, they have. The next few years will bring a deluge of higher-priced, more refined subcompacts to our shores, from the Ford Fiesta to Honda's own, Fit-based CR-Z hybrid. It's quite possible that one or several of these new offerings will surpass the Fit in terms of refinement and overall value (we highly doubt we'll see one with more utility), but they will all owe the Fit for proving to Americans that a subcompact can be more than just a compromise.

RUNNING COSTS
Mileage
22,658 miles
Warranty
3-yr/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper
5-yr/60,000-mile powertrain
5-yr/unlimited-mile corrosion
Scheduled maintenance
10,613 mi: $47.90
21,613 mi: $142.74
Warranty repairs
None
Out-of-pocket
Carpet floor mats (Honda accessory), $99
Recalls
None
Fuel consumption
EPA city/hwy/combined
27/33/29 mpg
Observed
32 mpg
Cost per mile
(Fuel, service) $0.09
($0.36 including depreciation)

PRICES & EQUIPMENT
Base price
$15,460
Price as tested
$18,580
Trade-in value*
$12,450
Standard equipment
ABS; air-conditioning; power windows, mirrors, and door locks; tilting/telescoping steering column; 160-watt stereo with auxiliary jack; rear wiper/washer; front, side, and side curtain air bags
Our options
Sport package (sixteen-inch aluminum wheels; body-color side mirrors, body kit, and roof spoiler; keyless entry; foglights; cruise control; map lights; leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; six-speaker stereo with USB input; chrome tailpipe), $1510; navigation and stability control, $1850

*Estimate based on info from intellichoice.com

RATING 4 out of 5 stars
Overview  
body style 4-door hatchback
accommodation 5 passengers
construction Steel unibody
Powertrain  
Engine 16-valve SOHC I-4
Displacement 1.5 liters (91 cu in)
Horsepower 117 hp @ 6600 rpm
Torque 106 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Transmission type 5-speed manual
Drive Front-wheel
Chassis  
Steering Power rack-and-pinion
lock-to-lock 2.5 turns
turning circle 34.4 ft
Suspension, front Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, rear Torsion beam, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs/drums, ABS
Tires Dunlop SP Sport 7000
Tire size 185/55HR-16
Measurements  
headroom f/r 40.4/39.0 in
legroom f/r 41.3/34.5 in
shoulder room f/r 52.7/51.3 in
hip room f/r 51.5/51.3 in
L x W x H 161.6 x 66.7 x 60.0 in
Wheelbase 98.4 in
Track f/r 58.1/57.4 in
Weight 2560 lb
weight dist. f/r 62.5/37.5%
cargo capacity 20.6/57.3 cu ft
  (rear seats up/down)
fuel capacity 10.6 gal
est. fuel range 340 miles
fuel grade 87 octane
Our Test Results  
0–60 mph 7.9 sec
0–100 mph 27.0 sec
1/4–mile 16.9 sec @ 82 mph
30–70 mph passing 10.2 sec
peak acceleration 0.46 g
speed in gears 1) 31; 2) 54; 3) 78; 4) 107;
  5) 117 mph
cornering l/r 0.85/0.85 g
70–0 mph braking 191 ft
peak braking 0.92 g

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