And safety is covered by advanced compatibility engineering (which disperses the energy of a collision and aims for better compatibility in collisions with vehicles of other sizes), stability and traction control, six standard airbags (two front, two side, two curtain), and four-wheel antilock brakes with brake-force distribution, not to mention excellent visibility from the big, tall windows. It earns a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, but only four stars from the NHTSA, which is the best any car in this segment has achieved.

2012 Honda Fit
2012 Honda Fit
2012 Honda Fit
2012 Honda Fit
2012 Honda Fit. Click image to enlarge

The next step up the Fit stairmaster is the LX model, which starts to add more convenience features like hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity, steering wheel controls for cruise, heated mirrors, and keyless entry. Its base price is $16,980, with the same $1,200 for an automatic and $1,495 freight.

The pinnacle of Fit trims is the Sport model (of course), with an extra pair of speakers (for a total of six), USB connector, perforated leather–wrapped steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear stabilizer bar, unique front fascia with fog lights, and underbody spoiler kit. That steering wheel may seem familiar—it’s the same one you’ll find in the Civic Si, and is a suitably small diameter with a nice, thick rim to hold onto. All in all, the body kit and wheels turn the Fit from a dopey little wagon into a sporty little tuner shuttle, but it comes at a cost that creeps into the twenties—$21,575 all told as tested with the five-speed automatic.

The five-speed automatic is in pretty much every Honda product short of lawnmowers, so it’s good that Honda built a good one, even if they have fallen off the gear-count compared to six-speed transmissions and CVTs popping up in other subcompacts (though if the Accord is any indication, CVTs are in Honda’s future—at least that’s a good one, too). As in other applications, the transmission is smooth and effective, but with only 117 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque, and those only arriving at 6,600 rpm and 4,800 rpm, it has to stay busy shifting down for any passing or acceleration duties.

The engine is a 1.5L four-cylinder with intelligent variable valve timing (i-VTEC) whose greatest asset is its efficiency. Officially rated at 7.1/5.7 L/100 km city/highway, I recorded 8.0 L/100 km in my week of heavy-footed mostly city driving. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it powerful, the immediate throttle response and quick-reacting transmission give it good performance in the city, though it builds up in noise (wind, tire, engine, you name it) as you get to highway speeds.

With the 16-inch alloys wrapped in P185/55R16 rubber and the added rigidity from the rear stabilizer bar, the Fit handles corners about as well as anything in this segment that I’ve driven (I can say that because I haven’t driven the Fiesta or Mazda2… I suspect that they might challenge the Fit for handling prowess judging from other reports). The steering is the usual light, direct, and communicative Honda steering, so it combines with the handling and the improved seats to make a fun drive. Delete the auto transmission (which no longer has the paddle shifters of previous Sport editions) and keep the five-speed manual and you will get even more immediate access to the peaky little engine’s limited power and make it more of a driver’s car, or at least as much as a subcompact tall wagon can be a driver’s car.

The Honda Fit is a great car whose only drawback is a steep and inflexible price in a class that sells on price. While other vehicles in the segment pile on the features (Accent, Rio) or offer multiple body styles and more power (Sonic, Fiesta), the Fit is still competitive because it focuses on practicality and delivers more of it than any other vehicle in the segment, and more than many a segment up. It’s a practical little tour de force that has stood the test of time and represents the best of Honda engineering creativity.

Price: 2012 Honda Fit Sport
Base price: $18,880
Options: $1,200 (5-speed automatic transmission)
Freight & PDI: $1,495
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $21,675

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