First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
2009 Honda Fit. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Honda Fit

Vancouver, British Columbia – Small cars are hot, no question about it: cars like the Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, Chevy Aveo and Honda Fit are flying out of the showrooms right now, and many automakers, like Honda, could sell more cars if they weren’t limited by supply.

Rising gas prices, urban sprawl, vehicle downsizing and environmental concerns are expected to contribute to a 25% increase in the subcompact vehicle segment over the next five years, according to a recent study by Global Insight.

First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
2009 Honda Fit. Click image to enlarge

Much has changed in the design of small cars over the past ten years, mostly driven by consumer demand for better fuel economy, more interior room, better crash-safety, and more comfort features. Today’s subcompacts bear little resemblance to their econobox ancestors like the Chevy Chevette, Geo Metro, Toyota Tercel, and the original Honda Civic.

The first Honda Fit, introduced globally in 2001 and in Canada in 2007, demonstrated how a very small car could be surprisingly roomy, reasonably safe, and fun to drive. The redesigned 2009 Honda Fit takes this concept a step further by adding increased collision safety, more interior room, better fuel consumption, and improved seating and cargo versatility.

The 2009 Fit has abandoned its predecessor’s chunky look for a more aerodynamic shape with swept-back headlights, a steeply raked windshield and larger front quarter windows. The new Fit is a little bigger, but is still classified as a subcompact. Its wheelbase has been increased by 50 mm (2.0 in) and the overall length by 106 mm (4.2 in.) yet its tight turning circle of 10.5 metres (34.4 ft.) remains the same.

The cabin is wider by 30 mm (1.2 in.) and taller by 10 mm (0.4 in.) and rear passengers have more legroom and headroom. The rear doors now open wider (80 degrees) for easier access, and at the rear, a larger hatch opening features a lower liftover height, now only 61 cm (2 ft.) high. The cargo area behind the rear seats is a class-leading 585 litres (20.7 cu. ft.), but slightly less than the 2008 Fit’s 603 litres (21.3 cu. ft.)

First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
2009 Honda Fit. Click image to enlarge

The folding rear “Magic Seats” retain their unique fold-flat and fold-up design, but now they fold down flat in one fluid motion by pulling on a single lever even if the front seats are all the way back. The right front passenger seatback will fold flat as well, for long loads. The three rear head restraints have been redesigned so that they can be lowered almost flush with the top of the seatbacks, thereby improving the driver’s rear visibility too.

The Fit’s redesigned instrument panel features a new tilt/telescopic steering wheel similar to the Civic’s; large round gauges with illuminated blue pointers and a new LCD display that shows real-time and average fuel consumption; heating and air conditioning dials that have been moved from a horizontal to a near-vertical arrangement closer to the driver; a more powerful air conditioning system to compensate for the increased window glass; rearranged audio buttons and a smaller white-on-blue radio screen; new driver’s folding armrest (LX and Sport); a new driver’s footrest; dual gloveboxes; a new USB interface for connecting iPods in the upper glovebox; and plenty of cup holders and storage bins, including a new hidden storage compartment in the bottom of the left rear seat cushion.

Interestingly, the 2009 Fit equipped with a manual transmission comes with a temporary spare tire, but Fits with the optional automatic transmission come with a tire inflation kit instead. Apparently, the extra weight of the spare tire combined with the automatic transmission raised the Fit’s average fuel economy above the government’s threshold for fuel-efficiency rebates (6.5 L/100 km). However, if you want an automatic transmission and a spare tire too, Honda will sell you one.

First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
2009 Honda Fit. Click image to enlarge

Safety has been given a major upgrade with the addition of a much stronger front body structure that includes Honda’s ACE (advanced compatibility engineering) that reduces the possibility of under-ride or over-ride in a frontal collision. Honda is expecting to retain its five-star crash rating in NHTSA crash-tests. All 2009 Fits also include front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS, brake assist and electronic brake distribution, dual-stage front airbags, front side airbags (with a passenger-side occupant position detection system), side curtain airbags, new active front head restraints, five height adjustable head restraints, five three-point seatbelts with front pretensioners, child-proof rear door locks, LATCH system for outboard rear seats.

One missing safety feature is electronic stability control (ESP). As statistics show that ESP prevents vehicle accidents and reduces injury and fatality rates, I hope that Honda will correct this oversight in the near future.

Under the Fit’s hood is revised 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine with an improved i-VTEC variable valve timing system. The new two-stage i-VTEC system varies intake valve timing and lift between low- and high-speed settings which results in more power and torque regardless of engine speed. The previous generation’s VTEC system deactivated one of the two intake valves per cylinder, enhancing torque below 3,400 r.p.m. The new engine also has larger-diameter intake valves and resonator chamber in the intake manifold which contribute to more power and a smoother torque curve. The 1.5-litre SOHC 16-valve i-VTEC four-cylinder engine now makes 117 hp at 6,600 r.p.m. (up 8 hp) and 106 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 r.p.m. (up 1 lb-ft).

For 2009, the standard five-speed manual transmission has a shorter shift stroke and lower gear ratios, while the (class-exclusive) five-speed automatic includes a torque converter that now locks up at lower vehicle speeds for better fuel economy.

City/highway fuel consumption ratings are 7.2/5.7 L/100 km with the manual transmission and 7.1/5.5 L/100 km with the automatic. That’s about the same as last year with the manual transmission but better with the automatic transmission.

First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
2009 Honda Fit. Click image to enlarge

I drove a couple of Fit Sport models with manual and automatic transmissions. From the driver’s perspective, horsepower and torque are not noticeably different and the Fit strains going up long hills with only the driver on board. There’s adequate power available once you shift down, accompanied by a very busy-sounding engine. The manual shifter has short, light throws and remains a fun-to-drive experience. The five-speed automatic shifts smoothly most of the time, but must contend with the weak torque of this small engine by shifting often on hills. Still, for everyday urban use, the Fit’s powertrain is adequately smooth and powerful (and fuel efficient).

The 2009 Fit’s revised electric vehicle-speed-sensitive power steering has a quicker ratio than before, and some drivers may be surprised at how quick the steering is when making a sudden turn. Personally, I think it’s a bit sensitive.

Courtesy of its 50-mm longer wheelbase, the Fit’s ride comfort has improved and its new standard 15-inch tires (replacing 14-inch) on base and LX models, and 16-inch (replacing 15-inch) on Sport models, does improve cornering grip. However, the new Fit is not as nimble as the previous model despite its comparable 10.5-metre turning diameter. I chalk this up to one factor: its longer wheelbase.

The driver has better visibility due to a larger windscreen, larger front quarter windows and lower rear head restraints. But the repositioning of the windshield base further forwards makes the dash seem surprisingly long from the driver’s point of view.

First Drive: 2009 Honda Fit honda first drives
2009 Honda Fit. Click image to enlarge

As before, trim levels are DX, LX and Sport, however the Base DX is model is now available with optional air conditioning. 2009 Fit prices remain unchanged from 2008 except for the Sport which is $300 less – some of the Fit’s competitors have lowered their prices for 2009, notably the Yaris and Versa, so Fit prices are a bit higher.

The 2009 Honda Fit DX ($14,980) includes the 117-hp, 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS, five-speed manual transmission, electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, 60/40 split second-row Magic Seat, 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with two speakers and MP3/Windows Media audio playback capability, MP3/auxiliary input jack, two-speed intermittent windshield wipers, dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags, front side airbags with passenger-side occupant position detection system, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, fuel consumption display, halogen headlights, power side mirrors, power windows with
auto-up/down driver’s window, rear window defroster and wiper/washer, immobilizer, and tilt and telescopic steering column.

The Fit DX-A model ($16,280) adds air conditioning.

The Fit LX ($17,380) adds 15-inch alloy wheels, two extra speakers, air-filtration system, heated mirrors, rear roof spoiler, steering wheel-mounted cruise control, driver-side folding armrest, power door locks, and keyless remote.

The Fit Sport ($19,280) adds 16-inch tires and alloys, chrome exhaust tip, 200-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers and five-mode equalizer, body-coloured underbody kit, fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, security alarm, and USB audio jack.

The 2009 Honda Fit officially goes on sale September 15th, 2008 but apparently they’re already arriving at some dealerships.

Related articles on Autos

Features

  • 2009 Honda Fit: three key features

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Honda Canada



  • About Greg Wilson

    Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).