Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Chase the Rainbow | 2015 Honda Fit Review

Have you ever chased a rainbow? I have. And I have heard it been said that one can find a pot of gold at the end of one. So on a stormy day after work, I spotted one and went after it. It was frustrating because the bugger just kept moving away from me at the same rate I was approaching, until it disappeared.

Now, I know how rainbows work. They’re the result of sunlight refracting off raindrops. an optical effect, not something one can actually catch. But that didn't stop me, because I was in a bright yellow hatchback with nothing better to do.

The hatchback in question is the latest Fit by Honda. It’s the company’s smallest big car that has always been a little special. When designing the original, Honda moved the gas tank from under the back seat (where it is in most cars) to under the front seat. This simple packaging trick turned what would have been a cramped subcompact car into an incredibly spacious and practical one.

There are drawbacks to putting a gas tank under the front seat. First is that, thanks to the long pipe, it can be hard to know when the gas tank is full. The pump nozzle may have stopped itself, but when you go to level the price to the next dollar it feels like you can fill up much more. And you can. When I gassed up the Fit I added another 6 litres from the first stop to it being completely brimmed.

The next issue is that the front seats need to sit much higher to make space for the tank. Sure this helps with visibility, but it means the whole car must be taller. And that means the Honda Fit ends up looking more like a really small minivan.

Not anymore. This newly redesigned Honda Fit breaks from the jellybean mould to look much more like the hatchback it is. But it’s hardly a style icon. It wears a retainer at the front, has confusing character lines in the middle and at the back, it looks like the brake lights go all the way to the top but they don’t. There is just a reflector. My friend Karl characterized it best when he said that they gave him the same feeling he gets when someone bends over and you can see their bum crack. All it needed was a couple of LEDs.

Luckily the yellow colour really helped cheer things up, letting me focus on the fact that this new Fit is 41 mm shorter than the previous one. And yet it is bigger on the inside. Honda has managed to find another 139 L of passenger volume and it shows. It’s really astonishing how much room there is when you get inside, especially in the back. I’m 6’ 4” and my knees barely touched the front seats.

And what if you don’t need to ferry around tall passengers? Well the back “Magic Seats” fold completely flat for long items. The bottoms flip up for tall items or large pets. And you can fold the front seatbacks into the rear seat bottoms and lounge if you want to.

There still remains a feeling of minivan in the front. The driver’s seating position is high and the steering wheel feels like it’s angled up slightly. As well there are front quarter windows and a long dashboard under a long windshield like you get in a 1990s Toyota Previa.

See the Preset Button?
The dash is much better laid out than before. Though, the same can’t be said for the touchscreen Display Audio system. It might be capable, but so many functions are hiding under layers of menus. Want your radio preset for instance? Well you have to touch that tiny little tab on the right side of the screen. I think that means preset in Japanese. Want to adjust your volume? Here, fumble with this touch sensitive area. Are you sure you touched it?

You’ll definitely want the radio on too because the engine is really buzzy, uncharacteristic of a Honda engine. It’s a shame too, because the brand new 1.5 Litre Earth Dreams engine has a lot of get up and go. It’s DOHC 4-cylinder unit with direct injection that produces 130 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque.

I’ll blame some of the noise on the new CVT automatic transmission. They help with fuel economy. I was able achieve 6.2 L/100 km in mostly highway driving. But these gearless transmissions tend to let their engines drone endlessly during acceleration, especially up hills. It’s not the worst automatic I've driven; in fact in some regards it’s very good. For instance, the G-Design shift feature quickly offers up a lower gear ratio when you press the throttle, much sooner than a conventional auto’s kick down. There are also paddle shifters available if you want to have some control yourself. I’d still recommend the six-speed manual gearbox, but the automatic is perfect for those who drive like a granny.

Though, grannies won’t know what to do with such an amazing chassis. It changes direction really quickly and assertively and the 16 inch tires on my EX test car provide surprising amounts of grip. I say surprising because it really takes a little time to come to a point where you trust the car. I blame the steering. It’s quick and light, but doesn't offer up much confidence. You don’t know if the speed you have chosen for a corner is too much or just fine. It usually is, though, because that chassis is lively.

Clearly this new Honda Fit isn't a perfect car. For every great aspect of the car, there’s another to bring things back down. And yet every time I got into the Honda Fit I thought how it is all the car anybody could ever need. If this was the only car anybody was allowed to own we’d all still be able to manage.

So I guess somehow Honda did it. They caught the rainbow by making one of sorts, their own optical illusion. By creating a car that is smaller outside and larger inside. Unfortunately there isn't a pot of gold at the end of it.

2015 Honda Fit EX
It it all the car you could ever need, but want?  «««.5

Price as tested (Base Price): $20,495 ($14,495) inc. Freight + PDI
Engine: 1.5 Litre Direct Injection i-VTEC 4-cylinder
Power: 130hp @ 6600rpm     Torque: 114 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission (6-speed Manual available)
Fuel Consumption NRCan (city|hwy|combined): 7.3 | 6.1 | 6.8  L/100km

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