When Jason Shafer recently gave us a long-term report on his 2007 Chevy Silverado company truck, a comment was made that we should do some more long-term test reports here. I had long been thinking that I should do one, having just having crossed the ten year mark with my trusty little Honda Fit. Being thus kicked over the line, here we go with my report.
When I was young I traded cars with great frequency. Fall in love with something new and get rid of what I had, get to know it, get disillusioned with its failings, and repeat, ad infinitum. The older I have gotten I have pretty much gone to the opposite extreme: Once you get me into a car that I like, it can be nearly impossible to get me out of it, the result being that I sometimes overstay the window of good sense with an older car. But not with this one.
I have mentioned this car fairly often in comments for as long as I have been writing here, so some of you know its story quite well. It began in July of 2006 (eleven years ago last month) when my ’94 Club Wagon required a four-figure cash infusion (at something north of 160K on the odo) which the finance committee at my house voted down with no discussion. That month also saw us into “The Summer Of $4 Gas”. $4/U.S. gallon for gasoline may not seem odd to some of our overseas readers, but here in the U.S. it was a seismic jolt. The world was changing and I figured I had best change with it. Because used small cars were so exorbitantly priced, I knew that we were better off to shop new. While the van had been our main family car, I decided that rather than replacing that, I would start with the small car. After all, a used van could be had for dirt cheap in that environment, so the big car could come next. And anyway, my other car was the 1993 Crown Victoria (with 63k miles) I had just bought from my mother. So the only requirements for my new car were two: economical to run and the ability to hold our entire family of five in a pinch.
I had not bought a new car since 1985, but resigned myself to start looking. We drove several. At the time I was under the spell of the Mazda3 five-door. But my two sons were quite a bit taller than average and not done growing. A test-fit revealed that the Mazda would not cut it for rear headroom over the long haul, so it was out. I was also briefly in love with the Honda Element, but it would not accommodate more than four seat-belted occupants. While at a Honda dealer, there was a little white Fit Sport sitting outside the showroom. “Let’s try that” said Mrs. JPC. “Uhhhh, OK” was my reply. It looked fun. All 5 of us piled in and I took it for a spin. Thought number 1: This is the first four-cylinder engine with an automatic that did not make me want to pull my fingernails out. Thought No. 2: Wow, there is more room in here than I expected. Thought No. 3: This thing is actually fun to drive.
I did not realize then just how lucky we were. Although introduced in Japan as the Honda Jazz in 2002, the Fit had been introduced in the U.S. only a couple of months earlier and was selling like wildfire. Within days that demonstrator had been sold and we never saw another Fit available to drive anywhere we looked. Every example was already sold as soon as it rolled off the truck. We put in our order. The base sticker was about $14K. The Sport model (alloy wheels, body cladding, cruise, leather steering wheel and keyless entry) added $1k and the automatic which Mrs. JPC strongly preferred added another $1k. Add sales tax and that was the number. I waited for the dreaded “Additional Dealer Handling” or whatever else they were going to call the price gouge that often accompanies a hot model – but there was none. Given the state of supply and demand for the car at the time, I concluded that paying full sticker and no more was a huge win. So with papers signed, this began the wait, because given the dealer’s two-car-per-month allotment, our Fit would not arrive on the boat from Japan before late November.
Several times I got a call from our salesman offering another car that someone had given up waiting on. The problem was that the Mrs. did not want black interior. We could get tan (and black) but on the Sport model it was only available with Taffeta White paint. Don’t ask me why because I have never figured it out. So had someone backed out on a white Fit Sport with black and tan interior, we would have been all over it. But no such luck. Now about that color combo: I’m not a “white car guy” (which is odd, given how many white cars I have ended up with) but sometimes you just have to take what you can get approved by the person who holds veto power over such things.
Finally, as Thanksgiving approached, I got the call, which resulted in our trip to pick up our new car. And thus began our Fit-ness program. It was on the rainy drive home I first noticed that odd system of one really big windshield wiper coupled with a really small one.
We quickly figured out that on drives of up to an hour, the kids could handle being wedged into the back seat. Anything longer and the Crown Vic got the job. And for any kind of weekend (or longer) trip the smart play was to rent a minivan, and we did this several times. As time went on, I discovered one of my few gripes about the car: The seats are relatively hard, making trips of longer than two to three hours not all that comfortable. The car is also not overly generous in front leg room. Now maybe some of you might have no problem here, but I was spoiled by the most recent decade of driving in a Ford Club Wagon Chateau, an Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency, a Cadillac Brougham and said Crown Vic LX. Life has its trade-offs.
So what are the highs? This thing is still nearly as fun as my Miata to drive. The steering is fast (2.4 turns lock to lock) and the suspension is tight. The little 1.5L four is a happy revver and the ratios of the 5-speed autobox work really well with the engine’s torque characteristics. The brakes are good as well, so this thing starts, stops and turns with almost zero complaints from me. And there are paddle shifters. Yes, this little Honda has paddle shifters. I don’t put the gear shift into S (Sport Mode) often but when I do, those paddle shifters are a hoot and a half. This was also the first car I have owned with electric power steering. I have found it to be a nicely done system with better road feel than I get out of the hydraulic steering in my Kia Sedona. Did I mention yet that the car is really fun to drive? Oh.
As mentioned above, the 5-speed automatic works nicely with the engine. Interestingly, both 4th and 5th gears are overdrive gears (with ratios of .756 and .550, respectively) which sounds like some tall gearing until noting the differential’s 4.56 ratio (which makes those first three gears so lively). Oddly, 5th gear in the 5-speed manual has the same ratio as 4th in the automatic, although it is mated to a slightly taller 4.29 axle. So perhaps the automatic has been a good thing after all.
Another high is the packaging. This thing has room like few other cars, even those much larger. The rear seats fold completely flat, making this almost like a little cargo van. I bought some patio furniture, consisting of a loveseat, two chairs and three end tables, all in boxes. And it all fit in the Fit, much to the store staffer’s amazement. The only thing from keeping cargo utility absolutely perfect is the slightly rounded shape of the hatch opening. Oh well. And for taller cargo there is “tall mode” where the seat bottoms fold up, clearing an area for floor-to-ceiling cargo. By the way, the photo to the left shows the rear legroom with the front seats all the way back.
The seats’ “refresh mode” is also quite nice. Here, the back seat “reclines” a few degrees and the front seat scoots forward and folds down, creating something like a chaise lounge. Two can do this if the car is parked and one can when we are on the move. Mrs. JPC has become quite fond of traveling this way, as have I on the rare occasions when I am allowed a turn.
Finally, the interior materials have turned out to be of very high quality, both from an appearance and a durability standpoint. Nothing has cracked, torn or worn through and a good cleaning/detailing makes the interior look near new. The only places where Honda really cheaped out was in the chintzy carpet and the general lack of sound deadening. And the lack of a temp gauge, replaced by lights for “cold” and “hot”. But then something had to give in order to have so much good in a car of this price range. A tradeoff for the great interior packaging is the teeny 10.9 gallon fuel tank under the front seat.
Every car has its disappointments, and the Fit is no exception. There have been, however, very few of them. The battery was the first. This car uses a very, very small battery and they have a short life, particularly in our midwestern climate where it can get quite hot in summer and very cold in winter. The first battery failed within the three year Honda warranty and the replacement battery lasted just as long. The rule is a new battery every three years. But they are relatively cheap and easy to replace. The second disappointment was the tires. The Dunlops that came on the car made for go-kart-like handling, but I had trouble getting and keeping them balanced. Later sets (Michelin and Yokohama) have been progressively softer with the expected handling penalty. Also, there’s the tire size. P195/55 R15 is not a common size. There is very little choice when it comes to replacements, and they are quite pricey for “little car tires”.
The Fit has also been very choosy about brake materials. I am on my third set of brakes all around. First, the linings on the rear shoes are very thin, so they don’t last any longer than the fronts do. No, that is not a typo – the Fit has drum brakes on the rear. Also, pad set no. 2 was supplied by my indy mechanic. They were not Honda pads and after a while, I began to have a nasty pulsating whenever I stepped on the brake pedal. I was ready to replace rotors when I took it to a Honda dealer. New Honda pads solved the pulsating issue, and my original rotors are still fine. I had the same situation years ago with the ’88 Accord. There is something about Honda rotors that really, really prefers Honda pads.
On the outside I continue to mutter bad words after I inevitably wait too long between waxings. I have written here before about the single-stage enamel paint on this Fit, and it continues to be higher maintenance than the clearcoat finish used on other colors. At least it is a small car. And finally there is the matter of the fuel mileage: I have been disappointed here in that I have rarely approached the EPA ratings of 31/37. The word on the forums is that some folks get great mileage and some don’t. For whatever reason my car is at the lower end of normal, where I can get about 30 in mixed city/highway driving, with 34 being about the best she’ll do on the highway. The car is tall and the gearing is low, so 70+ mph interstate travel is not the way to maximize fuel mileage on these cars.
I got through the first ten years with no actual mechanical failure. Other than a handful of no-charge recalls (Takata airbag and a power window switch bank that was prone to getting wet and shorting come to mind). The only warranty repair I recall was a deep disassembly of the dashboard to find the object that was rolling around in some deep metal channel – which turned out to be a walnut mysteriously placed there by one of the many squirrels in my neighborhood. (After several days and multiple calls to Honda Engineering they found the walnut. The service manager said he was too embarrassed to charge me anything.)
About a month into Year 11, however, the car snapped an axle shaft. I was a bit irked about this (how many cars break axle shafts in this day and age?), particularly once I found out that it is a known issue on these in rust-belt states, where salty brine finds a good home under the rubber vibration damper on the shaft. But my irritation was salved when my indy shop replaced both axles/CV joints for a bit over $200. A month later an idler pulley began a nasty squeal and it was replaced also. Finally this spring I broke down and replace the coil packs that had been causing an intermittent misfire for awhile. Those and new plugs solved that issue. And there is this car’s total repair history.
Wait, I had two more failures in the past year – two pieces of plastic, one functional (part of the latch mechanism for a rear seatback) and one cosmetic (a trim piece on the outside of a rear door) that were inexpensive to replace and easy to install myself. Oh well, we have to keep it in good shape so that you can play “Where’s Waldo” as the little Fit continues to photobomb my other CC pieces . . .
. . . or when it meets its friends.
It is hard for me to believe that this car will hit eleven years of age later this fall and has now traveled over 114,000 miles. Some scrapes on the bottom corners of the front spoiler are the main giveaways of its age. The car still starts, drives and operates in all respects as it should, and remains tight and free of squeaks, leaks or rattles. It reminds me every day why Honda’s small cars have been beloved by so many for so long. Would I buy another? My answer is a qualified absolutely (if there is such a thing). The qualification is that neither of the two generations of Fit that has followed mine has been as attractive to me. This is a little car that is all happy and friendly and always looks like it wants to go out and play. It is like a puppy. Later Fits have gotten that “irritated adolescent” look to them and just don’t visually appeal to me as much. However, I suspect that a drive in a new one would win me over.
The other qualification is whether I would want another car of this size. I guess my answer is “I’ll see when I get to the point of replacing this one”. Which, given all indications as of now, will not be for a very, very long time. With our Sedona there for trip duty the Fit is the go-to for short runs and for utilitarian jobs. Together they make an almost perfect garage. Add a Miata for fun on sunny days and it is hard to see what automotive need I don’t have covered. Stay tuned, perhaps I will hold on to this one long enough to write it up as a genuine CC. But for now, the Fit is still Go.