The electric-powered 2013 Honda Fit EV was recently granted a U.S. fuel economy rating of 118 mpg-e, making it the most power-efficient vehicle available. Its 92-kilowatt electric motor spins a nippy 128 hp and 188 lb-ft of torque. And with its chirpy handling, it's a surprisingly fun car to drive. But does Honda even care if anyone actually buys one, or is its creation purely to satisfy California bureaucrats?
Those California regulations zero-emission vehicles requires major car manufacturers ensure a small portion of their volume come from cars that emit no pollution -- rules that several other states follow. In response, some manufacturers will build a handful of electric vehicles to comply with regulations, but have little interest in offering them widely. At a glance, the Honda Fit EV slots solidly into this bracket, with only 1,100 Fit EV's being produced over the next three years, with sales limited to a 36-month lease at $389 per month.
Honda's response to my blunt question on whether the Fit EV was only a compliance vehicle was, unsurprisingly, no.
Honda claims the few Fit EVs they expect to build keeps with their view of the car as a test. Starting July 20th, Honda will launch the Fit in parts of California and Oregon and will expand to six East Coast markets in early 2013. It's merely a coincidence that the States the Fit EV will appear in are where the ZEV mandate is in effect. These areas, according to Honda, just happen to coincide with the most marketable locations for EV's and have nothing to do with complying with regulations -- and Honda does seem to have a solid marketing plan aimed to make its limited number of Fit EV sales a success.
Regardless of Honda's intentions, out at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., I found it a rather endearing car. It comes dressed in its exclusive Fit EV reflective blue-pearl paint job and a shiny aluminum-looking chin garnishes the front fascia. The rear sports a new aerodynamic bumper and the changes give the Fit EV a sportier, less nerdy look compared to its gas-powered twin.
The interior is what you would expect. It contains about as much plastic as Joan Rivers' face but maintains a modern and functional feel. The steering wheel stands out, but the gearstick looks like it's off a rusty old truck. It's just a black rubber lump, far less attractive than the Nissan Leaf's modernistic dial.
Taking to the streets, the Fit EV zips off the line with ease, accompanied by a joyful little tire chirp. It comes with three performance settings -- sport, normal and econ -- that radically change the car's attitude. In sport mode the full 92 kW of electric power is available, but that comes at a 10 percent reduction in its estimated 82-mile range compared to the normal setting, which uses only 75 kW. Put the car in econ mode and only 47 kW is usable, turning the zippy hatchback into an eco-machine with an acceleration speed of a large garden snail. Such drivers are rewarded with a 17 percent boost in range.
While econ mode does provide you with additional miles before you need to re-juice the 20-kWh lithium-ion battery -- which it will do in a class leading time of under three hours at 240v -- the sport mode makes the Fit considerably more fun. It's a fast little car off the line, with a sharp throttle response -- similar, Honda says, to a BMW Z4. While that's the case for a mere second, it comes as a nice surprise and makes the Fit a sizable chunk faster than the Nissan Leaf Honda had on hand for comparisons. The ride is also quite good with the Fit EV's addition of independent rear suspension and the lower center of gravity thanks to its battery pack.
Despite the pleasures of the steering wheel, the steering itself doesn't live up to the standard set by Hondas of yore. The first 40 degrees of steering lock provide almost no feel whatsoever, and turning beyond that, it is unusually light. It's great for parking and pottering around town, but the slightest increase in cornering speed makes you you miss the connection that its handy handling deserves.
Like all EVs, the Fit uses regenerative braking to recover kinetic energy and recharge its batteries. But Honda has made an innovation by creating a computer-controlled system that determines how fast the driver wants to stop, and blends as much regeneration as possible with old-fashioned brake disc action. You would never know the brake pedal sensations are computer generated, as it feels totally natural.
All told, the Fit EV comes off as a cool car; it leaves you happy and feels far sportier than you would ever expect, more than can be said for many hatchbacks. But who will actually buy one? Honda sees the Fit EV appealing to a tech-savvy, high-income, eco-friendly customer who would maintain a second, non-electric car to accompany their Fit. If you fit this description, and desire an EV to compliment your solar-powered windmill and organic hemp pants, then the Honda Fit EV makes a great choice. The rest of us will have to make do until Honda decides to build EVs for all.