2015 Honda Fit EX
In an age when V8 pickups are used to commute to financial-sector jobs 4 miles away, the concept of a small hatchback with a small engine and a very manual gearbox can seem downright retro. After all, it is how modern humans used to commute way back in the Reagan years. And despite everyone purchasing a Ford Explorer in the 1990s as mandated by federal law, the small commuter hatchback did not go away entirely, even as brands like Geo quietly packed up their boxes of squeaky gray plastics and left.
No, the minimalist commuter hatch is not completely dead, but just how relevant would a no-frills hatch with a small engine, cloth seats, AM/FM radio, tiny wheels and six gears be in 2015?
It just so happens that our long-term Honda Fit is equipped with such “features,” and we set off to close out our year with the little gray subcompact by putting it in its element and just letting it do its thing: We threw it into the worst commuter situations we could dredge up, the kind of rush-hour congestion that makes TV news anchors shake their heads and say, “It’s bumper to bumper out there, folks. Now let’s check in with sports.”
Our first bout with newsworthy traffic in the Fit comes in NYC as we decide to belly-flop into the deep end of the commute misery pool by driving the Fit along I-95 from the eastern half of the Bronx along the northern tip of Manhattan and across the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. We set off at 3:44 p.m. on a humid Friday afternoon just as the Wall Street crowd is swapping their weekday suspenders for weekend suspenders. Traffic is thick, but nevertheless moving, as we roll along in first and second gear, never really getting above 20 mph, with the Fit struggling to cool its ample greenhouse as afternoon heat radiates off the pavement. In this environment, with buses and trucks rolling coal in the Fit’s face, it is admittedly difficult to enjoy the commercials that FM radio offers with the A/C cranked up to the max. But the stickshift makes it easy to row back and forth and back again and never balks or gets hung up.
Soon, however, we come upon a segment of our 5-mile journey that makes us wish we were huffing diesel fumes instead; we roll into an area in northern Manhattan where, as best we can tell, a sewer main suffered a breach and deposited its contents along a 300-yard radius. Not even slamming the HVAC into recirc mode does enough to kill the stench.
Sadly, there is no escape, and we simply inch along until the GW Bridge comes into view, with New Jersey appearing like an oasis off in the distance. We pull over after the toll and take stock.
The Fit displays an epic 13 mpg on the trip computer after we’ve covered about 5 miles in 26 minutes. Needless to say, those are some extra urban miles we cover in spurts of a few yards at a time exclusively in low gears. After a return trip that yields the same results, we do a couple of laps of the Brooklyn Bridge to put the memory of that smell behind us.
For our second planned bout, we opt for the Washington, D.C., Beltway-to-Baltimore run. Starting our 32-mile jog at 7:30 a.m. at the northern tip of the Beltway, we merge onto I-95, which, thankfully, is four lanes wide in each direction. Rolling along at a good pace, though not quite highway speeds, the Fit feels at ease, eager to make a few high-speed dashes here and there to exploit gaps in traffic. Our long-termer redeems itself with a 44-mpg average on the way to Baltimore, with a slightly breezier return leg yielding 39.
Is the manual Fit the right, er, fit for your ’80s-style commute? That depends on how much shifting you want to do as you sip coffee and think about emails and meet-ings. One thing is clear: The Fit may return great mileage in light traffic, but darting along below bicycle speeds in punishing heat does not showcase its best qualities.
Still, after a full year in our service, the Fit averaged 30.7 mpg, putting it in rare company for cars that have spent any significant time with our staff of Parnelli Jones wannabes.
Unfortunately, it simply was not the vehicle of choice for those looking to venture further afield. Longer tours fell to the larger, plusher, more gas-guzzling options in the fleet, which relegated the Fit to near full-time commuter duty. The result: We logged just shy of 12,000 miles on the year, which, though on the low end for long-termers, is average for the typical U.S. driver. On the plus side, the Fit never required service beyond the routine variety, and it cost just over $1,000 to keep in fuel.
“The Fit is a miracle of cost-effective mobility,” summed up one editor. “Certainly, this little Honda was bred for urban use and wasn’t really geared for ripping up the expressway. In the city, the Fit feels right at home. The little car is easy to maneuver and park, and didn’t use much gas. It is a perfect example of a cheap and fuel-efficient car.”