Driven: 2015 Honda Fit

2015 Honda Fit EX-L Navi | Larry Edsall photos
2015 Honda Fit EX-L Navi | Larry Edsall photos

Each year on the eve of its SEMA Show, the staff of the Specialty Equipment Market Association walks the nearly 30 miles of booths and vehicle displays in and around the Las Vegas Convention Center and does a car count. At the 2014 show earlier this month, that count counted some 1,500 cars and trucks.

Early the next morning, just before the show opens, SEMA hosts an awards breakfast. Among those awards are the SEMA Awards, given to the four most popular vehicles with SEMA-member companies. As SEMA officials put it, the award winners are the vehicles member companies have chosen — and paid their own money to purchase — because they judged them to be the best choice for displaying their array of aftermarket automotive products.

This year, the awards went to the 2015 Ford Mustang (car), to the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado (truck), to the 2015 Jeep Wrangler (4×4/SUV) and to the 2015 Honda Fit (sport compact).

The Fit’s victory ends the two-year reign of the Scion FR-S in the sport compact category and comes, no doubt, in part because the 2015 model is what Honda calls an “all-new” generation of its sub-compact hatchback.

Time flies: It was way back during the 2007 model year that Honda introduced its American customers to the Fit. Here’s what I wrote at the time for the iZoom.com website:

Honda Fit redesigned and vastly updated for 2015 model year
Honda Fit redesigned and vastly updated for 2015 model year

“Fit is one of three subcompacts launched in the U.S. market for the 2007 model year by Japan’s major automakers. It joins the Nissan Versa and the Toyota Yaris in offering a compact and extremely fuel-efficient vehicle in a well-crafted package with a complete array of safety features. And once again, the Big Three, who for some reason missed yet another trend in the marketplace — that $3 a gallon gasoline might mean that people would forsake their huge and gas-guzzling SUVs and start buying small cars with big fuel economy numbers — are in panic mode, searching for a way to compete.

“Of course, Honda, Nissan and Toyota were at a huge advantage in such a shift because cars like the Fit, Versa and Yaris are the sort of vehicles they’ve been selling back home and in Europe and other places for many, many years. All they needed to do was to make some tweaks to better fit the American consumer and they were ready to roll (for example, Honda’s been building the Fit – known elsewhere as the Jazz – since 2002 and the U.S. is something like the 70th country to get a version).

“So in a world in which Ford seems to have lost not only its focus, but its Focus, where Chrysler is looking to China for help with some sort of sub-competent sub-compact and where GM’s best bet may be getting its own version of the Versa from potential partner Nissan/Renault, Honda offers a car that seems to truly fit the new American automotive marketplace.”

In the meantime, Ford has indeed reFocused, Chevrolet has turned to its South Korean cousins for help, and Chrysler did, indeed, get aid from overseas, but from Italy, not China.

But ever since its launch, Honda’s Fit had proven, yes, a very good fit for American drivers.

Back in 2007, I spent a week in a Honda Fit Sport and still have fond memories of that tight, tossable, spunky car. Now I’ve just finished a week at the wheel of the new 2015 Fit EX-L Navi and I’m much less impressed.

Driver gets an extra cupholder
Driver gets an extra cupholder

The 130-horsepower (up from 109 in the 2007 version), 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is buzzy, and you definitely want to use the paddle shifters if you expect any sort of sporty driving experience from the continuously variable transmission. There’s not only a lot of road and wind noise entering the cabin, but the suspension thunks over bumps, even when encountering a manhole cover that should generate a mere ripple at most.

And wouldn’t you think by now that designers and engineers would have found away to make the right rear passenger’s should strap available without it simply hanging inelegantly from the ceiling?

Yes, I’m an old geezer, and am not likely ever to get used to an audio system that has neither a simple on/off button nor a knob for changing volume levels, let alone stations. And yes, there is a touch-screen system and controls on the steering wheel, but the HVAC system still has knobs, so why can’t I have them for the audio as well?

There's good space beneath that hatchback roof
There’s good space beneath that hatchback roof

On the other hand, this EX-L Navi version does have a navigation system, and heated and leather-trimmed front seats, and air conditioning, and a moonroof, and HondaLink and satellite radio and Pandora interface and voice recognition and such, and not only a wide-angle rearview camera but LaneWatch, which means that when you flick on your turn signal to indicate a right-hand turn, a camera in the right exterior mirror projects onto the 7-inch display screen a wonderful view of the side of your car and everything in the adjacent lane and more so you don’t turn into a truck, a car, a cyclist or a pedestrian.

It also encourages you to minimize fuel consumption as you drive with subtle light brackets on either side of the speedometer that glow green or blue depending on how aggressively you’re working the accelerator. I tend to ignore such suggestions. Nonetheless, while the 2015 Honda Fit is rated at 32 miles per gallon in town and at 38 on the highway, I averaged 42.3 overall.

So I’m left confused, perhaps even fit to be tied. This new Fit is new and improved but I did not enjoy it nearly as much. However, I’m thinking that had it been equipped with a manual transmission, I’d have found it a lot of fun to drive.

But perhaps I should think of the Fit as I do another of those SEMA Award winners, the Jeep Wrangler, that it’s a great starter kit that needs the aftermarket to extract its potential.

And the aftermarket is ready. At the SEMA Show, Spoon Sports did engine and suspension tweaks to turn the 2015 Fit into an endurance-racing car. Biscotto Engineering launched 16 new parts for the car, including a turbocharger that extracts 480 horsepower from the Fit engine.

Meanwhile, Kylie Tjin did a version for those with “an active metropolitan lifestyle” that included 18-inch wheels, air suspension, custom bodywork accents, Katzkin interior, Sony audio upgrades, and even a Greddy Fixie bicycle with a special slide-out bike holder that stores the bike not off the back end but within the cargo compartment.

And then there was the one done by MAD Industries, on gold-colored 19-inch wheels and Eibach suspension, with a greatly upgraded interior, and even a matching gold-and-black 125-cc Honda Grom mini-motorcycle.

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