Cool Small Cars: 2006 Kia Rio 5, 2006 Nissan Versa, 2006 Dodge Caliber, and 2006 Honda Fit

Erik B. Johnson
Brian Konoske

2006 Honda Fit

Sixteen-mile-per-gallon Ridgelines, two-ton-plus Pilot SUVs, seven-passenger Odysseys, V-6 Accords. Even the Civics are XXL. Remember when Honda built small cars?

Honda does. In fact, it never stopped building them for customers outside the fifty states. However, with Americans clamoring for more room and more power, Honda got in the habit of bulking up the Civic with each generation. Suddenly, it was no longer selling a car in America to go mano a mano-in size, efficiency, and price-with the subcompacts from Hyundai and Chevrolet as well as Scion, Toyota's new Yaris, and Nissan's upcoming Versa.

And so we get the 2006 Honda Fit, on sale now for about $13,500. An upgraded, renamed version of the popular Jazz-already sold in Europe and Asia-the Fit may be small on the outside (it's 19.2 inches shorter than the Civic), but it's inspiringly spacious inside, thanks to its height (3.5 inches taller than said Civic) and an ingeniously arranged interior that takes advantage of a fuel tank located under the front seats to accommodate five full-size Yanks or up to 41.9 cubic feet of cargo.

A four-door hatchback, the Fit looks eerily similar in profile to the slightly kooky Chevy Aveo and Suzuki Aerio, but it's a quarter step up the econobox performance, sophistication, and safety ladders, with six air bags, standard ABS, and interior fittings that don't trigger our gag reflex. A 109-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine provides smooth, respectable acceleration along with fuel economy rated at 33/38 mpg city/highway. It's mated either to a fine five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission.

Although one never loses the sense of its height and its utility, the Fit is no SUV blunderer; it corners reasonably on a front-strut and rear beam-axle suspension, while an equivalently humble front-disc/rear-drum brake combination halts the proceedings without embarrassment. Just the same, warehouses already are brimming with all the aftermarket parts home tuners will need to stay broke for years.

Honda expects that 60 percent of its expected 50,000 annual Fit buyers will upgrade, for $1400, to the Fit Sport, set apart by fifteen-inch wheels, a body kit, paddle-shifters for the optional automatic, and an upgraded stereo. Either way, this is all the car many will ever require. Once again, and at long last, a Honda that's fit, not fat.

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