Honda Fit plays catch-up in Detroit

Though five years have passed since it received a major overhaul, the Honda Fit acquired at least one new feature during that span: a bull’s eye.

The Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa Note, Chevrolet Sonic and an updated Toyota Yaris arrived on the market since that 2009 refreshing, and have peppered the Fit with strength-sapping welterweight jabs. Despite the harassment, the cleverly packaged Honda has remained a segment sales champion.

That isn’t to say it hasn’t lost a step. The 2015 model unveiled 13 January at the 2014 Detroit auto show, heavily based on a version already on sale in Japan, seeks to address the most nagging of the Fit’s deficiencies while building on its strengths.

The improvements begin under the hood, where a 128-horsepower direct-injected 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine brings much-needed pep and, paired with a new continuously variable automatic transmission, a boost in fuel economy, to 33mpg in urban and 41mpg in highway driving. (Economy figures for Fits equipped with a six-speed manual transmission are lower, though Honda did not say by how much.) The outgoing Fit trailed its competitors on both power and efficiency, so the updates are notable.

Fit acolytes were largely made, however, on the car’s versatility. The 2015 model offers 52.7cu-ft of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, not far off from much larger vehicles like the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon. Standing 5ft tall on 16in alloy wheels, the Fit is still a boxy little bean, but two strong upsweeps impart some dynamism to the design. Inside, Honda has made a strong play for the wired millennial buyer, with factory-installed capability with Apple’s Siri Eyes Free – which lets a driver perform tasks through voice commands – and mobile-app-friendly HondaLink connectivity.

“A faster, fuel-efficient, more fun Fit” was the concise synopsis from John Mendel, American Honda Motor’s executive vice president of auto sales, at the car’s debut. “A more affordable Fit” was conspicuous by its absence, but given the upgraded feature set of the 2015 model, expect pricing to increase slightly over the outgoing model when it arrives in US showrooms later this year.