Aside from some problematic crash-test results, the 2013 Honda Fit demonstrates that when a car nails the fundamentals, it can stay competitive for years.
At the tail end of the 2013 model year, Honda's most affordable car in the U.S. had been in its current form for more than five years; it's due for a redesign to show up sometime in 2014. But the automaker got the basics right. The Fit is easy to see out of, it handles nimbly, and it's roomy as hell. Its age shows up in outdated electronics and mediocre gas mileage — aspects of the car that become less competitive with the emergence of each new rival. This is no gadget-hip, 40-mpg subcompact. But it is an exceedingly practical choice, with driving fun to boot.
The Fit comes in base and Sport trim levels, which you can compare here. There are no significant changes between the 2013 and 2012 Fit; compare them side by side here. We cover the all-electric Fit EV, available in select states, on a separate page. For this review, we evaluated an automatic base Fit, but we've driven other versions before.
How It Drives
With a 117-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the Fit scampers from a stop with surprising pep, and the optional five-speed automatic picks the right gear with little delay. Alas, there's little to back it up once you're in motion: On-ramps and highway passing are long, droning journeys as the speedometer inches clockwise. We've driven the Fit's standard five-speed manual before, and it does little to pick up the pace. Such is the case when driving the pint-sized four-cylinders in most subcompacts. Want more passing power? Try the Chevrolet Sonic, or move up to a compact.
If the payoff for poor acceleration is fuel efficiency, Honda gives only a modest reward. With the automatic, EPA gas mileage is 28/35/31 mpg city/highway/combined in the base Fit and 27/33/30 mpg in the Fit Sport, which has a unique (but less efficient) paddle-shifting version of the automatic transmission. Manual versions of either trim get 27/33/29 mpg. Any way you look at it, those figures are uncompetitive — enough to disqualify the Fit for Cars.com Best Bet status. Combined EPA mileage in mainstream automatic versions of the 2014 Ford Fiesta (32 mpg) and Toyota Yaris (32 mpg) hatchbacks edge Honda out. The Nissan Versa Note gets an EPA-estimated 35mpg; the new Mitsubishi Mirage ekes out 40 mpg (combined!). Honda has some catching up to do.
Everyone else, though — save perhaps the Fiesta and Mazda2 — have to catch up on the handling front. The Fit feels like a go-kart, with light, direct steering and minimal body roll even with our car's base suspension. The car stops with linear pedal action despite having rear drums combined with front discs — a cost-saving setup that's prevalent in the class. The Fit Sport gets front and rear stabilizer bars to quell body roll even more. The base Fit has them only up front. But the Sport's 16-inch wheels and lower-profile tires lend a firm ride that some, especially backseat passengers, may find too harsh. The base Fit rides 15s and thus higher-profile rubber; it's still a busy ride, but it's more livable. Interstate highways kick up noticeable road and wind noise, as is the norm in this class. Chevrolet and Ford have elevated ride quality in the Sonic and Fiesta, respectively, and Ford merges that with stellar handling. But the Fit's overall drivability still competes.
Inside the Fit, a sea of hard textures meets the eyes … and elbows, forearms, knees — you name it. That's the norm in this class, though a few competitors — the Fiesta and Toyota Yaris, in particular — improve on things. Whenever the redesigned Fit comes around, I hope Honda heeds the same call.
The automaker needs to stay the course on practicality, however. I geek out about this stuff, so indulge me here: The Fit's dashboard obstructs no knee space, as the Fiesta's maddeningly small cabin does. Dual glove compartments and a slew of cubbies, shelves and cupholders should be plenty for even the worst pack rats. A telescoping steering adjustment is standard, which is rare in this class. And a litany of factors — tall windows, narrow pillars, big mirrors and nesting rear head restraints — combine for excellent sightlines.
One caveat: Part of the visibility comes because the driver's seat lacks a height adjustment, which most competitors offer. That leaves many drivers, including me, in a lower-than-preferred seating position — but that lower line of sight also gives the illusion of a taller windshield. Take note on your test drive and see if the tradeoff is worth it to you.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The Fit has large, easy-to-see controls; tuning the radio or turning up the heat is a cinch. Manual air conditioning is standard. Automatic climate control, offered in the Fit EV and a number of competitors, isn't available in gasoline models.
Electronic features are a different tale, however. Car shoppers now are more connected than ever, and the Fit's electronics feel stuck in the 2000s. Most consumers have navigation on their smartphones, and automakers have dropped in-car navigation prices like it's Black Friday. Honda's system runs an impossible $1,780 on the automatic Fit Sport — but it's the only way to get Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, both of which many competitors include on mainstream trims. A USB/iPod-compatible stereo is standard, but if you want to stream content wirelessly, prepare to fork over more than $20,500 for a loaded Fit Sport.
Cargo & Storage
With its low load floor and high ceiling, the Fit boasts 20.6 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats. Honda's split, second-row Magic Seat folds upward — like the rear seats in many crew-cab pickup trucks — for a storage alley between the seats, should you need to move furniture or other tall items. Fold those seats to the floor instead and the resulting cargo area maxes out at 57.3 cubic feet. That's more than double the Fiesta's max cargo. It beats nearly the entire class — and even tops a few small SUVs.
With top scores in moderate-overlap front, side, roof-strength and rear-impact tests, the Fit is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, as of this writing, the car received a poor score in IIHS' small-overlap frontal test, which simulates hitting a narrow object like a telephone pole or tree with the car's front-left corner. Read more about it here. Note that most subcompacts didn't pass the small-overlap test: The Chevrolet Spark scored acceptable, but IIHS rated four cars as marginal and six — including the Fit — as poor. None received the agency's top score, good, so if safety is a high priority, consider a larger class.
Value in Its Class
Form follows function in the Fit, and even two real-world shoppers in Cars.com's subcompact-car comparison admitted the car's practicality justified its quirky styling (read more about it here). Honda is stingy on the electronics front, but base Fit models can be had for around $17,000 with an automatic transmission and the destination charge, and that includes a healthy list of standard convenience features. Strong resale value — the Fit won ALG's residual-value award among subcompacts for 2013 — and excellent reliability in the current generation distinguishes the Fit further. It won our 2012 subcompact comparison, beating out the Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and other recent redesigns. It remains a strong choice today.
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