First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Honda Fit

Next-generation Fit raises the small-hatch bar for versatility and efficiency

Best New Small Car <$21K - 2015 Honda Fit
The Honda Fit claimed the Small Car <$21K win from the Nissan Micra.
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$14,495 base.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 7.0 city. 5.7 highway. 7.0 combined.
POWERTRAIN
1.5L four-cylinder engine, 130 horsepower, 114 lb-ft of torque; six-speed manual transmission or CVT

TORONTO – Since its introduction in 2006, Honda’s sub-compact Fit has been a leader in making the most of small dimensions – and the latest-generation 2015 model maintains that standard.

The 2015 Fit, which arrives in showrooms in mid-September, is all new – there are no carryover bits from the current-generation model. The Fit’s innovative Magic Seat, however, continues to be the feature that sets this versatile hatchback apart from the competition.

The new Fit has been trimmed 41 millimetres in overall length, with shorter overhangs front and rear, but the wheelbase has been stretched 30 mm, compared to the current model.

Increased interior space

This increased space between the axles has allowed Honda's interior designers to move the 60/40 split rear bench further back, creating even more legroom for rear-seat passengers. Even with the front seat fully back on its tracks, there’s almost limo-like room for legs and feet in the second row.

2015 Honda Fit - rear seats.jpgAdding to the spaciousness is the unique location of the fuel tank, which has been redesigned with a lower profile and continues to be cleverly tucked under the front seats.

Engineers have also shortened the trailing arm on the rear torsion beam suspension system, resulting in class-leading space for people and/or things. Cargo capacity with rear seatbacks folded is a whopping 1,492 litres.

Flexible too

Add in the flexibility of the Magic Seat system and you have an impressively versatile cabin. Folding the rear seatbacks creates a flat cargo deck that’s 1.7 metres long and, because there’s no fuel tank below, the cargo floor is positioned low in the chassis, so one doesn’t have to hoist heavy items up into the area.

2015 Honda Fit - cargo area seatbacks folded.jpgFlip the front seatback forward and you have a 2.3-metre space that will easily swallow up a one-person kayak.

This seat system also has a setting that accommodates tall items – flip the rear seat cushions up and the deep (1.2-metre) floor well easily accepts tall plants and the like. Finally, if you’re exhausted by loading and unloading all that cargo, you can recline the front seats flat and stretch out for a snooze on a flat, cushioned surface that’s 1.6m long.

During a media preview of the new Fit, an organizing expert packed the car with several items, including four very large storage containers, a kayak and paddles, even a mountain bike. But the attending journalists went even further, stuffing 11 well-fed bodies inside – and there was still room for another layer.

Totally redesigned

This amazingly efficient interior space is wrapped in a totally redesigned skin. The previous generation’s egg-shape has taken on a more wedge-like profile for 2015.

2015 Honda Fit -rear 3/4 view low.JPGStyling is a subjective matter and there are mixed opinions on the new look, but personally I liked the new front snout with its redesigned headlight assemblies, the strong character line sweeping front to rear and the stylish rear end, with Volvo-like taillights that soar into the liftgate.

There are even three new exterior colours to add some punch to this Fit – a bright blue metallic, white pearl and a strange yellow-green finish dubbed Mystic Yellow Pearl join the carryover hues of black pearl, steel grey metallic and Milano red.

The interior colour palate is more subdued – you can choose charcoal or charcoal.

The standard cloth seat trimms are functional, although for the first time leather upholstery and door trim is offered with the top-of-the-line EX-L Navi package.

2015 Honda Fit - centre stack detail.jpgThere is a lot of plastic that’s hard to the touch, but it does have various textures plus some metallic accents that combine to soften the look. The redesigned instrument panel is laid out well, although the centrally positioned display screen is susceptible to glare.

Personally, I found the seven-inch upscale audio display to be a bit annoying as there’s no freestanding audio button – you have to navigate through the touch screen to adjust the system’s sound level. The optional navigation system, however, was intuitive – even this technically challenged scribe was able to program it easily.

New powertrain

An all-new engine featuring Earth Dreams technology powers the Fit. Its 1.5-litre displacement is the same as the current engine, but everything else has changed.

For starters, the four-cylinder now has double overhead camshafts, rather than the single overhead cam used in previous engines. A direct injection system feeds fuel into a reshaped combustion chamber and a sophisticated variable valve timing system helps boost engine output while improving fuel efficiency.

2015 Honda Fit - engine.JPGOverall, this new engine delivers 11% more horsepower (130 horsepower at 6,500 rpm) and 7.5% more torque (114 lb.-ft. at 4,600 rpm) while achieving 16% better fuel efficiency, based on NRCan’s new five-cycle test procedure.

The engine is paired with either a new six-speed manual gearbox – the previous generation used a five-speed transmission – or a new continuously variable transmission (CVT.)

This torque-based CVT is similar to the unit now featured in the Civic. It is lighter (by 16%) and has an expanded (14%) range ratio, compared to the current five-speed automatic.

Based on several hours of driving on multi-lane highways, secondary roads and urban streets, I found the powertrain to be more than adequate in terms of power.

Given that the Fit is a sub-compact , there’s perhaps a perception that it’s better suited to the urban environment – and its nimble handling and compact packaging certainly make it a great fit for city dwellers. However, it also felt quite capable of extended highway cruising – it easily zipped along at (and beyond) the speed limit.

Noise is an issue

The only issue I have is the noise level generated while accelerating. Although the Fit is fairly quiet in cruising mode, there’s quite a ruckus generated when you put your foot down, at least when fitted with the CVT.

The engine responds readily, spooling up to its sweet spot at about 5,000 rpm, then holds while the transmission catches up. The resulting drone is penetrating.

For some drivers, who will rarely put such demands on the powertrain, this noise will be a non-issue. However, under hard acceleration, such as passing, merging or launching with vigour from a stoplight, both my driving partner and I found it overwhelming.

2015 Honda Fit - front seats and instrument panel.jpgWe did find a work-around of sorts, however. The Fit’s CVT includes a Sport mode and while "sport" may be a bit of a stretch, it does turn over control of the transmission to the driver.

Using the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, we found you could shift up to another ratio before the engine noise level became too annoying and then work up through the virtual 'gears' to attain the desired speed.

As mentioned, however, you are in complete control of the transmission, so if there’s a need to downshift to pass, accelerate or merge, it’s up to the driver to make the downshift – there’s no kickdown.

Ultimately, the driving technique in this mode resembles a manual gearbox, which begs the question, why not just opt for the manual outright?

A brief stint in a manual-equipped Fit revealed this combination as more fun to drive and certainly more responsive, although the shifter in our tester felt a bit stiff. There’s also a very slight penalty in terms of fuel economy with the manual box.

Solid new chassis

Overall, the new Fit chassis, which is shared with the new sub-compact HR-V crossover that will make its debut next spring, felt solid and dynamically sound.

The redesigned MacPherson front-strut suspension and new H-beam rear torsion bar setup felt stable, even at high speeds, while the ride comfort level was good. Bumps and road surface imperfections were swallowed up effectively, without jarring the occupants.

The power-assisted brakes (ventilated front discs and rear drums) had a good, linear feel, while the electric power rack-and-pinion steering system responded readily to driver input.

The Fit rides on 15-inch all-season tires, but new for 2015, it now has a compact spare tire, rather than the previous inflator package.

Four trim levels

For 2015, the Fit is offered in four trim levels, starting with the base DX, which has $1,260 in additional content value, but starts at a price ($14,495) that’s $140 less than the current DX.

Honda expects the volume leader will be the LX trim level that starts at $17,295 (with CVT, $18,595).

Moving up the trim walk, there’s the EX ($19,195) and EX-L Navi, which includes such amenities as automatic climate control, leather seats and a navigation system with XM satellite radio. It tops out at $21, 295 with the manual gearbox or $22,595 with a CVT.

Honda is anticipating that sales of the new Fit, which it hopes will top 14,000 annually, will make it the fifth core product in its portfolio. That goal is enhanced by the fact the Fit will be built (along with the HR-V) at Honda’s new plant in Celaya, Mexico – the company’s eighth North American production facility – thereby ensuring a steady as well as adequate supply of vehicles.

"Now that we have this North American-based supply source, we can be aggressive and competitive (in our marketing strategies)," said Dave Gardner, Honda Canada’s vice-president of sales and marketing.

Based on this brief first drive, Gardner and his team have sound reasons to be optimistic – this Fit has set a new benchmark for versatility and efficiency in the sub-compact segment.

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