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Thursday, March 02, 2006

CAS 2006: The World Is Fit For Honda.

Welcome to the world of microcars. A sub-subcompact if you will. Around the rest of the world these are the most common cars on the road. Although with growth inflation they are still a decent size now compared to the gerbil in a flywheeled powered versions of the past. Only to our American SUV-inflated eyes do these microcars seem really small.

After Katrina and Rita caused gas prices to spike up to over $3/gallon many consumers started to wonder about the cost of their overcapable/underutilized modes of transportation. Most people simply don't need V8 powered SUVs. They never tow anything and don't go more offroad then Aunt Lisa's gravel driveway or tailgating next to the intramural softball fields. [Don't translate that statement to believe I'm a SUV-hater. I'm all for people buying what they want. I only wish people gave more thought into what they actually need. Automobiles are a emotional purchase to an extent, but why waste hard earned money on capabilities you know you'll never use? For many people a mid-sized sedan makes far more sense, costs less to purchase and operate, and gets superior mileage.] The foreign automakers sense this change in automotive tastes and are bringing over their offerings. This year GM is bringing over their Korean redesigned Aveo. The Big 3 from Japan are bringing over the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and the above pictured Honda Fit.

Several items are key to these subcompacts: initial purchase price, operating costs (re: gas mileage), and functional flexibility. The automakers realize consumers are more savvy than in decades past. If the econobox feels like a penalty box it won't sell well no matter how modest the sales goals are. If Honda, Toyota, and Nissan want to sell 30 to 50,000 microcars apiece they need to be inexpensive and good quality, not cheap and crappy. Based on posts I've read, pictures I've seen, and my admittedly limited seat time in some of these cars I think Honda's Fit is the best candidate out there right now. If I had the money I would give the Fit some serious thought about purchasing it. That's how impressed I am with it.

I stepped into the Fit at Chicago because some doofus refused to get out of the Civic he was napping in. The two box design (one box = engine, one box = passenger compartment with no trunk) makes great use of the short overall length. The Fit is bigger on the inside than on the outside if you will. The Fit is very tall as well. Plenty of headroom to allow the illusion of space. The rear seat room is a bit tight, but not unreasonably so. A short jaunt across town should be fine for average height people.

The seating is the key to the Fit. Honda calls it "Magic Seats" and they do perform good tricks. The rear seats can go flat. They can roll up forward. The front seats can be laid completely backwards so you get a bed and lay down. With seating that flexible I suspect you can get some very unwieldly cargo into the car and still close the hatch.

The Fit is a small car so it uses a small engine: a 1.5 liter 109 horsepower version to be exact. Toyota and Chevy will use similar output engines, while the Nissan Versa will be the hotrod of this group at around 130 horsepower or so. Given the Fit's light weight and efficient attitude the acceleration should be adequate, but not exhilarating. This is an economy car, not a pocket rocket. With what appears to be standard antilock brakes, front and side airbags, and cruise control if you get the Fit Sport you get a lot of features for your 12 to 15 thousand dollars.

Available in the spring of this year if you're interested.

[EDIT] A link to Honda's American website concerning the Fit for those interested.

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