Entry level Honda gets an annoying update
By Jim Bray
The Honda Fit is a great little car – inexpensive and decent to drive. Unfortunately, it has also been tweaked for 2015 in a manner sure to bother its front seat passengers, if not its drivers.
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The Fit has been around for several years now and fills a niche opened up for Honda as the once-entry-level Civic grew in size and features. This is hardly unique to Honda, of course; you could also look at the Toyota Yaris as a response to the Corolla's inevitable growth, and that's only one other example.
So you might think that driving a Fit is reminiscent of driving an old Civic – and you'd be right to a certain extent. Except the Fit has more horsepower than the old Civic and is a lot more modern inside and out. It also offers a unique rear seat that's configurable in a variety of ways to create a big and wide storage space in the rear into which it's said you could even stuff a bicycle standing up.
I didn't try that (I'd need a bicycle and I'd need to stand up) but I was impressed with the rear seat's room if nothing else. Oh, you won't want to put three people back there unless you don't like them very much, but it's surprisingly spacious for two. That isn't a new feature, however; the Fit has always been like that.
Honda has brought a lot that's new to the 2015 Fit, however, and some of it's really great – such as a six speed manual transmission. Unfortunately, Honda's sample Fit EX Navi had the automatic, which is a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and though it doesn't whine as badly as some do, it does manage to suck a lot of the fun out of the driving experience, as is CVTs' wont, even with the paddle shifters that let you pretend it's a real automatic.
And that's too bad because I remember driving a manual-equipped Fit and it was a blast – remembering the entry level status of the car. So if you can handle a stick, that's the one with which to "fit" your little Honda.
Other new offerings for 2015 include Honda's LaneWatch, which is a camera mounted on the right hand outside mirror that gives you a view down the car's right side when you activate the right turn signal lights. You can also activate it manually via a button on the end of the signal light stalk. I've experienced this feature on a number of recent Hondas and most people I show it to think it's terrific. I, ever the stick in the mud, find it obtrusive because when it comes on it draws my attention to the LCD screen on the centre stack and I'd rather keep my eyes fixed on the outside. To each his own, I guess.
There's also a new "display audio" system that works like an iPad or other tablet. Its seven inch touchscreen LCD lets you tap, swipe and/or pinch through the audio and display settings as well as the available HondaLink Next Generation suite of apps. You can also get partake of bilingual voice recognition (which I think must mean it won't understand your commands regardless of which official Canadian language you use) and a multi-angle rear view camera.
Depending on the trim level you choose, you can also order leather seats with heating up front, automatic climate control, auto headlights, LED brake lights, a power sunroof, Bluetooth for streaming your tunes, satellite radio (with subscription) and more. There are some new paint choices this year as well.
Lots of choices of lots of stuff for not that much money, all things considered.
Fits are powered by a 1.5 litre 16 valve inline four cylinder engine that puts out 130/114 horses/torque, which Honda says is up by 13 nags and 8 pound feet. This is plenty of poop in this segment. Heck, compared with the Toyota Yaris it's up by about 25 horses, though the South Koreans, as in the Kia Rio and Hyundai Excel, offer even more power (approximately 137/123 horses/torque), while Ford's Fiesta splits the difference with 120/112 hp/torque.
So if nothing else it's competitive – and even this lead-footed oaf didn't find it underpowered considering the car's mission in life.
The Fit's good handling comes from an independent, MacPherson strut suspension up front, with a torsion beam rear. It's tuned nicely, not too stiff and not too soft. The electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering also feels just right for such a car and the brakes (discs up front with rear drums) also work well and the peal offers decent feel. Naturally, the brakes also have ABS and the other common aids.
Honda appears to have upgraded the materials inside the Fit, a nice touch; you won't forget it's a Fit, but it's a darn nice Fit – it Fits well, you could say. The seats are comfortable and it's easy to find a good driving position; the central LCD is of a good size and is placed well, though its "tablet" interface leaves something to be desired – something that appears to be an alarming Honda tradition of late.
Worse, in their quest to give you the tablet experience (even though you really should be watching the road rather than the screen) they don't even give you a volume knob for the audio system! Instead, it's part of the touch screen, so you have to touch it with your finger and turn it up or down from there – until you hit a bump or turn a corner and your finger loses contact or slides over to a different part of the screen. It's awful. To be fair, Honda's sample also had steering wheel-mounted controls that let the driver avoid this horrid design experience, but front seat passengers may get a tad annoyed with it.
I'm not sure that interface would be a deal breaker, but considering what else is out there it comes pretty darn close. Souring the deal even more is the voice that pipes up and hollers at you (well, "holler" may be a bit of an overstatement) if you dare undo your seat belt before the car stops moving. While it might be a good way for single people to simulate having a flesh and blood back seat driver, it's annoying and demeaning to be nagged like that.
It's a shame, too, because at heart the Fit is a great little car, fun to drive, efficient and – for the most part – well thought out and put together.
The Honda Fit starts at $14,575 Canadian. Honda Canada's sample wore the top line EX L-Navi trim level (there's also DX, LX and EX) and started at $23,011.25.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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