Ever since its debut about five years ago, the Honda Fit has been a favorite compact car among Outside cognoscenti.
We love the brilliantly designed and easily reconfigured interior—into which we’ve stuffed five mountain bikes (sans wheels). While that left room for just two front passengers, it’s a feat most midsized SUVs can’t pull off. The Fit’s far tinier and way less thirsty, getting 41 mpg on the highway, than any other rig on the road with that kind of carrying capacity.
The key to the Fit’s flexibility is a low, flat gas tank underneath the floor of the passenger compartment, making the cargo hold lower than normal. Add a relatively tall roof and rear seats with a bleacher-like design (see below), and you have a very clever, almost perfect utility vehicle.
What the Fit’s missing is optional AWD, real ground clearance, and about ten additional cubic feet of cargo space.
Thankfully for the adventure vehicle crowd, all those features debuted Thursday in the crossover version of the Fit—the 2016 HR-V. We took it for a spin just ahead of the on-sale date to see if the new car could out-Fit the Fit.
We love the utility of the Fit, but it does suffer from tiny-car syndrome on the highway: The engine feels underpowered, particularly when the trunk’s crammed with gear.
The HR-V, while barely more than 3,000 pounds (light considering the total storage volume of 100-plus cubic feet), feels more stable than the Fit on both the interstate and backcountry byways. Thanks to sound-deadening materials stuffed everywhere (even in the rear bumper!), it’s damn quiet. The larger engine, taken directly from the Civic, gives the car plenty of pep on climbs.
The HR-V’s 141-horsepower engine delivers most of its torque right off the line. Even though 127 pound feet of torque is hardly muscular, getting it in a single big punch at lower revs helps you keep up with high-speed traffic and gives you more control on forest roads by feathering the throttle.
This isn’t a macho 4x4 rig. With 6.7 inches of ground clearance (the Fit has five inches), it’s not nearly as high as Subaru’s softroading XV Crosstrek (8.7 inches), but it swallows nearly 10 cubic feet more gear than the Subaru and gets better city fuel economy. The AWD system (optional; front-wheel drive is standard) is all about improving traction.
The HR-V runs on FWD most of the time. There’s no manual switch to kick it into AWD; rather, the system kicks in every time you start from a full stop and whenever a tire slips.
Another system senses understeer (when the car’s going too straight and will miss the curve) and oversteer (the opposite of understeer) and automatically brakes the inside or outside wheels to correct the path. Driving the HR-V on wet roads, it was easy to simulate slipping on ice; both systems worked flawlessly to keep us out of the ditch.
Honda debuted what it calls the “magic seat” in the Fit. This system lets you combine the front passenger seat (sans headrest) when reclined with the seat behind it. Result: An airplane-like configuration that lays almost totally flat and that easily accommodates an eight-foot surfboard.
Both rear seats flip upward, like the spring-loaded seats at a ballpark, revealing a nearly completely flat load area. In the HR-V, we loaded one upright 70-liter backpack into this space, behind the driver, and two more packs into the hatch, leaving room for three passengers.
And because the HR-V is wider and has a taller ceiling than the Fit, this storage space is even more useful when it comes to schlepping unwieldy gear.
We stuffed three road bikes and three riders into the HR-V—and it was easier than you can imagine. Mind you, the biggest bike was a 58 cm, but we were still able to leave the rear wheel on.
The HR-V is one of the first cars on the market to get Apple’s Siri Eyes Free as an option.
This system basically brings the familiar Apple icons from your phone to your dash, which makes navigation intuitive. Press the talk button on the steering wheel (your phone pairs with the car via Bluetooth), and Siri sends a series of prescripted texts and emails or reads incoming messages. It can also check the weather and create reminders or calendar events.
We also like the new LaneWatch tech feature. Tap the turn signal, and whatever’s in your blind spot appears on the center console screen. You can also initiate this view from a button on the turn signal stalk.
The HR-V is very good, but it’s not perfect.
The slick six-speed manual transmission is available only in the FWD version, not the AWD. The automatic CVT does have a manual intervention system (paddle shifters let you choose your gear, which is especially helpful on slippery descents), but without a real clutch, anyone who’s driven off-road knows the all-at-once power delivery of an automatic is no match for the delicate control you get with a stick shift. (Sure, the low ground clearance already confines the HR-V to fire roads, but you’ve probably learned how far cajones and skill can get you when a trailhead beckons.)
But perhaps it’s best that the HR-V isn’t pretending to be what it isn’t.
In short, it’s a snowy mountain-town version of the Fit with even more utility and just a wee bit more off-road capacity.
All that, plus 27 highway/32 city fuel economy and a $19,995 sticker price make this a very good deal.
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