DESIGNED TO BE PRACTICAL
A 2015 Honda Fit is the last thing we'd ever imagine driving off-road. It's front-wheel-drive and powered by a puny 1.5-liter inline-four that makes 130hp and 114 lb-ft of torque—a reliable powertrain, sure, but won't win you any straight-line races even against grandma. It is a four-door, five-passenger hatchback that surprisingly has a lot of cargo space—practicality is its forte. It's also great on fuel economy especially for a non-hybrid, often seeing 40mpg on the highway as tested by our friends at MotorTrend. But in the case of climbing rocks, finding traction in the mud and taking long journeys across unpaved lands, you can forget it—that's a simply a ridiculous thought. That is, unless your name is Jefferson Palma.
ACCIDENTS AND HEADACHES
Jefferson moved to the U.S. from the Philippines nine years ago and now resides in sunny Southern California. He's never owned or built an off-road vehicle before. In fact, this 2015 Honda Fit is one of his first-ever project cars. He picked it up almost brand new five years ago with only 20K miles on it. Like most car enthusiasts in L.A., he wanted to make it look cool, so he lowered it and slapped some bigger wheels and skinny tires on it. However, after three accidents, one of which popped a tire and nearly injured him severely, Jefferson realized that life was too short, and that the low life wasn't for him. After getting the Fit back from the body shop, he still couldn't be caught driving a stock car, so he decided to raise it and has never looked back.
1ST KEY TO OFF-ROADING IN A HONDA FIT: LIFT IT
The first matter Jefferson needed to address was ground clearance. The third generation Fit only has about 5-inches to work with. To put that into perspective, the current Toyota 4Runner has 9.6-inches and a Subaru Crosstrek has 8.7-inches. As you can imagine, Jefferson could barely make it over a parking lot curb if he really wanted to with the stock suspension. So, the first step was lifting the car and he found a cheap solution by adding a body lift kit. This setup retains the stock springs and shocks but adds spacers, so the front raises 3-inches and the rear 4-inches. This is the cheapest way possible to allow Jefferson to run larger wheels and tires without really upsetting the steering geometry of the car. The ride is a little stiffer but manageable.
2ND KEY TO OFF-ROADING IN A HONDA FIT: MUD TIRES
Jefferson told me the hardest decision he had to make in the entire project was selecting the right tires. There are so many options and sizes to choose from and he didn't have the luxury of knowing what other off-road Honda Fit owners did because, well, he's the only one around. He eventually landed on a set of 225/75-60 Kenda Klever M/T tires, which are normally meant for a stock Chevrolet Silverado or Dodge Ram. The tires are meaty, durable and offer more traction than Jefferson could ever need. Since his car is not heavy, he reveals that the tread doesn't get eaten up that easy and that he's still going strong on 90,000 miles on current tires. The massive tread blocks do get a bit noisy on the road but he says it doesn't bother him anymore.
3RD KEY TO OFF-ROADING IN A HONDA FIT: MODIFYING FOR GROUND CLEARANCE
It doesn't take a genius to calculate that mud terrain tires meant for a full-size pickup aren't going to work on a little hatchback. We're talkin' about squeezing 30.5-inch tires inside fender wells that normally accommodate about 15-inch all-season tires issued from the factory. To make beefy Kendas work, cutting into the body was inevitable but something Jefferson had no fear of doing. He also had to trim some fat in order to improve ground clearance.
Jefferson performed all the fabrication work himself in his home garage. I'll be the first to admit that his work is rough, I mean very rough... He's not a pro fabricator by trade, but I give him a lot of credit because he practically learned how to cut, fab and weld by watching YouTube videos!
The front and rear fenders are chopped about 5-inches. Jefferson also had to remove metal from underneath the fender liners. Up front, he created a rock-solid bumper out of metal that connects to Jeep Grand Cherokee fenders that he sourced to hide the butchery. Along with the front metal bumper, he developed rock sliders alongside the car to protect the underbody further. Then, he coated his body modifications with bedliner paint for durability. Again, I reiterate, it doesn't look flawless, but it serves its purpose.
I was curious if all that extra metal weighed a lot and he confirmed that it does, but the extra load up front actually helps with traction.
BUILT ON A BUDGET
Jefferson didn't come from a lot of money nor was he willing to rack up his credit card bills. He revealed to me that he spent less than $2,000 in total modifications to get to this point. The wheels were perhaps the most expensive purchase (and they're XXRs, to boot). Interestingly, they're the same wheels he's always had on the Fit, even before the accidents. The next expensive item would be the tires, then the rest of the project was built off junkyard finds, eBay accessories and makeshift parts. For example, the intake snorkel that he retrofitted from a 70 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.
MISFIT OF THE YEAR
Over the last year, Jefferson has been testing his Fit at various off-road trails across California. He's conquered even the most challenging ones which include the Bradshaw Trail and Monache OHV Trail. Since the Fit is front-wheel-drive, it can be tricky, but he just has to keep momentum going up steep inclines. In off-roading, having a lot of horsepower and torque aren't going to help you get up a hill; however, traction and momentum are your friends. Typically, there's always a path that Jefferson can hold a controlled speed and make it up. If there isn't, he can use the help of his winch to pull him through. In addition to defeating rocky inclines, he's driven across a river, finagled his way through old mining tunnels and has even completed a long road trip to Canada and back.
Jefferson has found his calling with his repurposed off-road Fit. Sure, he doesn't have baller parts or fit in with the rest of the Honda scene, but perhaps that's what makes this unique build so special.