Fit. That's a good one. At the exact moment that America's obese SUV's are giving the country petrochemical chest pains, Honda invites us to get healthy. Why chug-a-lug gas and stagger around like a big-bellied lummox when you can sip petrol and sashay around town with all the moral superiority of a marathoner? OK, but getting fit involves sacrifices: unpleasant bending, less grunt, no street cred, etc. Or does it? Let's face it: the less we give up, the higher the likelihood we'll do it. Does the Honda Fit let us frugalize without fear?
Honda's Fit Sport is the best looking of the new wave Japanese fuelmeisters (Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris). The Sport package adds real 15' wheels, a spoiler (that thing got downforce?), a contorted front dam and twisted sills. The Fit's bowling ball-sized headlights are it's most prominent and friendly feature– a welcome turn away from the shrunken-head family face Honda's been slapping on its recent products. Glass is the dominant motif. It's everywhere: huge mirrors, a highly-raked windshield lifted from a Dodge Ram and a truly massive greenhouse. (Stoners take note: we seeee you.) Yes, yes, the Fit's a bit of a blob, but so is the Bentley Continental GT. I'll take both in black, thank you very much.
The windscreen's panoramic pleasures (aided by retro-as-new triangular glass ahead of the A-pillars) are tempered by blind spots big enough to hide refrigerators. The Fit (and not so fit) driver sits up high, catering to the American consumer's wrong-headed conviction that elevated eye lines make you bigger and safer. The cabin adds to the illusion, with tri-brat compatible fold-flat-as-Kansas rear seats. Origami them, and you could host an all-canine poker party. The Fit's plastics and cloths wouldn't seem out of place in a VW and there's none of the Civic's Star Trek crap. And there's plenty of kit: six-disc changer, iPod jack, plipper, AC, cruise control and adjustable steering column (take that Tahoe).
Fire-up the Fit's 1.5-liter in-line four, snickity-flick the shifter into first and… it goes! It goes fast! You'll never mistake a Fit for a Vanquish, but the 109-horse powerplant hustles the Fit to 60 in just under 9 seconds. That's not bad when you realize that the more powerful Civic (140 ponies) does the deed in 8.6. More importantly, the Fit feels faster than the numbers indicate. It sounds quick too; the bassy VTEC buzz reverberates through the cabin whenever the mini mill crests 3500 rpm. Let's reiterate; the Fit's 16-valver motorvates 2471 lbs. with 105 ft.-lbs. of torque. Little dog, big bite. Make that nip; the Fit's fast-acting drive-by-wire throttle is a price point bonus.
For such a light whip, the Fit feels remarkably well planted. The ride quality is a cut above your typical penalty box, maybe two. You feel the bumps, but never resent them. With its well-sorted suspension (MacPherson struts up front, torsion beam bringing up the rear), uni-body construction and a puny wheelbase, the Fit's handling is crisp, direct and unexpectedly fun. The Fit don't drift, but it's got enough poke, control and feedback to generate some of the Mini Cooper's smile-generating tossability. Rumor (Car & Driver) has it that the Fit can hustle through cones faster than a Z06. Yes, you just read that. And the brakes are out of this class.
The Fit's clutch is a bummer, especially when compared to last week's shockingly perfect Accord pedal. (A five-speed auto is available with the obligatory mileage, weight and price penalties.) Like its bigger brother, the Fit's left pedal weighs as much as four feathers. And like the ancient Volvo 242, it offers nine-feet of travel for a quarter inch of activation. Worse, the dead pedal has shuffled off this mortal coil, and there isn't any room to store your left foot. While stirring the shifter is as fuss-free as blinking, Honda missed a trick in the cog provision department. A sixth gear would make a lot of sense in a car aimed at people who don't have money and those that hate spending it.
Americans aren't always bright bulbs when faced with car decisions. Despite escalating gas prices, oil wars and all those Prius-driving starlet role models, nearly 100k of us took home a giant GM SUV this past quarter. Even the Sierra-Club's hated Hummer is (for now) in the black. However, the tide is turning. With the word "four bucks a gallon" passing network anchors' powdered lips, plenty of people are thinking about working out of their gas-guzzler. The new Honda Fit is a relatively painless vehicle for drivers looking to shape up and ship out, or people who just want a decent cheap car. All you have to give up is your pretentious classicism. Well, that and your full-size spare tire.