2018 Honda Fit First Drive Review: Return of the Volume Knob


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2017 has been a rough year for subcompact cars. Year-to-date sales are down drastically compared to 2016, and there’s no sign that they’ll recover anytime soon. Only Toyota’s Mazda2-based Yaris iA has managed to post a sales gain. Every other car in the segment is down for the year.

The Nissan Versa? Down 24 percent. The Hyundai Accent? Down 25 percent. The Chevrolet Sonic? Down a whopping 56 percent.

Compared to the metaphorical bloodbath some of its competitors are experiencing, the Honda Fit’s 5 percent sales slide for the year looks like a win. But Honda has no interest in comparative wins. It’s given the Fit a refresh for 2018, tweaking and updating the diminutive hatch in ways it hopes will help end the year in the black.

As you can see in the photos, Honda hasn’t made drastic changes to the 2018 Fit. This is a midcycle update, not a full redesign, after all. Instead, it’s taken a great car and made it incrementally better across the board.

The prerefreshed Fit really was a great car. It didn’t have the power of the Ford Fiesta ST, but we found our long-term tester to be spacious, comfortable, refined, and surprisingly fun to drive. For a such a small car, it got used for a surprising number of moves and road trips. Thanks to features such as Honda’s trick Magic Seats, the Fit really was that practical.

Without any glaring flaws to fix, Honda’s engineers were instead able to focus on improving the Fit wherever they could. Perhaps most importantly, that meant adding a good, old-fashioned volume knob to the infotainment system. It’s a small change, but the old volume slider was frustrating to use, so it’s an important one.

And as long as you avoid the base model LX, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. Assuming you have a decent data plan on your phone, that means you no longer have to pay for an in-car unit to have access to navigation. For a lot of younger buyers, that’s going to be a huge draw.

Also important is the ability to add Honda Sensing to all trims. It bundles lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigating braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and road departure warning together into a safety package that’s as good, if not better, than what you can get from some luxury brands.

Under the skin, Honda’s engineers went to work upgrading the suspension, steering, chassis bracing, and sound deadening to make driving its least expensive car a more refined experience. The difference isn’t night and day, but you definitely hear less engine noise. The suspension handles speed bumps and broken pavement surprisingly well, and the combination of a stiffer chassis, slightly sportier suspension, and more communicative steering means it handles better in the corners.

The engine, however, still makes the same 130 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. That’s not enough to make it especially quick, but it’s only slightly less than some of the more powerful cars in the segment such as the 138-hp Chevrolet Sonic and the 137-hp Hyundai Accent. It also blows away the weaker entries such as the 106-hp Toyota Yaris and the 78-hp Mitsubishi Mirage.

If you choose the manual transmission, though, you might still wish for more torque but probably won’t miss the competition’s extra 7 or 8 horsepower. Like most other Honda manuals, it’s a slick, precise gearbox that’s a joy to shift. The clutch, meanwhile, is light and user-friendly, making stop-and-go traffic much more tolerable than it is in a lot of sportier cars.

The only downside of the manual is that it can’t be paired with Honda Sensing. To get those safety features, you have to get the continuously variable transmission. As far as CVTs go, it’s actually pretty good, but compared to the manual, it isn’t nearly as fun. You also lose 2 hp and 1 lb-ft of torque by going with the CVT.

On the other hand, the CVT does give you better fuel economy. Mileage jumps from 29/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined to 31/36/33 mpg. Or if you stick with the base Fit LX, you can get 33/40/36 mpg. It might not come with a lot of options, but that’s some seriously impressive gas mileage.

Honda also added a new trim level to the lineup: the Fit Sport. Positioned one step above the base Fit LX, it promises, well, a sportier look. It comes with restyled front and rear bumpers, side skirts, foglights, an orange-highlighted splitter, glossy black 16-inch wheels, an orange-trimmed diffuser, and a chrome-tipped exhaust. Inside, you get different cross-hatched fabric and orange contrast stitching on the seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, armrest, and shift knob. The Fit Sport also gets the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as an upgraded sound system.

Altogether, it’s a package that delivers on its promise to make the Fit look sportier. And with an MSRP of only $18,375 for the manual version, it’s easy to justify the upgrade over the $17,065 Fit LX. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with any engine or suspension changes, so if you were looking for a version of the Fit that’s actually more fun to drive, you’re out of luck.

Soon, though, you’ll be able to order a Honda Factory Performance package that actually is more than an appearance package. It will come with its own distinctive spoiler, aluminum pedals, red floor mats, and a cool titanium shift knob (if you stick with the manual). But Honda has also lowered the ride height about a half-inch and upped the spring rates for better handling. More information, including pricing, will be available at a later date.

Like most of the rest of the changes to the 2018 Fit, the HFP package doesn’t radically alter the suspension. But it does make the Fit noticeably sportier. The refinement that makes the regular Fit such a fantastic daily driver can sometimes make it feel a little too buttoned down to truly be fun. The HFP package adds a little extra dose of playfulness that helps change the Fit from a car you can have fun with into a car that actually is fun.

Even with the HFP package, the lack of additional power means the Fit is still no Fiesta ST rival. Still, if you’re looking for a subcompact hatch’s practicality and fuel economy but don’t want to sacrifice the technology and safety features you can get on larger cars, the updated Honda Fit makes one heck of a strong case for itself. Plus, if you do add the HFP package, you get all of the above with a little extra sportiness.

Good luck getting that from a Toyota Yaris at any price.

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