Ann Arbor, MI Last week we had the opportunity to check out Honda's all-new 2009 US-market Fit. With more power, a substantially stiffer body structure, and a "real" VTEC engine, the new Fit is even more fun to drive.
Though the Fit has only been offered in the USA since the 2007 model year, the same essential vehicle has been on sale in other markets since 2001, so it's no surprise that this new model represents a giant leap forward in almost every way. Considering the fact that the "old" Fit was already considered the benchmark amongst much newer competitors, this all-new Fit should have executives at Toyota and Nissan sweating bullets.
Honda calls the design "super-forward aero-form", and though I had my reservations about the US version's lengthened nose, I have to say this is a very sharp looking vehicle on the street. Parked next to competitors such as the Toyota Yaris or Nissan Versa, the Fit looks much sportier, and even though it's a small car, it somehow pulls off a much more upscale look than these other two options. The bulges and creases in the Fit's bodywork give the car a lot of character, and lend it a slightly muscular look.
Once inside the Fit, the beautifully styled interior puts the competition to shame, both from a style and functional standpoint. The overall design of the interior would look good in a much more expensive vehicle, and there are some really nice touches (such as the Sport model's leather wrapped steering wheel, leather wrapped shift knob (5AT), a high-quality knit roof lining material, and nicely finished shifter and emergency brake handle), but some of the harder plastics serve as reminders that the Fit is essentially an entry level vehicle.
Good news, the Fit's signature "Magic Seats" are back, offering improved comfort and convenience. The rear seat bottom is 20mm wider and offers more cushioning, while the seatback is 15mm taller. The rear seat headrests now tuck into the seat back, providing vastly improved rear visibility for the driver (Honda claims a 30% improvement); this design also permits the rear seats to fold flat even when the front seats are in their rearmost positions. Speaking of visibility, visibility out the front has been improved by 10% thanks in large part to 20mm slimmer pillars and front quarter windows that have been tripled in size.
The Fit's exterior dimensions have increased slightly, gaining 4.2 inches in length (up to 161.6 in.), 1.9 inches in wheelbase (now 98.4 inches), and a 1/2 inch in width (now 66.7 in.). For the most part, interior dimensions have increased fractionally - with most of the interior volume gains going towards the rear seating accommodations. Overall volume has increased by 0.7 cu ft, up to 90.8 cu ft. Cargo area with the rear seat up is down slightly, but still offers 20.6 cu ft. The one interior specification that has increased dramatically is the listed cargo volume with the rear seats folded down - Honda's specs now show this to be 57.3 cu. ft, which represents a 37% gain over last year's spec of 41.9 cu ft. The 2009 Fit's larger body structure and additional equipment add up to roughly 50 lbs of added curb weight.
Numbers aside, the Fit's interior remains very comfortable for full sized adults, though front seat passengers are positioned fairly close together. Up front, one of my biggest gripes with the '07-'08 Fit has been addressed; the footwells have been enlarged so your feet are no longer crammed towards the center of the vehicle. This additional footwell space has created enough room for a proper dead pedal, and the pedal spacing has been widened to a degree, which is good news for my size 12 feet. One of the Fit's strengths has been its adult-sized back seat, and that continues to be a strength. For comparison purposes, I jumped into the back seat of the 2008 Yaris sedan and then back into the 2009 Fit's back seat, and the difference was astonishing. I fit quite comfortably in the Fit's back seat, but the Yaris was so tight I couldn't sit upright without compressing my spine and/or cocking my head to the side.
Honda has positioned the Fit as an upscale subcompact, and to bolster that image, an in-dash voice-activated navigation system is now offered on Sport models. This system is essentially the same as the unit that's been offered with the 8th generation Civic, so it too has an in-dash CD player supporting MP3 and Windows Media playback, a compact flash card reader (that also supports MP3 and Windows Media playback), an analog aux-in jack, and a USB interface that is compatible with iPods, iPhones, and USB memory devices. The one feature that didn't quite make the cut was an integrated XM radio receiver.
On the road, the Fit's 1.5L SOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder (117hp@6600 rpm, 106lb-ft@4800 rpm, codename L15A7) has been fortified with "real" VTEC, meaning it actually has dual discrete lift profiles that the intake valves follow, and the difference over last year's "mild" VTEC motor (which switched between 3- and 4-valve operation) is immediately noticeable. On paper the differences don't sound like a lot (+8 hp, +1 lb-ft) but the new version of the engine makes noticeably more torque everywhere below 4000 rpms and above about 5500 rpms, and the difference can easily be felt. To multiply this additional thrust, and to further offset the '09 Fit's weight gain, the effective gear ratios of the 5-speed manual transmission are shorter by anywhere from 3 to nearly 8 percent. The Fit's clutch takeup feels better than before, and the shifter action has been improved thanks to a shorter stroke and double-cone carbon synchros. Acceleration feels downright perky in the lower gears, and the engine pulls very nicely to its 6800 rpm redline, including a nice little VTEC "kick" on the way up. At idle, the engine is so quiet and smooth, on a few occasions I was startled to discover that it was actually still running. The one downside is that compared to most Honda 4-bangers, this L15A7 gets a little bit gritty in the mid- and upper reaches of the rev band.
The Fit's optional 5-speed automatic transmission (with SportShift function) carries over essentially unchanged for 2009. Every ratio except for 4th gear is identical, and the difference in 4th is all but negligible. Thanks to the 2009 Fit's uprated engine, the 5AT Fit felt plenty snappy in the local Ann Arbor traffic and on the brief freeway stint that I had it on. The "Dual Mode Paddle Shifter" Sport Shift system operates pretty much exactly how it did in the 2007-2008 Fit - you can drive it like a regular automatic in "D", but at any time, you can demand an upshift or downshift by tapping one of the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifter buttons. The transmission will hold the selected gear until it senses that you have resumed a normal driving pattern. You can also slide the shifter down to the "S" mode, which will behave similarly to "D" mode until you demand a shift via the paddle shifters. At this point, it goes into full manual mode and will hold whichever gear has been selected until the driver either selects another gear or slides the shift lever back into "D".
Whether you opt for the 5MT or 5AT transmission, the Fit is a lot of fun to drive. Either way you go, it's not going to set the world on fire with its acceleration numbers, but after driving around in a 5MT Fit for a couple of hours with a mix of city driving and 75-80mph freeway, the in-dash trip computer (which, to Honda's credit, is standard equipment in all 2009 Fits - hooray!) indicated an average fuel economy of nearly 39mpg(!).
Wind and road noise in the 2009 Fit come in at acceptable levels, and the ride quality is quite good, but the 5MT's aggressive gearing means the engine note is pretty much always present at freeway speeds. The 5AT offers a more relaxed cruise. Ride comfort is good - at this point it's difficult to say whether or not it's dramatically better than the outgoing model; Honda provided several examples of older Fits for comparison purposes but unfortunately I ran out of time before I could do any back to back comparisons. Honda promises that the 2009 Fit's ride quality and handling have improved, thanks in part to improved front and rear suspension designs. Up front, the MacPherson strut has had its geometry optimized to provide superior wheel alignment when turning, for a more solid handling feel. Additionally, the axes of the suspension arm mounting points and compliance bushings have been aligned for optimal smoothness. The rear suspension design has been enhanced by virtue of longer trailing arms, larger compliance bushings, and a reduced spring lever ratio. On paper, these improvements, along with the Fit's tremendous increase in body structure rigidity should certainly ride better.
While it was difficult for me to determine definitively whether or not the 2009 Fit's ride quality had improved, I felt that the handling certainly took a step forward, particularly with respect to steady state grip. The previous Fit was always very nimble, and offered quick turn in, but with its modest 15" wheels and tires, the onset of understeer came on fairly early. Grip in the 2009 Sport model is way up, despite the Sport's 10mm narrower 185/55 R16 tires. While the roads around the Ann Arbor area aren't all that challenging, there were a few 270-degree onramps where I pushed the Fit Sport pretty hard. While the 2007 Fit Sport would quickly dissolve into understeer, the '09 carries quite a bit more speed before the front tires begin to scrub speed. The best part is that the '09 Fit felt like it might even offer a hint of lift-throttle oversteer, but I'll have to wait to make the final determination on that.
Jumping to Conclusions
As great as the original Fit was, the 2009 model is better in every conceivable way. The Fit continues to offer one of the most space efficient packages on the marketplace, adding in tremendous driving enjoyment and world-class safety features (something I didn't even have time to touch upon in this article). Honda hopes to sell "85000+", ranging from $14,550 to $18,760. In today's marketplace, I would say the sky is the limit.