Not much has changed in the Honda Fit since its North American debut in 2006. Sure, it got a styling upgrade and a slight bump in interior volume in 2008, but all along it's been the same little compact powered by the same 1.5-liter engine. But is that a bad thing? In a time where the 2012 Civic is larger than a '90s vintage Accord and the current Accord is bigger than a Cadillac, could it be that the aging Honda Fit Sport is, in the words of my Twitter follower, the last "true Honda"? Does it harken back to a time where Hondas were compact and efficient, simple and easy to live with, and most importantly, fun to drive?
I grabbed the keys to a fully loaded Blue Raspberry Metallic 2012 Honda Fit Sport with Navigation and hit the road to find out.
What's good? Classic Honda performance
Under the Fit's abbreviated hood spins the same 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's motivated the small Honda since its debut in 2008. Output is rated at a modest 117 horsepower and 106 pound-feet of torque, with most of that power residing in the upper reaches of the tachometer. The Fit's engine is surprisingly small in the engine bay where it sits exposed, without the plastic shrouding and engine covers that automakers have taken to using to reduce engine noise and make things look tidy when you pop the hood.
Small as it may be, this engine is surprisingly loud from behind the wheel and, while I hesitate to call it rough, I was constantly made aware of how much more vibration and sound this engine transmitted into the cabin and through the pedals when compared with, for example, the Hyundai/Kia 1.6-liter engine that motivates the Accent and Rio hatchbacks. Some drivers, myself included, appreciate a car that doesn't hide its engine, and revel in the immediate connection with the eager little 1.5-liter engine as it revs away. However, if you like a quiet and isolated ride from your econobox, you'll want to look elsewhere.
Power leaving the engine eventually makes it to the road through the Fit's front wheels, but before it gets there it must go through the transaxle. The Fit Sport comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission, but if you want any of the cabin tech goodies, you'll be forced to choose the five-speed automatic gearbox. Either way you go, that's one gear short of the current standard of six forward gears, but the Fit's ratios are well-chosen and well-spaced.
Just below the standard PRND positions of the automatic shift lever is an S position for the Sport shift program, which is surprisingly good. In this mode, the Fit is transformed from a competent little grocery-getter into a peppy little pocket rocket that's eager to take advantage of the power available near its 6,800rpm redline. For the Fit, going from D to S is akin to taking a double espresso shot; it just wakes up and comes alive.
The Sport model also features a manual shift mode actuated with plastic paddle shifters located on the back of the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Here again, the Fit surprises with shifts that are reasonably quick. I also like that, when in Sport mode, the Fit doesn't automatically drop back to manual mode -- it will even bump up against the redline if you forget to slap the paddle -- which makes this mode useful for enthusiastic driving. I still think that I'd prefer the manual gearbox, but the automatic isn't half bad.
Fuel economy is estimated by the EPA at 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined. However, under the influence of my leaden foot, we averaged a trip-computer-approximated 26.5 mpg. Even that number surprised me, since I drove in almost exclusively the Sport and Manual modes for my city driving, stepping back up to the standard program for the highway cruising portion of the testing. A less obnoxious driver could certainly do better than my reported average. Indeed, Car Tech Senior Editor Wayne Cunningham averaged about 30 mpg when testing the 2010 Fit Sport, which is by all accounts identical to this 2012 model.
If you've ever lamented the replacement of the small and sporty Honda Civics that made the brand great in the '90s with the large "compact" that bears the moniker these days, lament no more. The Fit is the true spiritual successor of those tossable, flexible Civic hatchbacks of old.
The Fit Sport is upgraded from the non-Sport model with 16-inch wheels over 15-inch steelies with wheel covers, a rear stabilizer bar to go along with the standard front stabilizer bar, and select styling upgrades for a sportier appearance. All Fit models use electronic power steering (EPS), but don't turn up your nose just yet. Honda got it right and the Fit's EPS system is one of the best setups in its price class. Steering is responsive and direct with none of the numbness that plagues other EPS systems.
What's bad? Old-school cabin tech
The Fit's cabin isn't a bad place to be. 360-degree visibility is great thanks to generous glass in the greenhouse. The seating position was also great for my fairly average 5-foot-9 frame. Ergonomics are good, with the steering wheel falling nicely into the hand and the controls for climate system within mere inches of the wheel's rim.