Sunday, August 27, 2006

Honda Fits the Times With New Sub-Compact

Most of us have known the guy or gal who always seemed to be the lucky one. You know the type - always in the right place at the right time to get the promotion, the best deal on a new car and free tickets on the 50-yard-line for the Skins-Cowboys game.

There are car companies like that, too. If you doubt me, just take a look at the 2007 Honda Fit, which the Japanese automaker introduced just a few months before gas zoomed to its current $3+ price. In the auto business, having the right car at the right time is always a good thing.

And the Honda Fit is a good thing. Other than exterior styling that constantly reminded me of the Suzuki Swift, the Fit is instantly recognizable as a Honda product.

Take the interior, which features a typical Honda instrument panel that looks great and makes ergonomic sense. The materials seem high quality and everything falls readily to hand.

Even better, that Swift-like exterior on the Fit hatchback allows for maximum cargo and lots of room for four or sometimes five passengers, helped along by Honda’s ingenious seating design.

Fold the rear seat cushions up and you get 50 inches of space between the floor and the ceiling. Need a completely flat cargo area behind the front seats? That’s no problem, either, and the Fit provides a space nearly eight feet in length in which to haul stuff.

On the road, the Fit is clearly a Honda product as well. You get the light feel and nimble handling, plus the revvy little motor and a slick-shifting five-speed stick shift. The 1.9 liter SOHC four-cylinder is good for 105 horsepower and flings the Fit from 0-60 mph in 9.25 seconds.

The Fit exacts no fuel economy penalty in return for the driving fun. The EPA says 33 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the road. My silver tester showed a 35 mpg average for a week of commutes that included lots of stop-and-go misery and a fair share of freeway cruising.

The Fit competes with the Scion and Yaris lines from Toyota, Chevy’s Aveo version of the latter, and the Versa coming from Nissan. High gas prices are here to stay and other automakers are scrambling to get their entries in this new segment.

Only the xC coupe of the Scion line really impressed me and the Yaris sedan is an attractive entry. I haven’t driven the Aveo or Versa as yet. For now, the Fit looks to me like the best fit in the market.