Do our San Diego impressions of Honda's miracle package hold up in Michigan?
Weeks after the long-lead drive in pleasant San Diego, we got a chance to sample the Honda Fit‘s manual and automatic, new and old, on the mean streets of southeast Michigan at the tail end of the worst and snowiest winter on record. We even got to sample a few competitors at the same event. How did our initial impressions hold up?
Well, after driving the new and old Fits back to back on Michigan roads, I had difficulty sensing a big improvement in ride quality or reduction of transmission noise. We have a lot of noisy bumps here, and perhaps they just overwhelmed my ears and backside. An improvement was noticeable between the new Fit and a current Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa sampled on the same day on the same roads. And the Yaris’ quaint four-speed slushbox’s wide-ratio spacing in the lower gears certainly hampers its acceleration as compared with the Fit and Versa CVTs. Meanwhile the Versa’s CVT lacks the Fit EX’s paddles and crisp downshift programming.
Climbing out of a ’15 Fit and into a ’13 (there was no 2014 model), the quantum improvement in plastic-iness in the new car is stunning. It simply seems like a class-above vehicle, but then most manufacturers are getting religion where interior fit, finish, gloss, grain, and craftsmanship are concerned, at every price point. The center console is cleverly designed to accommodate a full-size iPad, with a USB port to charge it inside the bin, and a cord pass-through to allow wires out for a passenger’s headphones. The improvement in rear-seat space is indeed impressive, and I sampled the seats’ “relax” mode, wherein you remove the front seat headrest, slide the seat fully forward, and recline its backrest until it lies flush with the rear seat cushion, forming a lovely chaise lounge for the back-seat rider. (The resulting horizontal surface is too short and lumpy for a quality rest-area catnap.)
The new six-speed manual shifter has a light and precise feel about it and the shorter throw is appreciated, but it almost feels as though it could be shift-by-wire with good haptic feedback. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but Miata owners won’t prefer it. A closer study of the manual gearing reveals that overall gearing in first is 4.1 percent shorter, while second, fourth, and top gears are nearly the same. Third is 5.9 percent taller and fifth is nearly 10 percent shorter. What that all means is that, rather than all gears being spaced closer together, the gaps between 1-2, and 2-3 are actually wider spaced than in the old five-speed, while the upper gear ratios are closer together. We applaud Honda for not getting greedy and going taller with the sixth-gear ratio, as that would surely have reduced the car’s ability to pull minor grades in top gear. The torque peak is at a lofty 4600 rpm, which equates to 85 mph in fifth, 94 mph in sixth (with 16-inch tires) — meaning most cruising and grade-scaling happens well below the torque peak.
Two-pedal models benefit from the CVT’s 14 percent broader ratio spread, which is primarily applied to the gas-mileage end (higher speeds) of the range with a 12.5-13.5-percent taller top-gear ratio. Overall low gearing is just fractionally (0.5-1.4 percent) shorter at the launch end, but the torque converter (and added horsepower and torque) provides an amply nimble hole-shot for those occasions when you absolutely positively must get ahead of the car in the other lane.
The blue/green glowing Eco minder lights that flank the speedometer like parentheses seem like a 21st-century interpretation of the simple vacuum gauge “economy meters” that cars got during the first gas crises, in that during my drive it amounted to a throttle position/hill grade sensor, which doesn’t make for a very useful eco-coaching aid.
Other impressions: I love the resolution of the 800 x 480 dpi center screen, I miss a proper volume knob for the sound system, and I find the Lane Watch feature gimmicky. Adjust your mirrors properly, and there’s no need for that homely camera wart and its associated cost.
Bottom line: I wholeheartedly agree with Kim’s initial character assessment of our nicely matured, deeper-voiced, better-mannered Fit.