Honda Fit raises the ante for subcompacts

The new Honda Fit's wheelbase is 1.2 inches longer than that of its predecessor, but new Fit's overall length is 1.6 inches shorter.
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SAN DIEGO -- In the subcompact segment, small can no longer mean cheap. It's not only price but a product's execution that makes the difference between a sale and a walkaway. With the 2015 Fit, Honda looks to be leading the pack -- at least on the execution side.

The basics: Honda's new Earth Dreams direct-injection 130-hp engine, when combined with a continuously variable transmission, makes the Fit the segment's fuel economy leader.

Continuously variable transmissions get a lot of grief from purists, who complain about the rubber-band feeling of power delivery. But each CVT evolution gets better, and Honda's simulated shift points feel almost like a traditional automatic.

There is still some hunting for optimum CVT range during kick-down acceleration, but for the most part, the unit is pretty responsive and accurate. With the CVT whirring at its most efficient, 80 mph only requires 2,500 rpm from the engine. For the true purists who demand to shift their own gears, a six-speed manual is available.

Perhaps more important than the powertrain is Honda's packaging magic, which adds 5 inches of rear-seat legroom and fold-flat rear seats. Some might accuse Honda of merely making the Fit larger to create that added space, but that's incorrect: Although the Fit gains 1.2 inches of wheelbase, its overall length is 1.6 inches shorter than the 2013 model it replaces.

Notable features: One reason for the added space for people and cargo is the re-engineering of the geometry and structures of the front strut and rear torsion beam suspension -- especially with shorter trailing arms in the rear.

The torsion beam itself is stiffer, allowing for more responsive handling for what is an admittedly crude -- but industry standard -- rear suspension setup. Compared with its predecessor, the Fit also provides more confident control during those panicky freeway braking events.

Longer wheelbase, shorter overall
 2015 Honda Fit2013 Honda Fit
Wheelbase99.6 in.98.4 in.
Length160.0 in.161.6 in.
Width67.0 in.66.7 in.
Height60.0 in.60.0 in.
Curb weight2,513 lbs.2,496 lbs.
Base engine1.5-liter I-41.5-liter I-4
Horsepower130 @ 6,500 rpm117 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.114 @ 4,600 rpm106 @ 4,800 rpm
EPA mpg*33 city/41 hwy.28 city/35 hwy.
Base price**$16,315$16,215
   
*2015 CVT model vs. 2013 automatic
**Includes shipping

Standard features include cruise control, trip computer, power windows, air conditioning, 15-inch wheels, three-blink turn indicators, alarm system with keyless entry, auto-off headlights, LED brake lights, five-inch monitor with 160-watt CD sound system, USB and Bluetooth access and steering wheel audio controls, and a rearview camera with three viewing modes. Tighter body seals and other soundproofing mean road howl and wind noise are significantly reduced from the outgoing model.

An optional display audio system allows for swipe, tap and pinch controls for music, weather, traffic, vehicle maintenance and Siri commands with an iPhone Bluetooth connection.

What Honda says: "We're taking customers out of the penalty box of life in a small car," said Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America. "We are amping up the fun in the small car arena."

Shortcomings and compromises: For a budget car, the Fit is pricey. Although the price ladder hasn't changed much, with a $16,315 base price including shipping, the Fit is about $1,500 more expensive than the Nissan Versa Note, $1,400 more than a Ford Fiesta and $900 more than a Hyundai Accent. Will price-sensitive consumers appreciate all the extra standard content that the base LX grade provides, or be scared off by the price?

The market: Subcompact sales account for about 650,000 annual units, but have a 4 percent annual growth target. The Fit conquests about 59 percent of its sales from other brands, and 55 percent of Fit owners stay with Honda for their next car.

Now that the Fit is made in Mexico and not restricted by the difficulties of Japan's exchange rate, the United States should get as many units as it wants. Fit sales totaled 53,513 units last year, and Honda hopes they can climb to 70,000 units in the redesigned Fit's first full calendar year.

The skinny: The Fit has replaced the Hyundai Accent as the highest content-per-dollar entry in the segment. But with all the bells and whistles, the Fit's price can rapidly escalate past $21,000, perhaps too dear for shoppers looking at an entry-level subcompact.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter


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