My friend and I took both an automatic Fit Sport and a manual Fit Sport out for back-to-back test drives together yesterday. We ended up spending more time behind the wheel of the automatic version because that's the one each of us thought we were most interested in for ourselves, and it was quite an extensive test drive -- much more so than with any other car I've shopped for previously. Our salesman was busy with other customers, so he let us go out on our own, and we took advantage of the situation to drive the automatic version in a variety of different conditions -- heading up a steep mountain pass, winding through curvy canyon roads, cruising on the highway, and negotiating city traffic.
My initial impression, pulling out into city traffic in the automatic-equipped Fit, was that the car was laughably underpowered -- but then, I was trying to accelerate more aggressively than I typically do in normal driving in order to see what kind of power it had; once I settled into a more relaxed driving style, the Fit seemed to have adequate power (but no more than that).
The next portion of our drive was climbing a mountain pass at highway speeds, going from an altitude of approx. 4,500 ft. to maybe 6,000 or so ft., and this was by far the most disappointing part of my test drive. Granted, this is perhaps the hardest test one might throw at what some would consider primarily a "city car," but the way the automatic (which, significantly, was in "D" mode) kept hunting for the right gear as we climbed in elevation was really off-putting. Honestly, at that point, my disappointment over its hill-climbing abilities felt like a dealbreaker to me -- but more on that in just a moment.
Next, we carved through a winding canyon road, heading in both directions to see how the car handled going either uphill or downhill around the curves, and this is where the Fit really shined. The steering seems quite precise and feels very "tight" (the small turning radius is great, too!), and the car handles like a champ; all the accolades thrown at this car for its agility by the motoring press -- especially in articles like the comparison test in the May issue of Car and Driver magazine, in which the Fit absolutely ran away with the highest fun-to-drive score -- are appropriate. Significantly, my friend drove for most of this section with the automatic in "S" mode, manually selecting the gears and so avoiding the frustrating way the auto would hunt for the right gear in "D" mode when climbing a hill, and the Fit seemed to have plenty of power that way, although the engine was revving like crazy.
Having climbed the mountain pass previously in "D" to see how the Fit would drive up a sizable hill with minimal intervention, we went back to cover the same ground, only this time keeping the car in "S" mode and manually selecting the gears -- and our experience, as you'd expect, was quite different and far
more satisfying. This time, we climbed the mountain pass with the car in 4th gear most of the way, and it did so ably; while I wouldn't go so far as to say the Fit did it with power to spare, it certainly had adequate power in 4th gear heading up the hill, no question about it. Excellent!
Finally, we finished our test drive of the automatic-equipped Fit with a relatively flat expressway run and the automatic in "D" mode, and here the car seemed to acquit itself quite well. Cruising at highway speeds is no problem for the Fit, with the caveat that you'll have to drop down to 4th gear on occasion for short periods to maintain your speed on some inclines -- even on some inclines, I should point out, that seem so slight you wouldn't even notice that they were
inclines in more powerful cars.
We then drove a 5-speed manual-equipped Fit Sport, but limited our time behind the wheel of this model to mostly city and a little bit of highway driving, since we were both more interested in the automatic version, and because we'd already gotten a very good feel for the Fit from the extensive test drive of the automatic model we'd just completed.
The manual Fit actually seemed slower to us than the automatic, even though the manual version may be quicker in actual practice, probably due largely to the fact that the automatic version is designed in a way to jump off the line with verve; from a stop, the automatic version really springs forward as soon as you begin to press the accelerator, a quality we both really enjoyed. The manual shifts precisely and easily and the clutch pedal feels quite light, as others have reported, but overall we favored the automatic version for two reasons: first, because the automatic is geared in such a way to cruise at lower RPMs than the manual at speed, it strikes us as offering more versatility than the manual -- said differently, the automatic's 5th gear offers the relaxed cruising that the manual doesn't since the manual lacks a true overdrive 6th gear; and second, because of its smoothness, impression of power off the line, and the fun and versatility it offers between "D" and manually-shifted "S" modes, the automatic enables the Fit to give off a more upscale vibe that we didn't get in the manual version, which seemed more "econobox" to us (not that there's anything wrong with that
I wish we'd had the time and opportunity to go back and head up the same mountain pass that so tested the automatic-equipped Fit in the manual version, because I'd really like to see if the manual required downshifting from 5th to 4th at any point to climb the hill. It may not have, since the manual, as others have observed and I've alluded to, runs at higher RPMs than the automatic. In fact, here's a snapshot of the difference in RPMs we observed between the manual and automatic versions when running at speed...
Manual at 60 mph: 2900 RPM
Manual at 70 mph: 3500 RPM
Manual at 80 mph: 3900 RPM
Auto at 60 mph: 2300 RPM
Auto at 70 mph: 2600 RPM
Auto at 80 mph: 2900 RPM
Mind you, these are approximate readings from our drive, and owners who are able to spend more time observing RPMs at various speeds as they live with the car can undoubtedly supply more accurate readings, but I feel confident that these observations from our relatively brief drives are close to within a 100 RPM-range of accuracy.
Overall, we came away with a positive impression of Honda's new Fit, with a few important qualifications. First and foremost, it's a lot of car for the money. It seems solidly built -- it doesn't really feel as lightweight as it is -- and its handling (both in feel and in actual performance) and its superb packaging and functionality are its strong suits (it struck me as quite simply the perfect size inside to comfortably accommodate 4 full-size adults along with a modest complement of cargo). Whether it has adequate power -- and whether the automatic or the manual is the "right" choice for you -- will depend much more on individual preferences and the conditions in which you drive.
I'm not entirely sold on it for myself, but that's largely because I live at a high elevation (approx. 4,300 ft.) and do a lot of driving through the mountains at even higher elevations; where the turbocharged 150-HP 1.8-liter four-cylinder in my 600-pound-heavier Volkswagen charges effortlessly up mountain grades in top gear with power to spare, the normally aspirated 109-HP 1.5-liter four-cylinder in the Fit performs merely adequately in the same conditions, requiring frequent or constant downshifting.
Speaking of downshifting, I'm also very skeptical of how economically the car would consume gas in the mountain driving I do since I'd be resorting to running the engine at such high RPMs to climb high-elevation hills around here; my skepticism is only bolstered by the fact that the car is so new and in so few owners' hands at the moment that real-world anecdotal fuel mileage figures are almost entirely unavailable as I write this. If you live in an area closer to sea-level, however, and if the terrain in your area is also relatively flat, I'd think that the Fit would perform well for you, giving you the power you need and the fuel economy you seek.
(I hope none of you think I'm dumping on your car or ridiculing anyone who chose a manual over an automatic, BTW, because that's not my intention at all! As I said, I think the Fit could be an outstanding choice for a lot of people -- indeed, I'm still considering one for myself -- and your choice of transmission will largely be a matter of personal preference. These are just my own very subjective impressions and are not meant to be taken as anything other than that.)
Anyway, thanks for reading all the way through this; I could've written less -- hell, I could've written a lot more, because there's plenty of other stuff I could comment on that I didnt! -- but I figured some of you would appreciate as much detail as possible, just as I do in the reviews I read.