The Hard Truth: the Fit is not a performance Honda. In stock trim it stamps out 109hp/105 lb-ft from a 1.5-liter VTEC mill, and under hard cornering, its torsion beam rear suspension bounces like a spring break talent show. But with innovative seating, deceptively big cabin space and polite, enthusiastic manners, the Fit will wrap itself around your lifestyle faster than dolphin-safe tuna.
That's not to say it lacks potential. You can hunt down a Mugen blower, Top Fuel turbo kit or any K20 engine for more whump. With its lean 2,550 lb. curb weight, the Fit should react to 200hp like George Dubya in a DEA evidence room.
After sales of a million units elsewhere in the world, where it's also known as "Jazz," Honda introduces the Fit in the U.S. as an easier entry into the badge. As the Civic has climbed the social ladder, Honda's Korean rivals took over the low-buck subcompact segment, a category Honda sees growing 60 percent by 2010.
Slip enough Belvedere into a Honda exec's Red Bull however, and you get the straight dish. Less an exercise in fending off Korean upstarts, the Fit is more about getting a thorn up some Scion ass. Toyota's savvy courting of the E-generation hasn't gone unnoticed across town in Torrance.
Honda wants some of that mojo for Fit. It won't inspire stoplight stompings, but it'll hit other receptors. If you enjoy car sex, for example, this is your car. For copulation on the go, just tint the windows, remove the headrests from the front seats and recline them flush with the 60/40 split rear seat bench. Honda charmingly calls this Refresh Mode, ideal for, say, working on a laptop. Suggesting more obvious entertainment might saddle the company with decades of child support payments.
There's also Long Mode for hauling skis and snowboards, a Tall Mode (fold up the rear seat for 50 inches of clearance from floor to ceiling) and Utility Mode (flattened rear seat) for 42 cubic feet of cargo room.
One way to offset a low-power engine is to mate it with a punchy transmission. Fit and Fit Sport (the only two trim levels) offer both manual and automatic 5-speeds, but the shifter and clutch in our test car felt spongy and undefined (Honda engineers say it's an isolated case of a bum spring assembly). No matter. Until we can get the 7-speed CVT available in Japan, the only transmission we want is the paddle-shifted 5-speed auto on Fit Sport. Set in "S" mode, the paddles (more like tabs) let the driver choose shift points. Even in regular "D" mode, getting around slow traffic requires a simple downshift click instead of burying the accelerator.
Inside, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, A/C, power windows, mirrors and door locks, and front, side and side curtain airbags all come standard. Cupholders, panel pockets and birth control stash boxes abound. Fit Sport cranks out 200 watts from six speakers and offers an optional iPod control link to the factory radio.
Make no mistake: Fit has tuning potential. When we asked Spoon president Tatsuru Ichishima his opinion of the car, he praised its lean, natural chassis rigidity. Sure, the costs-saving torsion beam suspension is old school, he says. But Honda has tweaked and improved it since the CRX and first-gen Integra heydays. Clever packaging, a loveable transmission, Ichi-san's endorsement and a sticker around $14,000; all we gotta do now is visit the tint shop.