2009 Honda Fit Sport

Honda’s Yaris fighter takes a different approach

2009 Honda Fit Sport

Small and cheap. Cheap and small. Two words that, on the surface, sound synonymous. After all, you buy most food by the pound. Larger houses cost more than small ones. A long flight costs more than a short one. “Small” being weight, size, or distance we naturally equate to being less expensive.

FAST FACTS

1. The Fit comes with a 117hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder i-VTEC engine. 2. Standard safety features include front, side and curtain airbags with stability control optional. 3. Manual transmission models get 27/33 mpg (city/highway) with the automatic rating at 28/35 mpg. 4. The Fit Sport includes upgrades such as a body kit and spoiler, 16-inch wheels, fog lights, a chrome exhaust pipe, cruise control, a 160-watt sound system, remote entry and paddle shifters for the automatic transmission.

But what about the Vespa scooter? Or a Louis Vuitton handbag? Hell, if you bought Starbucks espresso shots by the gallon you’d be paying over $200 for the privilege. Some small things aren’t — and will never be — cheap.

Here comes the Honda Fit Sport to pick up that mantra. On the surface, you say “Yeah, it’s smaller than the Civic, has fewer horsepower, and costs less.” But it’s only a few cubic feet shy of Honda’s best-selling sedan, only has 23 horsepower less, and costs nearly the same for the base trim: $14,750 for the Fit, versus $15,505 for the Civic.

WHY NOT JUST BUY THE BIGGER CAR?

I’d be right there cheering you on, but for two words: Magic Seats. Usually “magic” anything means at best a few catchy commercials — and at worst, a bite wound from a white tiger. For the Fit, it means a second row that’s truly unique. Taking a (refined) leaf from the Honda Element handbook of interior design, the Fit sports a 60/40 split second row that both folds flat and up. Just not at the same time.

Flat-folding seats are nothing new, but in a small car having the ability to fold the bottom cushions up leaves a nice space behind the driver for a mountain bike. Or a few boxes of Ikea flat-packed furniture. It allows you to place potted plants on the floor of the car, or prevent a wet dog from hopping onto the rear seats.

ON THE ROAD

Like my other automotive crush, the MINI Cooper, the Honda Fit Sport is proof positive that owning a small car doesn’t relegate you to owning a drab econobox. The Fit Sport adds front and rear stabilizer bars plus larger 16-inch wheels. The changes add a bit of sharpness, but all models benefit from well-tuned electric power steering and a very small steering wheel.

Then there’s the engine. At high revs it sings a bit more than other economy cars, owing to variable valve timing. It also feels faster than its 117 horsepower output would suggest — though with passengers and cargo on-board it can feel a bit labored. The 5-speed transmission-equipped model I drove had short shifts, but slightly notchy between gears. It was also difficult to drive smoothly, likely a result of its drive-by-wire throttle being tuned for normal and not performance drivers.

AN IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK THANKS TO OPTIONAL STABILITY CONTROL

All Fits benefit from a selection of standard safety gear, including dual front airbags, dual side airbags, side curtain airbags, front passenger occupant detection system, active front head restraints to prevent whiplash, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and the latest in child seat tethers. Electronic stability control is optional. Finally, it scored the highest rating of “Good” in IIHS crash tests, earning it a “Top Safety Pick” rating.

THE COMPETITION

The competition to the $16,260 Fit Sport comes from all areas, but its main rivals are from Suzuki, Toyota, Scion, and Nissan. Nissan has the Versa hatchback, a comparable $16,330 in SL trim with the Convenience, Moonroof, Sport, and ABS packages installed. Take note that ABS isn’t standard equipment on the Versa — but its price includes a CVT transmission, a conventional manual is not an option on that trim. Apples to apples, the Honda is a newer design with a better use of the available space. The Versa, however, does somehow manage to feel like a larger car — something a small car-adverse buyer would appreciate.

Compared with its main rival, the Yaris 5-door, again, the Fit is a newer package. Oddly, you can’t order the 5-door Yaris with a five-speed manual transmission, only a 4-speed auto. is available. The Yaris certainly has the Honda beat on price at $16,195 for the top “Power Package” option — but still has hubcaps and fewer horsepower (a paltry 106.)

I’d cross-shop the Fit with the Suzuki SX4. Not only comparable on price, the little SX4 has all-wheel-drive as an option, as well as a more powerful 143 horsepower engine.

THE VERDICT

The biggest reason for choosing the Fit? It’s fun to drive. Practicality, price, looks, and standard safety equipment are just icing. The Fit is one of the few small cars that break the mould of “cheap” and “small” by offering refinement and features not typically found in its class. Sure, at its most expensive you’re buying a $19,000 economy car — but sometimes even the smallest cars are quite dear, indeed.

POSITVE

Fun to drive Extremely functional Just because you’ve bought a small car doesn’t mean it feels cheap

NEGATIVE

Price and options cost Public perception of small vs. cheap Difficult to navigate to songs on iPod

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