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2008 Honda Fit is thrifty with gas, big on practicality

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The 2008 Honda Fit is compact, nimble, peppy, amazingly practical and fuel efficient.
(Associated Press)
Enough already. I've heard enough Fit witticisms to last a lifetime -- from "I Fit, so you will, too," and "It Fits like a glove" to "Skip the gym, get a Fit."

Fit is Honda's smallest and least expensive car, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $14,585 for a base model with 109-horsepower four cylinder and five-speed manual transmission and $15,385 for a base model with automatic transmission.

But somehow, for several of my friends, the 2008 Fit was a perfect excuse to verbalize every sentence they could think of with the word "Fit" in it.

If you don't have wordsmith friends, perhaps you'll avoid this tiresome exercise and simply enjoy the Fit for what it is: a Honda that's compact, nimble, peppy, amazingly practical and fuel efficient.

In only its second calendar year in this country, the five-door Fit -- sold as a 13-foot-long hatchback -- more than doubled its sales. In 2007, sales zoomed to 56,432 from the 27,934 in Fit's introductory year.

Honda could likely have sold more Fits last year if supplies had been greater. U.S.-bound Fits come from a factory in Japan, which supplies the Japanese market, too.

While the Fit is Honda's cheapest car, it isn't the lowest-priced small car in the United States by any means.

The Fit's starting price is easily undercut by the 2008 Chevrolet Aveo hatchback, which has a starting retail price of $10,895, and the 2008 Hyundai Accent hatchback, which starts at $11,395. Also with a lower starting price is the 2008 Nissan Versa at $13,435 for a hatchback.

But Honda fans who value the company's long-standing reputation for building durable, quality vehicles and who want to shell out as little as possible in gasoline and a new-car purchase money are likely to appreciate the Fit.

They'll also like that the Fit is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where predicted reliability is "excellent."

While small enough to fit snugly -- see what I mean about that car name? -- in some of the smallest parking spots in big cities, the Fit has a surprising 90.1 cubic feet of passenger space, which is about the same as the larger Honda Civic sedan. Indeed, backseat headroom of 38.6 inches and cargo volume of 21.3 cubic feet behind the back seats of the Fit are greater than what are in the Civic.

The key isn't in length or width, where the Fit is smaller than the Civic. It's in the height, where the little Fit stands taller.

And, it's in the smart design of the Fit, where the gas tank is fitted under the front seats to allow better backseat room.

The Fit interior also has practical features, such as rear seat cushions that can fold up against the backrests of the second row seats. Rear-seat backrests also can fold down flat, allowing for a full 41.9 cubic feet of cargo space when those back seats aren't in use.

The only Fit engine is a compact package of 1.5-liter, single overhead cam, Honda VTEC four cylinder.

While the 109 horsepower and 105 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm don't sound like much, it's enough to give the lightweight Fit a perky personality, particularly in city traffic.

The test car, a Fit Sport with five-speed automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, even bounded energetically up mountain roads -- when it downshifted. And it could spurt forward from stoplights.

And not to be overlooked is the Fit's commendable fuel economy. The test car was rated at 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway, which makes it the fifth-best, nonhybrid small car nameplate in government fuel mileage rating for 2008.

Though the Fit's gas tank holds just 10.8 gallons, it's enough to travel nearly 350 highway miles before needing a fill-up. U-turns were a breeze, since the car's turning circle is a tidy 34.3 feet.

The big issue was engine and road noise. The Fit doesn't seem to have a lot of sound insulation. And, at less than 2,600 pounds, it's easily buffeted on windy days.

Three people sit closely in the back, and the driver struggles to see around trucks, vans and other large vehicles.

But many amenities are there in every Fit as standard equipment, including air conditioning with air filtration system, power door locks, power windows and outside mirror, tinted glass and adjustable steering column.

All safety equipment is standard, including curtain air bags and antilock brakes. But electronic stability control, which is standard on Hyundai's Accent, is not offered.

The Fit earned five out of five stars in frontal crash testing by the federal government. It got five out of five stars in side crash testing for front-seat passenger protection but only four out of five stars for rear-seat passenger protection during a side crash.

Last November, 34,300 Fits from the 2007 and 2008 model years that were sold in or registered in 22 states and the District of Colombia where road salt is used were recalled, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Officials said a wiring harness for a system in the cars, designed to automatically detect if an out-of-position passenger or child seat is in the front passenger seat and tailor air bag deployment accordingly, might corrode from salt and become inoperative.

In addition, 2007 Fits were part of a safety recall involving nearly 1.2 Hondas, because contact information for NHTSA in the vehicles' owner manuals was incorrect.

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