- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

Honda’s well-timed introduction of the second-generation 2009 Fit appeals to a market base that goes beyond buyers who are looking for small car gas-sipping reliability and affordability.

The Fit’s excellent fuel economy and hatchback flexibility will draw in the Generation Y young buyers, the downsizers, plus anyone who wants to make fewer fill ups and leave smaller carbon footprints on earth.

In fact, Honda says research shows the subcompact market will grow 12 percent over the next five years. Buyers moving into this segment are not just first-time car buyers, but well educated and wealthier fuel conscious buyers, too. Some of the reasons for this move are that many of the small cars in this segment are quality vehicles. They are also loaded with amenities, safety and convenience options, making the small segment more attractive to a larger pool of buyers. Your future car purchase very likely could be a small car.

Compact and subcompact vehicles are not just basic transportation econo-boxes, they are seen today as lifeboats. Small cars are rescuing people drowning in debt from fuel bills. With a base price of $14,550 and EPA fuel estimates of 27 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway, the Fit is a lifesaver for many cash-strapped and budget constrained consumers.

The 2009 Fit comes standard with six airbags (dual front, side and side curtain), front row active head restraints, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce, and optional stability control (Fit Sport). Honda builds the Fit with Advanced Compatibility Engineering, an exceptionally strong body structure that absorbs the crash energies in a frontal accident.

One of the most remarkable things about the new Fit is how big the interior space is. The people I traveled with all had the same “wow” expression when they opened the doors to this small hatch.

On the outside the Fit is tidy looking with small dimensions, such as a 98.4-inch wheelbase, a width of almost 68 inches and a height of 60 inches. Honda designers tweaked the interior to give it a spacious feel.

For example, the door linings are concaved and sculpted for extra arm room, the roof peak allows for more headroom, the windshield and window areas are increased for a more expansive feeling. Opening up the rear hatch resembles minivan-like cargo capacity for simple access and easy loading. The Fit offers 20.6 cubic feet of cargo volume. The curb-to-curb turning circle is just 34.4 feet.

The front-wheel drive 2,489-pound (base model) Fit is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The powerplant delivers 117 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 106 pounds-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. A five-speed automatic transmission is available as an option, and on the Fit Sport the automatic features a steering wheel paddle shifter system. Honda offers the Fit in base, Sport and Sport Navigation trims. The Fit Sport starts at $16,060, while the Sport with navi starts at $17,910.

While Honda makes a fine small car with its Fit, on long drives the engine noise got to me. Engine vibration transmits into the passenger cabin.

For short hauls it’s acceptable, but for any duration, you’ll probably be ready to hop back into a large vehicle.

There are small vehicles on the market with lesser engine vibration and noise, such as the Scion models, so noise is not necessarily a trade-off you have to make in the small car segment.

In the long run, however, getting small is going to be getting really big.

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