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2009 Honda Fit Sport: Not what nature intended

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  April 1, 2009 06:33 PM

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HOLDERNESS, N.H. - Picture an empty stretch of twisty, two-lane blacktop weaving through the New Hampshire woods and you'll immediately fantasize a hot-blooded sports car cutting through the crisp air at full song.

Route 113, which runs along Squam Lake, the second largest after Winnepesaukee, was that road on an early Sunday morning, neat and clear after a recent snowstorm. The 2009 Honda Fit Sport was that car - or at least an impression of a sports car. No Nissan GT-R, Lotus Exige, or Boxster S was in sight. That made the Fit, sitting low in Storm Silver Metallic, the unassuming supercar of Grafton County for a good, solid hour.

The Fit's stretched, bug-like face (Honda compares it so in commercials) and skinny body looked out of place next to the Subaru Outbacks, SUVs, and pickup trucks strolling through town. Inside, the trappings are much easier on the eye. Supportive seats, huge headroom, and a sporty trio of silver-painted gauges with orange needles and blue backlighting make a fine place to command the road. Hugging tight in every turn, the Fit Sport grips and goes, its 5-speed automatic hitting the rev-limiter at 6,800 r.p.m. as the engine winds up fast without harsh vibration.

When I sailed the Fit into a dip mid-corner, the outside tires hit the bump stops - normally a moment for sweating and cursing - and the car kept going as if nothing had happened. The steering wheel stayed tight in my palms, composed, and didn't jerk back. A second later, I flicked the right-hand paddle for a smooth upshift, the whine of the 1.5 liter four-cylinder engine strangely intoxicating. No drama, just a registered 28 miles per gallon in madman mode.

Five-door economy hatchbacks aren't supposed to be this exciting, as the Toyota Yaris, Scion xB, Chevrolet Aveo, and Nissan Versa can vouch for. Coming from Honda - the motorcycle-minded automaker that brought variable-valve timing to the masses, and for the rich, the Ferrari-challenging NSX - the Fit's sprightly attitude isn't surprising. On the highway, it's tame and relatively quiet as the trip computer showed 36 miles per gallon, my two passengers (one covered in yellow fur) sound asleep on the drive back to Boston.

The fold-up rear seats are the mini Honda's trump card. Someone in Japan had the bright idea to shift the 10.6 gallon fuel tank to the front, thereby making the rear floor completely flat. It may sound unnecessary, but the extra cubic inches give big, tall items (say, an 80-pound Golden Retriever) substantial breathing room and make loading and unloading cargo as simple as opening and closing the doors.

Don't think the Fit is perfect. Its pint-size may blend well on Japanese and European roads, but in America, the Fit is almost too small, even in a city. Civics and Corollas appear to be Lincoln Town Cars in comparison, and no matter how hard you charge through a rotary, a few entering drivers will always refuse to yield. Lucky the brakes and handling are up to task.

The navigation system is like MapQuest of the 1990s - crude, static, and not very helpful in comparison to most in-car displays. All that cornering skill leads to a rough, sometimes jolting ride over patchy pavement, which is the majority of city driving here in Boston.

At just under $20,000, our Fit Sport wasn't cheap for a subcompact, either. Consider that a base Volkswagen Jetta can be had for about $17,500, and the thrifty TDI comes well-equipped at $22,270. It's not a lot of metal for the money, but the Fit is loaded with airbags, stability control, and plenty of refinement. It's hard to argue against the Fit if small size is a big concern, and aside from the all-wheel-drive Suzuki SX4 Crossover, not much else comes close in this category.

Unnatural? Out of place? Certainly America isn't used to the Fit, and it's clearly been out of our nature to accept small cars and their drivers as serious. But with the full-size SUV era nearing an end - and the introduction of the 2011 Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Spark - more Americans might consider downsizing their daily transportation. Or, at the very least, give hatchbacks some deserved respect.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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11 comments so far...
  1. As the very satisfied owner of a 2008 Fit Sport MT and having summered in Holderness for many years, I found your article very interesting. Regarding price, though, a 2009 Fit Sport with manual transmission and without navigation can be had for less than $16K. Decidedly more fun to drive and at a price most can live with!

    Posted by Dave April 2, 09 01:08 PM
  1. I also own a Fit - a 2009 model and it is the best car I have ever owned. I have the Sport model - leather on steering wheel, cruise control, power windows and get about 40 miles per gallon. Really a classy, high quality car and I get compliments all the time. By the way, my automatic Sport model cost around $17,000, so I'm not sure why the author states that the Fit is around $20,000.

    Posted by Carol April 2, 09 01:42 PM
  1. My dog LOVES the FIT: we have a 2009 Sport, and it is great: less than $18,000, 40MPG average, tight turns, paddle shifters. The only thing I'd trade it for is a Honda FIT hybrid in a few years, if they get that technology further along.

    Posted by Ocean girl April 2, 09 02:18 PM
  1. I am the proud owner of an 07 Fit Sport A/T. I have over 54k on it and the Fit has been a dream car. It only cost me 16,800 and the Honda Fit has been worth every penny. I have done regular maintenance and changed the tires last week when I hit 54k. Outside of those things my Fit has required no extra $$ for repairs. Honda just make quality cars and trucks.

    Posted by Ray April 2, 09 02:25 PM
  1. I like the Fit - would seriously consider one, but a Mazda3 with ABS/side air bags etc. is running about $13K right now. Makes the Fit tough to justify.

    Posted by WVW in West Newton April 2, 09 05:00 PM
  1. We are the owners of a copper colored 08 Fit Sport, I couldn't recommend this car enough. The 5 speed manual gearbox is smooth as silk and the car responds immediately to all the driver inputs. We have had the fuel economy as high as 41 MPG on a trip from western ma to the cape. On long road trips, with the passenger seat folded flat, the wife can sit in the backseat, with her legs extended to the front. I get control of the radio and she gets to read/nap, etc. in peace. As for storage, you can fit almost anything in there, I even transport my snowblower in the back. The wife's father, a large, large man, found it comfortable to drive. We love the car and would recommend it to everyone

    Posted by The Fit Is Go! April 3, 09 10:26 AM
  1. How can you secure the dog in the FIT? no seatbelts and not much room for a create?

    Posted by 42Giants April 3, 09 02:26 PM
  1. To go along with #6's comments about a large man driving a Fit, my brother in-law also a large, large man was a passenger in my husbands Fit (#4's comments) in the back seat! The drive was about 45 minutes and he was very comfortable. I even stopped to ask directions and the folks we were asking were amazed that a large man was in the back seat sitting comfortably... Two booster seats "Fit" nicely as well.

    Posted by Dawn April 3, 09 03:46 PM
  1. "The Fit's...skinny body...."
    Maybe the previous model counted as skinny, despite it's arbitrary sort of hello kitty cuteness veneer, but the current model looks more like kitty's well into her second trimester.

    Posted by Jeff Johnson April 6, 09 10:53 AM
  1. I just purchased the Fit Sport 5spd manual tranny in February for about 16 and so far I love it! I did test drive a Mazda3 but they are really in 2 different classes. The Fit has the bonus of being able to stow cargo and there's no way the Mazda would ever get everything in it that I have been able to get in my Fit! If you want a sedan - the Mazda3 was just fine but with the extras of the Fit - the mix of practical and sporty and the awesome fuel economy plus the Honda name and reliability levels, I am happy with my decision.

    Posted by Darlene April 7, 09 07:22 AM
  1. Cheeser Muffin!

    Posted by Frank Furter April 15, 09 02:50 PM
 

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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