06/27/06 — A perfect Fit

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A perfect Fit

Honda Fit (2006)

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — We stopped on a tree-lined residential street here to take some pictures of the new subcompact Honda Fit.

After a few minutes of trying to line the car up for the best picture, a home owner came trudging down his driveway.

Instead of complaining about a camera pointed at his house, he was curious about the rather curiously styled little car.

Honda Fit, 2006

Soon his wife, clinging to a large dog, joined in the discussion. Their interest was heightened when they discovered the car was a Honda. Turns out, they are owners of an Accord and a Civic.

After displaying some of the Fit features such as the fold-flat seats — including the front passenger seat — they were all but sold. “What a great place for Rufus,” the wife commented, giving her big dog a loving look and a pat on the head.

When we mentioned gas mileage figures such as 33 city and 38 highway, it was like closing a deal.

Having just completed a stint behind the wheel on winding stretches of Topanga Canyon Road, we also conveyed our enthusiasm for the handling characteristics of the small Honda.

Of course, we didn’t have the authority to make a sale, but we probably could have. The 20-minute street-side demonstration and walk-around seems to portend good things for the Fit. It was an instant hit on this tree-lined Southern California thoroughfare, as it probably will be across America before the year is over.

The 2007 Fit is one of three all-new small, fuel-efficient Japanese vehicles hitting showrooms this year. Joining the Fit in this new breed of gas sippers is the Toyota Yaris and the Nissan Versa. They join a handful of other like-minded cars including the all-new Dodge Caliber, Hyundai Accent, Suzuki Reno, Chevrolet Aveo and Kia Rio5.

It seems these small guys are here to save us from inflicting serious damage to our budgets. A significant decline in high gas prices seems unlikely, at least in the near term.

These hatchbacks will seat four comfortably with decent cargo room while returning more than 30 miles to the gallon. And all can be purchased reasonably equipped for 15 grand or less.

Perhaps these well-made subcompacts will bring America back to its fuel-efficient senses.

The Fit is a winner with a myriad of attributes unheard of when the first batch of small cars hit the market in answer to high gas prices and short supplies in the early ’70s.

If there’s a downside to the Fit, it’s price, which comes uncomfortably close to its larger brother, the highly praised Honda Civic, named North American Car of the Year for 2006.

The Fit, like all of the small cars in this emerging segment, operates with a small 4-cylinder engine that is powerful enough to give it urgency from one stoplight to the next, merge into traffic without fear of getting clobbered and pass a slow-moving car on a two-lane without the need for a half-mile of open road.

It’s a sweet deal considering the rather meager 1.5-liters and 109 horsepower. The thing here is a very efficient engine pulling a car with a curb weight of less than 2,500 pounds.

A major automobile magazine measured 0-to-60 time in 8.7 seconds and a quarter mile time of 16.7 seconds at 81 mph with the manual shifter. That’s well within acceptable range, especially considering that no matter what your driving habits mileage should never fall below 30.

The Fit is tossable and simply fun to drive, especially with the standard 5-speed manual transmission. A 5-speed automatic with manual-shift paddles is also available. The suspension is firm, perhaps too stiff for some sensitive behinds, but we think most people will find the ride acceptable. And the resulting sports-car-like handling traits are a rewarding trade off.

The electric power steering — becoming more common at all price levels — is accurate, not too light and edgy on the road and not too heavy in parking situations.

The interior space is the next thing to amazing. While the Fit is about 20 inches shorter than the compact Civic, it has nearly the same interior volume as the mid-sized Accord. This is accomplished through the use of a compact suspension design and relocating the gas tank under the passenger seat to create more space in the back of the vehicle.

By the numbers, the Fit has 21 cubic feet of storage space behind the seats and 42 cubic feet with the second-row folded flat into the floor. That’s roomy for a vehicle that measures only 157 inches in length.

Space doesn’t always translate into passenger comfort. In the Fit, it’s a great translation. The front seat space is generous and the driver’s position is excellent. Rear-seat passengers have ample leg and head room.

The Fit starts at $14,400 including destination charge and the Sport model, perhaps the one that will be most desired, begins at $15,720. If that sounds somewhat high for a subcompact, figure that even the base Fit comes with a substantial amount of standard equipment.

Standard are air conditioning, power windows and locks, front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags and stereo with CD player.

Move up to the Sport and add 15-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel and an upgraded MP3-compatible stereo system.

There are no factory options for the Fit, but dealers offer accessories.

Extraordinary gas mileage does not come at the expense of performance, a cheap interior and a paucity of options in the Fit.

This little Honda makes passing the gas pumps fun.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on June 27, 2006 2:38 PM