In-depth review: 2014 Honda Fit Hybrid
Times change, perceptions change, tastes change. Change is inevitable.
It is the same with me – at one time (5 years ago), I wouldn’t have looked at a Hybrid vehicle. In my defense, I’d never driven a good one – just a Prius and its smaller, cheaper sibling – the Prius C or “Aqua” as we know it (since we get ours as JDM imports and the Prius C is known as the Aqua in Japan) and those were designed for one thing only – fuel efficiency. I’m all for fuel efficiency, mind ye – as long as it is fun to drive. Which the Prius and the Aqua are not.
Since my project Daihatsu Cuore was going nowhere in terms of the build (sadly, no time to wrench these days), the family was growing bigger (I have two imps who are growing as fast as weeds, along with the wife and parents) and I was getting older (old Kei cars are not comfortable things – at least, mine wasn’t), I decided to avail the staff car lease facility and get a replacement vehicle. Rising fuel prices, rising living costs and a minimal rise in income meant getting something that was fuel efficient, maintenance friendly, had good resale value and was relatively comfortable to drive around for long periods of time. Fun to drive would be an added bonus.
That put the Kei cars out of the picture. No sense in changing an old Kei car that was fun to drive with a new, not fun to drive Kei car. It also put regular sedans out of the picture since they were not fuel efficient at all (16 km per liter of fuel of the current Kei car to 10-12 km per liter of fuel for the average 1.3L sedan offerings from Honda (City) and Toyota (Corolla)). That reduced choices quite drastically to the following small hatchback cars having a 1.0 or 1.3L engine:
- Suzuki Wagon R, domestic version – Ugly, without basic creature comforts, overpriced – basically a Kei car with a bigger, 1.0L engine.
- Suzuki Cultus – Modern looking car with a 1.0L engine but a little cramped for the passengers and overpriced for the amenities it offers. Also relatively no boot space for luggage.
- Toyota Passo / Daihatsu Boon – 1.0L engine, boring, underpowered and overpriced.
- Toyota Vitz – Same as above. 1.3 variant rare, 1.5 Hybrid even more rare and prices are stratospheric.
- Mitsubishi Mirage – 1.0L engine, boring to drive, relatively expensive to maintain, parts are not easily available.
- FAW V2 – 1.3L engine, ugly and outdated. Also a manual shifter – I wanted an automatic.
- Kia Picanto – Unless you have no legs, you can’t sit in the rear seats. Yup, practically no legroom for adults or teenagers and very little boot space.
- Suzuki Swift – 1.3L engine, outdated and expensive, horrible fuel efficiency, small boot.
That meant getting a Prius or an Aqua from Toyota as only those two were fuel efficient, reasonably maintenance friendly, had good resale and were comfortable to drive.
Sadly, most of the Prius… er… Priuses?, Prii? I had a look at were high mileage heroes. It made no sense getting a 180,000 km driven car when I already had a 180,000 km driven car. So I only had one choice.
Unfortunately, the ones I liked were beyond my budget and the ones in my budget were either high mileage or had title clearance issues. Apparently these cars had appreciated to the point that they were being sold at prices much higher than their actual worth, without the title changing from one owner to another (Open Authority Letter) so I had no idea on how many owners had it before the current seller. Maintenance history was also unavailable. So on the face of it, apparently I had no choice but to get a small hatchback like a Cultus or a Swift.
I have no choice. Wait, I do!
I didn’t consider any Honda Hybrids at first because their Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology was not particularly effective as a Hybrid – to call it a glorified start / stop technology would be cruel as it was marginally better than start / stop tech in the fact that it did provide an assist when accelerating but it wasn’t particularly fuel efficient and parts were expensive. I did know that Honda had discontinued the IMA technology in 2012 or 2013 but wasn’t sure what tech they were using in their Hybrids now. Turns out, it is full hybrid tech similar to the Toyota Prius. They were also, relatively speaking, within budget so I did a bit of research and the more I read, the more I liked it and I ended up deciding that I wanted to go for the Honda and so I got myself a 2014 Honda Fit Hybrid, S Package with a few extra options.
You get what you pay for:
I got the car for PKR 2.2 Million from a businessman who keeps each car for about half a year and then sells them off. Considering that the Cuore went for 0.4 Million, this was a very expensive purchase but you do get a lot of car for that amount, IMHO. A brief overview of the features of the car I ended up buying are as under:
- 1.5L DOHC “Earth Dreams” engine with hybrid motor pushing out a combined 130 bhp (as far as the specifications on power can be trusted from internet which gives power figures from 90 bhp to 160 bhp) under full power;
- 7 speed Dual Clutch Transmission;
- Keyless entry with Push Start;
- Climate Control;
- Cruise Control;
- Traction Control;
- City Brake Assist (Collision Detection);
- 6 airbags (4 in the pillars, one in the dashboard for the passenger and one in the steering wheel);
- Tilt & telescoping steering wheel;
- Multimedia infotainment with navigation and support for voice commands;
- Multimedia steering with stereo, call / voice command buttons and cruise controls;
- Rear wiper with water spray;
- ‘Magic seats’ in the rear with seatbelts for 3 passengers and ISOFIX anchors; and
- Driver seat adjustable for height, tilt, passengers is tilt only.
After owning it for a few months, here are some initial impressions:
The exterior isn’t much to write home about. At least, I don’t find it worthy of comment, although most people who see it head on consider it as either handsome or aggressive, while others think it is a bit of both. I think the front looks fat.
That said, it is instantly recognizable as a Honda from the front grille and headlights, has a tall-ish profile without being boxy and the rear is – well, it gets some getting used to with the busy looking tail lights. However, I do like it compared to the competition and Honda’s own stable of products (I’m looking at you, Toyota Aqua and Honda BRV) and it is eminently practical. The headlight cluster is composed of a projector lens for regular beam, a halogen reflector for high beam and a turn signal. Parking lights are housed in the front bumper with the fog lamps while there are no Daytime Running Lights (DRLs).
At the rear, the tail lights are high up and extend into the rear fenders as well. They are of the split variety, with the lights being present on the rear body as well as the boot lid. Reverse lights and turn signals are halogen, as are the parking lights while the brake lights are LEDs. A high brake lamp in the integrated spoiler also exists. That said, I would have preferred the lights to be a little less bling-y in appearance – call me old school or whatever. Red should be red, amber should be amber and white should be white. No chrome, please.
On the side, a sharp crease running from front door to rear end relieves the monotony of a featureless slab somewhat, while the front quarter glass is a real boon – it increases visibility and gives the cabin an airy feeling. The side mirrors are large, offer good visibility and come with integrated turn signals. They fold close automatically when the car is locked and vice versa and can also be closed via controls on the driver door.
The tyre size is 185/60 R15 which is rare in Pakistan. Only General Tyres make them and those tyres are shitty based on my experience with General Tyres so far, as well as trusty internet forums. However, they are the cheapest brand on sale by a good margin, so if you’re the type who drives very slowly, has no need for emergency braking and is content dealing with an occasion flat tyre, they are a good option. I drive relatively fast, need good grip under all situations, hate flat tyres and can afford pricier options, so they are not for me. The previous owner had put in 195/65 sized tyres by Bridgestone which are massive for the front and stick out of the fenders, presenting a very odd appearance besides flinging mud and dirt everywhere. Since they were at the end of their life, I swapped them for a set of Continental EcoContact 3s which are great tyres for a reasonable price. The aftermarket rims (Lenso Samurai Hayato) have got to go though. They are ugly and anyone who looks at them for the first time asks me the same question – you didn’t buy these rims, did you?
The interior is the place where things start to pick up. There is a lot of really cheap, thick plastic everywhere – on the doors, most of the dashboard and the center console. There are a few leather inserts in the dash along with a few silver painted edges along the air vents, glove box, the infotainment and climate control that break the sea of cheap plastic but that’s it. The doors have a small area covered in leather as well but that is it. That is my only gripe about the whole interior. The rest of it more than makes up for the cheapo plastics – it is really well thought out and practical. The seats have leather covers and offer good side support for the driver and front passenger, so that sideways movement when cornering is pretty limited. The driver seat has height adjustment which is good news for the vertically challenged folk. Coupled with the tilt and telescoping steering wheel, this is a car that everyone can drive, provided they can reach the pedals and see out of the car. The cluster gauge displays a lot of information, split into three areas – the left is for the power being used / charged combo, most of the warning lights, external temperature, time, gear selected and mode the car is in (Eco, Normal, EV, Sport). The middle is reserved for the speedometer which has this light changing thing going on with blue when using power (engine) and green when driving economically. The right side has about 8 or so pages which can be scrolled through – including a rev counter, instant gas mileage along with trip mileage and trip distances, fuel averages in the last 3 trips, no. of hours driven on a tank, average driving speed, engine / hybrid battery charging / discharging status and others.
The HVAC system and the infotainment system are both touchscreen based. While it does look cool, I would’ve preferred buttons and knobs as they’re easier to work with while driving. Touchscreens usually require moving one’s eyes away from the road so I usually set the climate control to automatic and let it do its thing. The audio too is easily managed via the steering controls. Speaking of audio, the infotainment system is in Japanese, so I need to either get it flashed to English or replace it with an aftermarket unit. However, the quality of the unit is excellent, both when listening to the stereo or when making or receiving calls over Bluetooth. It also supports DVD (video and audio), USB (audio only) HDMI (haven’t tested that), satellite navigation (Japanese), front and rear cameras and AM / FM Radio (Japanese Frequencies). I had no trouble hooking it up with my iPhone or the wife’s Infinix and listening to the music stored on it, courtesy google translate app. Playing music via apps like Deezer or YouTube is also easy – the system displays the name of the song (or the name of the video), the album, the musician etc. The four speakers in each door are a bit light on bass though – you might want to invest in an aftermarket subwoofer.
The rear seats are what Honda calls magic seats. I call them very, very convenient. They fold flat – like truly flat without the hump or anything – if you want to convert the rear into a cargo bay. Tall items can fit into the car by raising the seats to an upright position. An adult sized mountain bike can fit in easily. You can also fit in really long – like nearly cabin length long – items in the car since in addition to the fold flat rear seats, the front seat will also recline back to a nearly flat position so that stuff like pipes can fit from the passenger seat foot well all the way to the back trunk lid – more than 6 feet of space.
Speaking of convenient, the whole interior can be called that. The front passengers get lots of cubbyholes for placing drinks, food, papers etc. – the doors, center console, armrest – everywhere. The driver even gets a soda holder right in front of the driver side air vent – ideal if you want to make sure your beverage stays hot / cold. That holder is adjustable too, so anything from a small water bottle to a large soda can be placed in it and since it is deep, it won’t come out of the holder easily.
Lets talk about driving performance first. Bear in mind, this is a city car in the sub-compact category and to expect sports car like performance is like expecting our politicians to win the Nobel Prize for being honest. That said, for a sub-compact, the performance is surprisingly good. Nay, I’d even say excellent and not because I bought it – but because it truly is.
Drive modes and Drivetrain:
The car comes with 4 modes – EV, Eco, Normal and Sport.
EV is really simple. You can’t switch it on and off at will like the Prius, but it works best at constant speeds since the car uses a paltry 30 bhp motor to power the car in this mode. It will happily cruise at even 80 kmph – though not for long, as the hybrid battery pack is a small one. Accelerating very lightly will keep it in EV mode, but a moderate press to the pedal will start the engine for added power.
Eco Mode is where you’ll keep it in city traffic or even the highways. It optimizes fuel efficiency over acceleration (which is after all, the whole point of a Hybrid) so everything – power, transmission, HVAC system performance, etc. is muted to save as much fuel as possible. It does accelerate rapidly but only when you fully step on the accelerator, otherwise it is usually a slow, gradual response to your requests to get going. Well, it seems slow in perception – the reality is that it does a decent acceleration if the speedometer is to be believed.
Normal mode sharpens things up to quite a good level, at the expense of fuel economy. HVAC system cools better; acceleration is now crisp instead of sluggish and shift points move up the rev range. If eco mode is akin to your state when getting out of bed half asleep, normal mode is you, fully awake, breakfasted and ready for work.
Then there’s the sport mode. It transforms the car into a different animal altogether. Now, the focus shifts to speed and what that translates to is the revs being held high, DCT response becomes lightning quick (you really can’t tell when the gears shift in this mode which isn’t the case in the other three modes) and acceleration goes from ‘acceptable’ to ‘Damn this is fast!!!’. 0-100 kmph is dealt with in under 10 seconds (8.5 or 9.5 seconds as per the internet forums, I haven’t done any testing but I can believe it) and flat out, it will get to a 180 kmph top speed easily.
Handling & braking:
The handling is again, surprisingly good considering that the car is tall and employs a torsion beam rear end coupled with McPherson struts up front. Honda really dialed the suspension in perfectly – it is firm without being harsh, feels planted in the turns and unless you’re driving like a complete nutter, it won’t understeer either. Part of this excellent handling can be laid down to the tyres – they’re really suited to the car and the local roads. The other is because of weight distribution – the fuel tank is underneath the front seats, the hybrid battery is in the trunk and the engine is right over the front wheels. That means that the center of gravity is low and any weight changes due to the amount of fuel in the tank affect the weight of the car as a whole and not just the weight over the rear wheels only as is the norm in most cars.
Brakes are standard – 262mm discs up front and 200mm drums in the rear. Brake consumption is minimal, thanks to regenerative braking and when you do need to stop, the brakes are very strong and ABS engages under emergency braking. I drove the car in the twisting mountains in Hingol National Park, Balochistan where brakes usually fry up when going downhill and start fading, but the brakes on this thing did not get the usual workout thanks to the regenerative braking feature and there was no smell of burnt brake pads or fade at all.
The EPS on the fit is uncommunicative – one has no idea of what is going on with the front end as there is absolutely no feel to the thing. However, this is a known and accepted issue with any EPS in general (even on performance cars), so I can’t really fault Honda here. Honda people – if you’re reading this, please go for an EPS the way Gordon Murray has in his T-50 – EPS engages at low speeds so that you don’t have to muscle the car around and disengages at high speeds so that everything is felt directly. It will even consume less fuel since the EPS won’t be powered on all the time.
I know, I know – wishful thinking.
The whole point of being a Hybrid city car is being fuel efficient. The Fit is rated 37 km/l on the Japanese tests but real world figures aren’t even close. Don’t get me wrong – it is very fuel efficient but those figures are unachievable in real world driving. I use regular fuel (91 Octane) and get an eminently respectable 16-20kmpl fuel mileage in city driving with a light foot (and occasional bursts of road rage) while highway driving at 90-110 kmph will yield 22-25 kmpl. Then again, I live in Karachi and these figures also include a lot of ‘stuck in traffic’ driving. My HVAC is also continuously powered on (I never roll the windows down), and I usually have 2-3 passengers so overall, not bad for a 1.5L Hybrid. Honest Aqua owners have reported similar fuel averages but a Prius definitely gets more fuel mileage than this does. A single fuel tank (40 liters capacity) is good for a range of 700-900 km, depending on the amount of passengers, luggage and terrain being covered. The fuel average on highway and in city driving is much better than a sedan of equal displacement and equivalent (or at times, even better) to that of Kei Cars. People claim that it does even better than the figures I’m getting but you’d have to be extremely patient to get anything better, along with congestion free roads, no HVAC and no passengers.
Spare parts and their availability:
This is one area where the Honda Fit is a let down. Finding even regular spares like air and oil filters isn’t easy – only specific auto stores have them and since no one uses part numbers in this country, I have a hard time getting stuff. However, the basics (engine oil, air, cabin and oil filters) is shared between the Honda Fit, Honda Vezel, Honda Jade and Honda Grace (All Hybrids) and since the Vezel is very popular, all I do is ask for Vezel parts. Speaking of engine oil, the manufacturer recommends 0W-20 viscosity oils but I use 0W-30 considering our harsher climate. It is pricier but suits the engine better in the summers of Karachi. Overall, parts are pricier but hey! It’s a Honda and their spares have always been the most expensive, while Toyota spares are moderately priced and Suzuki spares being the cheapest and most abundant.
I can’t say I love it wholeheartedly despite its shortcomings, like I loved my itty bitty Daihatsu Cuore. Its looks are a bit polarizing, it is a tech love fest and I really hate that CTBA (collision detection) thing (I’ve got eyes too, y’know). I do like it a lot though. It is comfortable, the HVAC system works just fine even in 40+ centigrade temperatures and it never feels underpowered. The fuel efficiency is amazing and compared to the competition (Toyota), it is a bargain in every sense of the word except the spares. For a small family, it is the perfect all-rounder car and I can offer no higher praise than that.