The Fit is Go
The world has gotten complicated. It wasn't that long ago that an automatic
transmission was an optional extra and even it only had 1 computer and a
few hundred parts. Today, a even a manual transmission has more sensors than
the star ship Enterprise and does half of the work of smooth shifting for the
driver leaving one without the feeling of accomplishment that accompanies the
perfect shift. Internal combustion engines are much more precisely engineered
and manufactured with far tighter control of fueling and ignition that was
thought possible 30 years ago. Suspension system have become telepathic; able
to literally see the road and preemptively adjust themselves to upcoming
conditions many hundreds of times per second. Cruise control can now drive
a car for you and even monitor where your attention is focused so it can
remind you to keep your eyes on the road where they belong. Through all this
complication there has been a loss of driver involvement. You are no longer
in charge of what is happening, you are just a passenger with a steering
wheel. All that is not to say the future is grim and robots have taken over.
The technology involved in the automotive industry is incredibly impressive
and will free people from the tedium of commuting so that they can be
productive (or entertained) during times which, until now, were used up with
the need to pay attention and manage. The world will get more done with the
same 24 hours allotted every day. It is a brave new world.
The other day I had the opportunity to revisit simpler times. There is
nothing which most people would consider special about a 2009 Honda Fit. It
is an inexpensive, reliable, spacious, underpowered city car that, in its
time, accomplished the task of commuting and transporting as well as
anything else in its class. For those of us with the disease, however, it is
something more. On the outside, it is a small hatchback with no wild styling
elements or prestigious badges. The 2009 Honda Fit is the second generation
sold in the USA and as such has a few upgrades over the previous model. It is
longer and stiffer, but not appreciably heavier.
It has more tech. VTEC has been upgraded to iVTEC (infinitely variable cam timing) which means a few more horsepower. The interior feels cheap but everything works and there is as much room, seemingly, as a sprinter van. The rear seats fold in multiple ways
to maximize cargo hauling ability. The seating position is upright like a delivery truck and the visibility is near limitless. The ride is nothing special. It is slightly stiff but comfortable anyway. Fuel economy is acceptable for today and below average for its class at the time it was new.
None of that matters. At the time the fit was new, it looked too expensive
to be so average. If you average all its statistics, it was below mid-pack.
If you divided that by price, it was worse. Despite that, it won comparisons.
It won hearts. It won sales. In every comparison, it was praised for the
way it drove. Car journalists, after all, love to drive. They especially love
to drive cars built by people who love to drive. The car I drove was a Sport
model with a manual transmission in red. (Sport models got a better radio,
alloy wheels, and a body kit) Starting it up reminds you that you
are in a Honda and there is nothing to worry about. It is quick and smooth
and devoid of abnormal noises. Slip the shifter into first and it takes you
home to when driving was driving. It isn't a particularly solid or short
shifter. The knob is a dimpled rubber sphere with some hard plastic in the
center of the top. The action has some rubbery feel to it. Even still it
feels right. You never have to wonder what gear you are in or which one you
are about to engage. The spacing is right. The throw is right for the
placement. The clutch is easy with a forgiving friction point. The first
gear ratio is spot on. It is no granny gear but it doesn't bog if you let
the clutch out a bit early.
The car would be painfully slow if it weren't
so much damned fun to row through the gears after wringing the engine out
to the redline. The engine is not a special unit, either. It works perfectly
without anything extra. The redline is 6800 but it pulls hardest below 6500
with the midrange being better than expected due to the iVTEC.
The real star of the show is the handling. Honda has always made cars that
are a little stiffer than the rest of the cars in their class. As a
result of that and the unusually over-engineered suspension in Honda cars,
they typically handle better than anything else with a comparable ride and
price. Somehow, despite MacPherson strut front and solid axle rear
suspension, the Fit handles better than anything in its class or a class
above. With its short wheelbase, it is nimble. The turning circle is tight.
The steering ratio is also very quick meaning that any tiny input is met with
a very noticeable output. There is no slack in the steering whatsoever. It
does not tolerate a lack of attention and control. You run the show, for
better or for worse, without any breaks. It makes you pay attention. It makes
you stay focused and disciplined. It then rewards you. The limits are low but
being up so high makes you feel like you are pulling record lateral G
forces in every bend. The electric assist feels a bit unnatural and does
not immediatly weight up or return exactly to center, but those traits
tend to be felt as part of the overall experience and make the car that
much more exciting to drive.
Being a vehicle inspector, I have the frequent opportunity to drive some
exciting and special cars. The best of which has been a 2015 Porsche 911 GT3
with carbon bucket seats and a PDK transmission. There have been Corvettes
and Alfa Romeos and various Shelby Mustangs. There have been classic
Maseratis and Fiats and Pontiacs. They all excite in different ways. They
are all much more real performance vehicles than the lowly Honda Fit. The
fit is exciting in a different way. It takes you back home. It reminds you
of the good old days when driving was driving. It makes you feel like a
race car driver while you are finding the windy "shortcuts" to avoid the
traffic on your commute home on a Thursday afternoon. There are so few cars
left which give you the sensation that you are in control of the car and it
is a happy and willing executor of your immediate desire. There are even
fewer that do so while providing the practiacality and the reliability of a
small Honda hatchback. The future is bright and we will all be better for
the availability of autonomy. The new age of democratized luxury is upon us.
Let us revel in its ease and comfort while reminiscing about a simpler time.
Here's to the 2009 Honda Fit.