If there’s any good news in the wake of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico it could be that ahead of this catastrophe many Americans were already thinking about both fuel economy and the consequences of oil exploration.
Now, perhaps, even more of us are.
This isn’t about left or right: Oil is an environmental problem even if you think global warming isn’t happening. It’s also a political one because nobody wants to use more of it; nobody wants the country held at knife point so they can drive a gas guzzler. Again, that’s not about left or right. That’s about being an American (or a Brit or Italian for that matter).
There you have it. Oil is political. It always has been. We who revel in horsepower and tire shredding know this, too. We also know that as oil grows more costly there need to be choices for consumers that combine the things we all need/want—spacious, intelligent packaging, fun handling and reasonably safe power output for freeway travel—without breaking the bank.
Luckily, for a change, carmakers are thinking that a car that gets great fuel economy can and should still be practical and even fun to drive. Not that we’ve yet seen a perfect combination of all of the above just yet, but Honda’s really good, but not perfect Fit, is a car that’s gone a long way toward that ideal.
Fit Means Fit
Ask Fit owners why they love their cars and somewhere near the top of the list will be how the name is so apt. Interior cargo volume (rear seats folded) is an insane-for-the-subcompact-segment 57 cubic feet. That smokes every other choice in the segment; the Kia Soul is closest with 53 cubic feet, and at $13,300—$18,195, also competes closely on price for this buyer. (Our tester Fit cost $19,110 with a paddle-shift automatic, Nav and stability control but a base Fit starts at $14,900). And spending more than the Fit, say $19,995 for the Subaru Impreza Outback Sport, doesn’t necessarily get you more cargo volume, since that Subie only manages 44 cubic feet.
More clever than sheer volume is brilliant packaging. There’s adult-level headroom in the back seat, and those rear seats fold dead flat, creating a totally level load floor that’s much more like what ex-SUV buyers are used to. A lot of other cars in this segment (Nissan Versa; Toyota Yaris, Nissan Cube) hinge the rear seatbacks off the load floor, creating a highly inconvenient bump in the middle of the space. Honda also takes a cue from the pickup truck realm and allows the rear seat bottoms to hinge upwards, against the seatbacks. This frees up a tall space from footwell to ceiling behind the driver and front passenger seats, so tall objects that need to stand upright (a potted plant, for instance), can be carried that way.
Perhaps most appealing of all is that the Fit’s dials and controls are conveniently laid out, somewhat cute but not cloyingly so, and smartly deployed. For instance, radio presets sit high on the dash (on cars without Nav) so the driver can quickly stab them without taking his eyes off the road. The climate control knobs for vent choice, fan speed, temperature and so on are big and sit close to the steering wheel, again for easier, quick changes and these are rotaries not buttons, which demands less hunting and pecking and allows more focus for the task of driving.
“Sport” but not a sports car
The Fit is a fun car. And the paddle-shift five-speed is indeed sporty as well. Shifts are darn quick, and gears will be held by the transmission right up to the rev-limiter at the 6,800rpm redline. The Fit Sport automatic is slower to 60mph; Car and Driver says by 1.4 seconds (about 10 seconds vs. 8.5 in the manual), but considering the whopping 117hp engine you’re not going to be gunning down Ferraris in your Fit in any case.