If it appears to wear a sly grin, the Honda Fit EV may have good reason. The Fit EV is another clever adaptation of an existing nameplate for electric-car duty. However, it doesn't share much besides the doors, roof, liftgate, and front suspension with the Fit we know and love, and the fact that it still has the same dashboard is its biggest downfall.
Unlike the Ford Focus Electric, which is built on the assembly line with other Focus models, the Fit EV is made in the same special, low-volume workshop that has produced other Honda specialty models like the S2000, and it uses powertrain hardware that's also found in the FCX Clarity hydrogen-fuel-cell car. Given a new face, cladding, and rear spoiler in order to reduce the coefficient of drag by fourteen percent, the Fit EV looks quite different, as though it has driven through a clothesline. It stands taller by 2.2 inches, gains agility through the addition of a multi-link rear suspension, and of course, just like the clothes dryer that it sometimes mimics, has a prominent lint-trap door -- except this is the dual-voltage charging port.
In fact, charging is a Fit EV forte. To replenish the 20-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, Honda introduces an onboard 6.6-kW charger. With the right 240-volt charging station, the car can be up and frothing in just three hours. Honda puts range at 82 miles. Of the three driving modes, easily selected in full stride by pressing buttons to the left of the leather-wrapped wheel, economy is said to offer up to a seventeen-percent efficiency improvement. Our experience in urban driving suggested economy's output of 47 kW would suffice in ordinary circumstances, and this could return combined efficiency of 118 MPGe. Normal mode makes up to 75 kW available.
Nevertheless, as project leader Sachito Fujimoto said, "We all need to indulge ourselves sometimes, and that's what the sport mode is all about: having fun."
Without giving specific figures, Honda compares the sport mode, which releases the motor's full 92-kWh output, to harnessing the power of a 3.0-liter V-6. Whereas the Fit and Fit Sport capture 1.5 liters of migrating Monarch butterflies under their hoods, fluttering out 117 hp and 106 lb-ft, the Fit EV seems to have confined feral hogs, and their rooting around produces 123 hp and 189 lb-ft. On the handling course that was set up in the Rose Bowl parking lot, where the press preview was held, the car launched with a somewhat comical whir from its power unit, which includes a single-speed gearbox, but the laugh was then on the driver if he didn't pay attention: the Fit EV gets rambunctious in a hurry.
In contrast with the Nissan Leaf provided for comparison, the Fit EV has a better driver's seat, a sharper turn-in response, and a more athletic balance. Indeed, the fully independent rear does its best to compensate for the unfitness of the flabby, 3252-lb Fit EV, which gains -- even with a new aluminum front subframe -- 756 pounds. (As electric-car adherents like to remind, the massive battery, nestling against the floorpan, lowers the center of gravity.) The Fit EV has a unique braking mode, activated by moving the drive selector beyond "D" to "B," for maximum energy recapture when the driver's foot lifts from the accelerator, and the extra drag slows the car without requiring much help from the second pedal.
While Honda put a commendable effort into making the Fit EV perform well, there were constraints with the car's interior, where passenger volume is down by 1.5 cu ft (to 89.3 cu ft) and cargo volume falls (from 20.6/57.3 cu ft with rear seat up/down to 12.0/49.4 cu ft). Besides the difficulty in packaging the battery pack, the driver's layout just isn't very good. For one thing, the ignition switch on the steering column screams out to be replaced by a smart key and starter button. The floor-mounted drive selector also seems old-fashioned. And by its very nature, doesn't an EV merit a fancy instrument display with animated graphics presenting information about power draw, state of charge, and regeneration? The Fit EV's cluster is unhappily lackluster. With the steering wheel tilted low, a good part of the cluster is obscured altogether. The smart phone app for remote charging has plenty of dazzle, though.
One other complaint concerns the narrow, low-resistance Michelin tires, which give up more territory than FDR at Yalta. Having grown accustomed to the superior grip of high-performance tires, our reaction on the handling course was, "You must me skidding me!" But putting stickier rubber on the car would affect the efficiency.
Thirteen years ago, Honda "deliver[ed] a strong vote against electrics," according to Automotive News, when it pulled the plug on the EV Plus. Facing new requirements for national CAFE ratings and zero-emission vehicles in California, Honda is back with another battery-powered car. This time they're more serious, although again the subsidy must be a heavy one.
"No one definitely knows the size or strength of the EV market," said product planner Adrienne Hall. Assigned a price of $36,625, the Fit EV is initially available on a $389-per-month lease in five California and Oregon markets. It will move into six East Coast markets early in 2013. Honda aims to lease approximately 1100 examples in the next three years. Despite some frustrations, our drive left us smiling, just like the car, and we're inclined to think Honda will find plenty of demand.
2013 Honda Fit EV
Motor: AC synchronous electric
Power: 123 hp/92 kW
Torque: 189 lb-ft/256 Nm
Steering: Electronic power-assisted
Suspension, Front: Macpherson strut
Suspension, Rear: Independent multi-link
Brakes: Ventilated front disc, rear drum, with ABS and regenerative capability
L x W x H: 162.0 x 67.7 x 62.2 in
Wheelbase: 98.4 in
Track F/R: 58.5/57.6 in
Weight: 3252 lb
0-60 MPH: N/A
Top Speed: N/A
EPA Mileage: 118 MPGe combined