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2012 Honda Fit Sport Road Test

Honda builds the invisible car.

What It Is/Who It's For
A cheap and cheerful compact, for its equally cheap and cheerful consumers.
Best Thing
Sweeping visibility and lively handling.
Worst Thing
Road noise, not the bargain it once was.
Snap Judgement
Despite the Fit's age, Honda still proves that it can churn out a decent small car.


A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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Introduction

A great philosopher -- ok, it was the TV cartoon Futurama -- once said, "When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all." The Honda Fit is one of those cars that does so many things right that you won't notice, and a few things very well that you will.

It ticks all the boxes for smaller cars. Is it practical? Yes, you can shove a lot of boxes in it. Is it efficient? We got 31 MPG over the course of a week, with varying weights of lead-filled shoes. Does it have a bizarre, yet ultimately functional interior that feels less low-rent than its Civic companion? Um, yes. Is it slowly aging fast enough that you can pick one up for a pretty good deal? Probably, in fact -- though don't expect Honda to trot out TV ads with this less-than-rousing tagline. The Honda Fit asks of nothing, dispenses little personality, and adds no contention -- which may seem like a dull, lifeless vehicle for some, but the sum of all these parts imparts the Fit with a charm all its own.

What We Drove

Our Honda Fit was the top-of-the-line Sport model, with Navigation -- which, over the base Fit, is sport with a lowercase s. A body kit across the entire lower length of the car sheds some of the base Fit's anonymity, and it also includes a larger black mesh grille, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, a rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tips and paddle shifters on automatic-equipped models such as ours.

Navigation is a not-insubstantial $2,630 package, but it does come with Bluetooth and voice recognition, as well as steering wheel controls. Yet if you want navigation -- and Honda's dated low-res system at that -- you'll have to forego the manual transmission even on our Sport model, which seems curious: do manual enthusiasts prefer getting lost?

Still, the list of standard features on the Fit is pretty impressive. Some highlights: cruise control, power folding side mirrors, front, side, and side curtain airbags for all passengers, a 160-watt stereo system with USB and MP3 auxiliary inputs, active head restraints, and both stability and traction control.

The Commute

There are a great many things the Fit is shaped like. A mid-90s computer mouse. An orthopedic shoe. A remote-controlled cat toy, especially in grey with the cutesy antenna sticking out the top. The Fit's one-box, upright styling imparts cathedral-sized windows all around, making visibility a non-issue: clever A-pillar sculpting, for example, ekes out a few more inches of sight lines from the front, perfect for gauging lane changes.

Inside, the driving position is tall, upright, and slightly dorky, like a bus driver's seat from your childhood. The seats are fashioned from cloth used to make Nike vintage Hi-Tops. They're thin, but are sculpted to make do with what flimsy material there is. Headroom is vast enough for Abe Lincoln types -- stovepipe hat and everything. And a bonus of the public-transit seating position is that there always seems to be plenty of legroom in the front seats.

The interior is sufficiently weird for an aging Honda -- mercifully there's no two-level instrument panel like on the Civic, but the squared-off nav screen takes precedence in a strangely swooping center panel, and the three climate control knobs that are scattered in varying positions and sizes but are, ultimately, ergonomically brilliant. For an audio system that just has 4 speakers and 160 watts, when even compact cars are packing enough equipment that could pass for the Beatles at Shea Stadium, sound quality is decent and Bluetooth connectivity was easy to set up.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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The Grocery Run

As to be expected, the Fit's van-like shape lends itself perfectly to pets, garage sales, antiquing, bank heists, and other trappings of first-world life. The seats fold down easily enough, but their controls -- small, round tabs and pull straps -- are surprisingly finicky to access. Once flipped down, there's 57.3 cubic feet of room -- and the seats can fold upwards, too, like on a minivan, and you can fit an upright mountain bike or a ficus tree, according to Honda. Green thumbs, unite!

There are a whopping 10 cupholders scattered throughout the cabin. They're not just shaped for cups. Up by the vents are two squarish-shaped recesses which can probably fit a can of Coke but are even more perfect for sunglasses, packs of gum, and dusty pennies to throw and miss at tollbooth bins. Fit drivers must be a thirsty bunch: down in the door panels are areas molded for Gatorades, while the center console, behind the shifter, is perfect for Big Gulps. Don't say Honda never thought anything through.

There's one hidden gem in the backseat: flip the chairs up and you'll find a secret locking panel underneath the cushion, which Honda suggests can be used to stash wallets, jewelry and other valuables safely out of the reach of miscreants. Well, maybe we shouldn't have told you that. It'll be our little secret.

The Weekend Fun

There's only one engine -- a VTEC-equipped, 117-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder. And it's engaging, if not particularly powerful: sharp throttle and transmission response allowed the Fit to nip through traffic at a level expected of something this small. The Fit's steering was light enough, yet accurate with the feel of a well-oiled machine. And its three-spoke wheel was a delight to use.

In fact, driving the Fit in an enthusiastic manner was akin to piloting a Tupperware container: it's big, airy and almost entirely see-through, and it weighs seemingly as much as one. There are many small cars that feel more substantial than this -- Kia's Rio and the Honda Civic, in fact -- but the Fit has that old-school, chuckable attitude that is entertaining but never flimsy. Some of us felt that the Fit could have used more power, but there wasn't the mash the pedal and pray! feeling that small cars have had in the past, introducing drivers to merging semi trucks and one's own fragile mortality.

All of this lightness comes at a noisy price -- in true Honda fashion, there's a constant thrumming from the ground, sound from the pavement and the tires soaking through the wheelwells. The suspension is compliant and never jarring, being on the softer side of things, but it doesn't float or bounce like the Civic's.

Summary

The Fit is starting to show its age -- in 2008, the idea of a sub-compact below the Civic was still a bit of a novelty, and the fact that one could be ordered with a navigation system even more so. But the nav is a $2,630 option, pushing the car to a chest-heaving $19,690. Skip the nav, and the Fit rejoins the sub-compact group as a decent value against the likes of the Toyota Yaris.

But unlike, say, the Toyota Yaris, it's not an absolute pig to drive. Practical, unassuming, durable, and peppy, it kind of sounds like the old Honda Civic before the automotive pontification industry leapt upon it as if the car came equipped with the Ebola virus. Remember all of those people -- and yours truly is just as guilty -- lamenting how Honda's "lost its way?" Well, allow us to make some sort of penance: if you're looking for a car that captures all of the Civic's venerable traits, they're not found in the Civic -- they're in the Honda Fit.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $20,310
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 27 mpg
EPA Highway: 33 mpg
EPA Combined: 30 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 318 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Above Average

Notebook Quotes

"This is the best vehicle Honda currently offers right now. There. I said it." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"I like the Fit, especially given Honda's overall reputation. Strenghts include that cargo space and general interior spaciousness. However, the competition beats it in several key areas especially in power, interior quietness, handling, and bang for the buck (Korea says hello)." -Joel Arellano, Associate Editor
"Is the Fit a solid car that rides well? Yes. But along with the Mazda2, it feels like it's a product of the late-1990s/early 2000s. For the kind of money Honda's asking, I just couldn't get a Fit; I'd get a Yaris if I wanted durability above all or something Korean if I wanted the best value for money. Or I'd start looking a class up and forego the crappy, old navi in the Honda for my $100 Garmin." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

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