Base price: $15,220
Price, as tested: $18,760 (Sport model with navigation and stability control)
Powertrain: 1.5-liter, 16-valve DOHC in-line four-cylinder with two-stage variable valve timing; five-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic with manual shift mode; front-wheel drive.
Horsepower: 117 at 6,600 rpm
Torque: 106 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm
Curb weight: 2,489 to 2,615 pounds
0-60 mph: 9 seconds
Wheelbase: 98.4 inches
Overall length: 161.6 inches
EPA fuel economy: 27/33 mpg city/highway, sport; 28/35, base with automatic.
Built in: Suzuka, Japan
Shrewdly anticipating the obvious and inevitable, Honda was ready for the recent spike in gas prices in all ways but one: It didn't have enough cars on the lot. Honda has had the highest U.S. fleet average fuel efficiency for the past 15 years. The company's hottest product is the Fit, a small, modest car that may be one of the best-engineered vehicles around. It tells us something fundamental about the changing tastes of the American market that Fit sales are up 73 percent this year. Honda has basically sold out of the 2008 model-year Fits and is rushing the new, redesigned 2009 models to dealerships now, a month earlier than planned.
The brief: The Fit is a subcompact hatchback, in the same aquarium with minnows such as the Nissan Versa, Scion xD and Suzuki SX4 Wagon. The base price for the 2009 Honda is $15,220 (including delivery) — $600 more than the 2008 model. The top-shelf Fit, the Sport model with navigation and stability control, will sell for $18,760. And — here it is, drum roll please — the fuel economy is 35 miles per gallon highway, 28 mpg city, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Fit Sport won't do quite as well, with 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway. That's what bigger wheels and tires (rolling resistance) and spoilers and side sills (aero resistance) will do for you.
Test drive: After spending a day test-driving a 2009 Fit Sport, I can report that the new Fit is slightly larger, vastly stiffer, noticeably more quiet and comfortable, and every bit as dorky-looking as the previous edition. Honestly, this thing couldn't get a date for the prom with duct tape and a burlap sack. But that's part of its counterintuitive charm.
Design: I will say one thing for the looks: In the engineers' desire to give the Fit "Man-Maximum" ergonomics — their phrase — they have expanded the forward cabin area and raked the front window like the futuristic Honda Clarity fuel-cell car. It's cool. Also, by raising the headliner height, slimming the A pillars and enlarging the quarter windows, the designers have increased the outward visibility by 10 percent.
What does that all mean? The vibe from the cockpit is open, un-oppressed and glassine, a luxury of dimension in what is really a very small car.
Interior: The 2009 car's additional millimeters of wheelbase translate directly to rear knee and leg room. I'm 6 feet 1, and I had no trouble moving from the driver's seat to occupy the left rear seat, what's called "sitting behind myself."
The Fit's rear seat bottom still flips up vertically against the rear seat back to allow stowage of tall items, such as plants and bikes, up to 50 inches in height. Even with the rear seats upright, the Fit's rear cargo space measures a huge 20.6 cubic feet.
The drive: As for driving, the Fit has the metabolism and genetic code of all Hondas: well made, well tuned, well sorted. Nothing is casually decided in a Honda, nothing is temporized. Some number-haunted soul has agonized over every yen and millimeter of these cars. I love that.
The little four-cylinder pepper grinder under the hood (a 1.5-liter dual-stage VTEC) is keen and eager and completely floggable.
Fits come with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel. The steering is quick, the brakes are powerful.
I know, I know. What about a Fit hybrid, you ask. Well, Honda's bringing out two hybrids next year, one a Toyota Prius fighter, the other a sporty little coupe. They'll have the parts, so maybe.
Final thoughts: You may have guessed: The Fit is pretty near the top of my favorite cars list, and not because it's so fast and awesome-looking, because it oh-so ain't. It's the best subcompact on the market.