- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

The automotive media loves the Honda Fit.

We love it without question.

We can’t help ourselves. It’s cute and cuddly and if you cock your head just right it has either big ears or a jaw line that looks like a ship’s bow. The seats fold up in so many directions it’s like you’re practicing origami when you lean into the second row. And then there’s the high gas mileage, the 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine and lots of cool interior features that just woo us into nearly passing out.

Everyone likes an underdog and somehow Honda has managed to keep the Fit one. But it’s far from it. In the subcompact segment, the Fit is truly a hot, top dog.

For good measure, the Honda Fit is worth the hype. It’s a fantastic daily driver that can carry five people - though they should be fit and thin if you want three in the second row.

The mileage is true to the label; in one week of testing, I averaged 31 miles per gallon in a good mix of highway speeding and urban thrashing. The sticker says you’ll get 28 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway with the five-speed automatic transmission. The manual gets slightly worse mileage at 27 mpg / 33 mpg.

The Fit has hoot-like drive qualities. Those 15-inch wheels and go-kart like turning ability make it fun around town. The electric power assist rack-and-pinion steering remains responsive at any speed and it can pitch a U-turn in 34 feet.

Honda certainly didn’t make the Fit powerful. Its little four-banger only cranks out 117 horsepower and 106-pound-feet of torque. While the car’s launch is good, it could use a little more juice at higher speeds.

The inside is a nice surprise. The instrument panel looks great, with the blue lit strips marking the speedometer. The plastic dash is a little shiny and has a subcompact feel to it. It has two deep pockets - Honda says these are bottle holders - on each end.

Honda wanted a more open feel for the Fit and pulls it off. The dash curves down and remains open. The three asymmetrical knobs on the left side of the center stack make it easy for the driver to reach the A/C controls .

However, the air conditioning could be better as the cabin can heat up quickly in the sun.

There are lots of neat storage features. There’s an under-seat compartment, cubbies on the dash, a back row cup holder, a double glove box and even a map pocket on the passenger’s seat (that way the driver can easily reach it). Well thought-out cubbies create a user-friendly atmosphere that make the difference between joyful ownership and growing resentment through the years.

I did not like the Fit on long highway drives: The seat did not push back far enough for my legs to feel comfortable. Around town, it was slightly cramped but fine.

While some may think the exterior is cute, it looks like Honda has strategically designed the Fit to steal some of the charms of the Toyota Prius. Both have that pointed nose, big windshield and a roofline that starts around the front bumper. The new, larger headlamps improve the car’s face along with the fog lamps below the bumper. The larger mirrors, now mounted on the door, also help the car’s look. But let’s face it, this car is not a looker by any means.

But people buying the Fit should consider a lot more than looks. Substance is the base of any car purchase. How does it affect their pocketbook? How well will it serve them over the next four, possibly eight, years?

Honda has moved its price - an automatic Fit starts at $16,020, including $670 for shipping - into the range of slightly larger compact vehicles.

It should serve anyone looking for a reliable means of transportation quite well. The gas mileage is great and some things are worth a little extra cost.

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