Honda’s feeling Fit as the New Year gets under way. Make that the 2015 Honda Fit, the latest version of the Japanese maker’s smallest U.S. model, which is making its debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Traditionally one of the best-reviewed of the market’s small cars, Honda has long lagged rivals such as the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Ford Fiesta on the sales charts — though Honda officials note that’s been the result of limited production capacity for the Japanese-made model, rather than a lack of consumer demand.
Now, however, the shackles are off, Honda planning to shift production of the 2015 Fit to a new plant in Celaya, Mexico which will have a potential capacity of as much as 200,000 vehicles annually. The question is whether the demand will be there. But Honda is nothing but confident, pointing to some of the significant improvements in the new model.
“The Honda Fit is a small car with big aspirations. Faster, more fuel-efficient and more fun, it’s a subcompact with larger-than-life-capabilities,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda Motor Co. “It’s simply the best Fit to date and, we believe, a new benchmark in the small-car category.”
The new 2015 Honda Fit is larger yet lighter, more powerful yet more fuel-efficient — and boasts a more flexible interior than the outgoing hatchback, according to Honda, which also expects it to match or beat the rating of its competitors in term of crash tests run by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
The new Fit will have to deliver on a variety of different fronts, said industry analysts, noting that young buyers are among the market’s most demanding, despite their limited budgets. Honda thinks it can deliver on the performance front with a 1.5-liter DOHC engine producing 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. But it also will deliver an EPA-rated 33 mpg City, 41 Highway and 36 Combined.
Credit the new engine — which can be paired with either a CVT or six-speed manual gearbox — and lightweighting. Use of high- and ultra-high-strength steel shaved 57 pounds off the weight of the 2015 Fit.
The new model is actual about 1.5 inches shorter, nose-to-tail, but significantly bigger inside, with a full five inches more rear legroom, for example. There’s 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space, meanwhile, with the second-row seats folded down.
Like the rest of the growing list of subcompacts now on the market, the Fit could prove critical to Honda’s long-term future. These vehicles target young, first-time buyers who makers then hope will become long-term brand loyalists.
Despite its relatively low volumes, the old model “was a great vehicle to have as a gateway vehicle,” said Art St. Cyr, head of American Honda’s automotive operations, noting that “about two-thirds of those buyers eventually wind up trading in on another Honda vehicle.”
Of course, winning over young buyers means recognizing their addition to technology, especially their smartphones, St. Cyr added. The 2015 Fit will offer, among other things, a button to access the Siri voice-control system for those using the Apple iPhone. And the new Honda Link system will allow access to a variety of apps – including one that lets a driver use a smartphone-based navi app that costs just $60 rather than the $500 and up most built-in navigation systems cost.
The 2015 Honda Fit will share its new Mexican plant with an all-new model based on the Urban SUV concept the maker unveiled last year.