DRIVEN: 2021 Honda FIT is like good old-fashioned jazz but with an electric twist
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CAPE TOWN - THE Honda Jazz is dead, long live the Honda Fit. Well, that’s more or less what’s happened with Honda having re-branded what we’ve come to know and admire as the Jazz over the years with the much-improved Fit as it’s known in Japan and a number of other countries.
Honda’s compact hatchback is a completely new car in every way and now comes directly from Japan and not India. It does however retain the Jazz’ party trick Magic Seats that go right down to the floor giving it the largest capacity within the segment including impressive rear legroom.
There’s now also a Fit Hybrid, but a little more on that later, with the Comfort, Elegance and Executive derivatives still powered by an internal combustion engine. You’ll find a 1.5-litre normally aspirated petrol power plant under the bonnet that’s good for 89kW and 145Nm of torque driving the front wheels via a CVT transmission. Honda claims fuel consumption figures of 5.5L/100km which is as close as dammit to what we got on the launch in the Western Cape even with some spirited driving.
I say spirited driving, but CVT transmissions aren’t placed in cars to give it proper get up and go but manufacturers claim more for consumption figures, which is true to some degree but basically they are a whole lot cheaper than manual or automatic options.
Floor the accelerator and the unmistakable CVT drone fills the interior while it gradually builds up speed and then settles down quietly while you cruise along normally.
Still, taking into consideration the Fit’s target market and its likely use as every day transport the CVT is I suppose… well, fit for purpose.
The flagship e:HEV FIT Hybrid is some clever engineering with the same 1.5-litre engine essentially acting as a “generator” for the lithium-ion battery that powers two electric motors with a fixed gear transmission or what Honda calls an electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (e-CVT) with a single fixed-gear ratio to create a direct connection between moving components.
The system automatically selects from three drive modes as you drive it:
EV Drive: the lithium-ion battery supplies power to the electric propulsion motor directly.
Hybrid Drive: the engine supplies power to the electric generator motor, which in turn supplies it to the electric propulsion motor.
Engine Drive: the petrol engine is connected directly to the wheels via a lock-up clutch and drive force is transmitted directly from engine to the wheels.
In Hybrid Drive, excess power from the engine is diverted to recharge the battery via the generator motor. EV Drive is also engaged when the car is decelerating, harvesting energy through regenerative braking to recharge the battery.
As you can see, quite a complicated set-up and Honda have placed in software that makes it sound as though there are “shifts” even though there aren’t. All said, it provides a smooth ride and it’s intriguing to watch the graphics move and change colour as power is applied automatically through the various modes.
The exterior (and interior) has been completely redesigned. It stands 133mm lower than the Jazz and even though the front end has been redesigned it still possesses the short nose, long roofline and cabin-forward style.
The A-pillar has been reduced from 116mm to 55mm with the pillar behind providing the main structural strength while hidden windscreen wipers and a rear roof spoiler give it a sleek, unobtrusive look.
Inside it’s a whole new sleek dash layout in black that’s a vast improvement over the Jazz and combined with the rest of the interior puts it at the top of the segment. The coolest part though is the steering wheel that’s taken from the very cool looking Honda e that adds a very pleasing look from the steering position.
There are no old-school dials, rather a digital cluster which I suppose goes with the whole back to the future genre car interiors are heading to.
The touchscreen infotainment system is easy to use with an interface that’s navigated using smartphone swipe control-like settings or smartphone mirroring by using wireless connection Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
The non-hybrid Fit get the usual standard safety features that Honda have become synonymous with including reverse camera (except in the entry level Comfort version) while the Hybrid also gets adaptive cruise control, high beam assist, lane-departure warning and collision mitigating braking.
Driving the Fit doesn’t exactly set your world on fire as you would expect from a CVT (on both derivatives) but in a car such as the Fit context is important and it was never intended to be a hot hatch. It’s a car you buy with your head, which as the economy continues to suffer is becoming a lot more regular these days. It handles the mixed road surfaces we travelled well, the chassis and steering response is good when pushed around corners and the improved seats are very comfortable to sit in for a couple of hours.
Overall the Fit blows some fresh air into the Honda stable and the segment although whether it will appeal to younger buyers remains to be seen despite the tech and infotainment upgrades. It’s still unsurpassed when it comes to interior space, reliability and safety which these days should go a long way towards customer peace of mind. The Hybrid model is probably too expensive for what you get thanks to increased government taxes on Hybrid vehicles but the balance of the range offers good value for money for a solid no nonsense vehicle.
2021 HONDA FIT PRICING IN SOUTH AFRICA
Honda FIT 1.5 DOHC i-VTEC Comfort CVT - R319 900
Honda FIT 1.5 DOHC i-VTEC Elegance CVT - R359 900
Honda FIT 1.5 DOHC i-VTEC Executive CVT - R389 900
Honda FIT 1.5 DOHC i-MMD e-CVT Hybrid - R469 900 (available from October 2021)
All Honda FIT models come with a five-year/200 000km warranty and a four-year/60 000km Service Plan in South Africa. The Hybrid version’s high-voltage battery pack is taken care of with an eight-year/200 000km warranty.