2007 Honda Fit: Honda's new little big car

ON SALE: April 20
BASE PRICE: $14,400
POWERTRAIN: 1.5-liter, 109-hp, 105-lb-ft I4; fwd, five-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 2432 lbs
0 TO 60 MPH: 8.5 seconds (est.)
FUEL MILAGE (EPA combined): 35.1 mpg

Honda's cute little five-door hatchback is called Fit here and in Japan, but it’s known as the Jazz in Europe. The Fit's 1.5-liter four churns out just 109 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque.
The Honda Fit is called the Jazz in other parts of the world, where it has been drowning out the competition since 2001. So as the Fit sets to debut on these shores, already an almost five-year-old car, why does it feel so, well, new?

Because it is new to us—or new again, anyway. Like a creature brought back from the edge of extinction, the Fit is a success story of the automotive Endangered Species Act, if you will. Fit's taxonomy puts it in the subcompact segment, which is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, aided in part by skyrocketing fuel prices and consumer backlash against gas-sucking, road-clogging SUVs.

And while subcompacts have never quite disappeared from the scene, pickings have been slim—and far from inspiring—for some time now. Honda hopes to change that with the Fit.

Powered by a 1.5-liter VTEC inline four-cylinder engine, with 109 horses and 105 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Fit won't break any land-speed records, but it does feel surprisingly meaty (for a Honda) at lower revs. The standard five-speed manual allows for quick access to that power—and with its relatively short throws, an engaging experience—but we're pleasantly surprised to find the optional five-speed automatic doesn't turn the Fit into a slug as we feared. Add the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters from the Sport model, and the automatic-equipped Fit is not a bad choice.

The Fit more than holds its own on the road as its MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension provides a firm ride and spirited handling, with a satisfying dearth of body roll when pushed hard into corners. It's a solid little car, with a chassis that feels—dare we say it—almost sports car-like. Almost.

Yet as fun a car to drive as it is, the Fit's big story lies inside: Its diminutive size at the curb belies the fact the Fit provides plenty of real-world room for five adults.

(A small point of comparison: The Fit has 40.6 inches of headroom in front to the Honda Odyssey's 40.9, with front passengers getting 41.9 inches of legroom to the Odyssey's 40.8.)

The Fit may measure only 157.4 inches from stem to stern and sit 60.0 inches tall, but inside that translates into some serious volume. And it's usable, highly configurable volume, to boot, with four different modes or spatial layouts possible. By locating the fuel tank below the front seats, Honda engineers gave the Fit a flat load floor, accessible by simply flipping the rear seat bottoms—Honda calls the 60/40 split-folding second row Magic Seat—upward.

The interior is one of the more expensive-looking among the B-Class cars. It is also one of the most comfortable.
This configuration is called Tall Mode, with 50-inch-high objects able to sit upright behind the front seats. Folding the Magic Seat forward expands the cargo area from 21.3 cubic feet to 41.9 (Utility Mode), while additionally reclining the front passenger seat all the way back makes it possible to carry 94-inch-long objects. You've probably already guessed this is called Long Mode.

Our favorite interior configuration, however, has to be Refresh Mode, which is achieved by leaving the Magic Seat in its normal position but folding the front seats flat. Refresh Mode makes for a sort of automotive chaise lounge, where, Honda says, "Customers can create a perfect cabin space for enjoyable activities, such as working on your computer." Sure, computer.

Honda says Fit will lead its segment in standard content, and with a list that includes front, front side and side-curtain airbags, air conditioner with air filtration, a security system, 160-watt four-speaker stereo with CD player, and antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution it makes for a good case.

Moving up to the Sport model adds body-color ground effects and rear roof spoiler, fog lamps, 15-inch alloy wheels in place of the base 14s, remote entry, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering wheel paddle shifters (with the automatic), 200-watt six-speaker stereo system with CD text display and auxiliary MP3 input jack.

If that isn't enough stuff, Honda Factory Performance offers an equipment list that includes 16-inch alloy wheels, sport exhaust, chrome exhaust tip, rear bumper accents and sport mesh grille.

The Fit is due in showrooms later this month, with a sticker starting at $14,400. Automatic-equipped Sport models begin at $16,520. Honda hopes to sell more than 30,000 Fits this year, with roughly 50,000 annually after that.

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