And all that Jazz
By Lou Ann Hammond, Mon, 3 Apr 2006 08:00:00 PDT
This is not only the year of the compact car, but the year of configurations and accessories. I just got through driving the Dodge Caliber, with accessories such as speakers in the backgate for tailgating and a cooler in the glove box for keeping drinks cool. The car started at $13,995. I couldn't imagine any other manufacturer thinking of a way to top that at that price. Then I drove the Honda Fit.
The Honda Fit originally debuted in Japan in June, 2001. It was unveiled at North American International Auto Show in Detroit January 8, 2006 by Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. Not only has it been around awhile, it is available in more than 70 countries, according to Honda. In the European market it is known as the Jazz.
The Honda Fit isn't full of cool gadgets or exterior colors that match the interior two-tone. It is the configuration of seating that the Caliber becomes cool. There are four different seat designs in the Fit, which Honda is calling "Magic Seat".
First is the normal seating arrangement, though there is more room, made possible by the Fit's centrally mounted fuel tank, instead of the tank being under the rear seat. Second is the Utility mode, where the 2nd row folds forward (with headrest still attached) for a nearly flat cargo space of 41.9 cubic feet. The front seat can go into full recline to create enough room for an item up to 7 feet 10 inches long. Be careful not to put anything sticky or wet in there. The front seat is fully reclined which means whatever you put on it will be on the seat where you sit after you take the product out of the car. Third is the tall mode where the rear seat bottoms fold up and an item as tall as 50 inches can fit in the middle of the Fit's interior.
The fourth is the intriguing and fun part. Isn't part of the fun of watching a movie at home that you can sit in your recliner and watch it. Or think of when you're working on your computer in your bed, all spread out. This is the refresh mode; the Fit's front seats can recline flush with the rear seats to create a long, flat surface just perfect for anyone under 7 feet 10 inches to fully recline in. With the flip of a switch the rear seat can recline a couple inches further.
The Honda Fit reminded me of the first time I saw the Nissan Titan. Always before I had thought of a pickup as a way to haul people and cargo. When Nissan introduced the Titan with all the different seat configurations and storage spots for stuff I knew the truck as we knew it would change forever.
There are two models; the Honda Fit and the Honda Fit Sport. In those two models you can have manual transmission, automatic transmission or automatic-sport transmission with the paddle shifters. The Fit is a 5-door subcompact hatchback with a .5-liter Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) 4-cylinder engine that produces 109 horsepower@5,800 rpm and 105 lb.-ft of torque@4,800 rpm. The estimated fuel economy is 33 mpg city/38 mpg highway for the manual transmission. The automatic gets a respectable 31mpg city/38mpg highway, while the automatic sport gives a 31mpg city/37mpg highway.
The exterior will have some fun features such as the inside of the headlights will be the same color as the exterior of the car. The headlight structure is bulbous, the front of the car seems small in design compared to how large the rest of the car stands. The auto industry must have a bunch of young designers in the mix these days because I see all these vehicles coming out with backend spoilers as if they are wearing their baseball caps backwards. I envision the car looking at me and saying, "Dude"
I was impressed by the mating of Hondas' engine to its transmission. I questioned the Honda Public relations folks about the engine, because I hadn't felt such a great mating on a 4-cylinder 109 horsepower since I can't remember when. Sage Marie, Hondas' PR guy reminded me that Honda is the biggest manufacturer of engines of anyone. Honda builds over 19 million engines annually, including motorcycles, water engines, ATVs, lawn mowers and vehicles.
I asked if the reason the engine was more robust than the Caliber's 2.0-liter SXT with Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). I loved the 1.8-liter manual in the Caliber, but the CVT takes the exacting gear ratios out of an automatic transmission. CVT increases fuel economy, but there is a price to pay in performance. The Honda folks told me that it depended on the market they were building the car for whether or not they used CVT. According to Ichihara-san, Assistant Chief Engineer for the Fit, Americans are more aggressive drivers than Japanese. In Japan almost 100 percent of Hondas have CVT, whereas in America Honda only uses their CVT on a handful of vehicles, mainly hybrids.
Honda is branching out in alternatives fuels. For two years they have had diesel CRVs, Civics and Accords in Europe where the diesel fuel is clean. For the last year Honda has had vehicles in Brazil that are flex-fuel vehicles.
As impressed as I was with the automatic Honda Fit I was unimpressed with the manual transmission Honda Fit. The clutch was loose, the shaft wiggly and the ride completely wrong. It was as though the Fit needed more clutch pressure, or a bigger piston or a clutch master cylinder. There was too much play and the gear ratios were all wrong. This could be the first time I said don't buy a manual transmission on a 4-cylinder.
The all-new automatic 2007 Honda Fit will debut at dealerships nationwide on April 20 with a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $14,650. Fit Sport models with the available automatic transmission come standard with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and will be available at the suggested retail price of $15,970. The Fit has an estimated city/highway fuel economy rating of 33/38 miles per gallon (manual transmission). Emissions levels are rated as Low Emissions Vehicle 2 (LEV-2) by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Tier 2 / Bin 5 by the Federal government.