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2014 Honda Fit EV Test Drive Review
Unexpectedly, the Honda Fit EV makes the driver feel alive, like an active participant in the act of getting from one place to the next, making it the antithesis to the autonomous car.
Honda sure makes it easy to own a 2014 Honda Fit EV, thanks to a cheap lease payment, free maintenance, 82 miles of driving range, a maximum recharging time of 15 hours and a roomy interior. Still, range anxiety is a real problem in larger metropolitan areas, and both weather and topography can throw unexpected curve balls that will reduce the remaining distance to a dead battery. The Fit EV is definitely right for some people, but not everyone.
Look and Feel
As you might surmise by the preceding sections, this review of the 2014 Honda Fit pertains to the electric vehicle, or EV, version of the car. That’s because the EV version is the only official 2014 model-year Fit on sale; the ones with a gasoline engine are designated 2013 models and will be replaced by a redesigned 2015 Fit very soon.
I’m a big fan of the 2013 Honda Fit Sport, which drives much like a go-kart with a U-Haul box attached to it. The 2014 Fit EV is similar in that regard, and we’ll get to specifics in the next section of the review. For now, let’s detail the differences between the standard Fit and the Fit EV.
From my perspective, the wide-eyed Honda Fit has always looked dorky, and the Fit EV qualifies for that description even more so. It looks different from other Fit models, and while the changes are subtle, many of them serve to improve aerodynamics in order to extract maximum range from the car’s rechargeable Lithium-ion battery.
For example, the Fit EV has no grille. Instead, a body-color panel with a chrome smile connects the headlights. The front bumper is also smoothed out and reshaped, the wheel arches are slightly blistered, a rocker panel molding sticks further out, and a large rear spoiler wraps around the rear window glass to smooth airflow. The 15-inch aluminum wheels are designed to generate minimum turbulence, and the rear bumper is squared off and includes a racy-looking diffuser panel along the bottom. Blue-tinted headlights and LED taillights further separate the Fit EV from the regular model, and the electric version of the car is painted a unique shade of Reflection Blue Pearl.
From the front, the result looks like a giant blue Dustbuster vacuum. From the rear, the Fit EV looks like it’s been in hands of a teenager with a parent’s credit card and an aftermarket accessories catalog. Hey, nobody ever said practicality is sexy.
Inside, the Fit EV is equipped with very light gray bio-fabric made from sugarcane, along with very light gray door panels, lower dashboard trim and headliner. Clearly, Honda isn’t planning for families with small children to buy this car. Add unique trim the color of brushed aluminum, and in combination with the towering side glass and enormous windshield, you’ve gotta wear sunglasses when sitting in this thing, even on cloudy days.
As far as the Fit EV trim lineup is concerned, the car comes one way, in one color combination and for one non-negotiable lease price of $279 per month plus tax. Total planned production over two years is 1,100 units.
Previously, I likened the Honda Fit to a go-kart, and if you’re at all familiar with indoor karting tracks, where the diminutive racers are electric rather than gasoline-fired, then you’ll feel right at home in the Fit EV. Installed beneath the Fit EV’s rear seats, a 20-kWh Lithium-ion battery provides 100 kW of output to a 92-kW electric motor lifted from the larger FCX Clarity fuel-cell car. The electric motor powers the Fit EV’s front wheels.
Three driver-selectable power modes determine the blend of horsepower and range the Fit EV provides. Choose Econ to maximize range, but then you’ll only have 63 horsepower at your disposal. Normal mode shortens range a bit, but boosts horsepower to an even 100 ponies. Sport mode cranks out 123 horsepower, but significantly cuts the Fit EV’s range. In each case, maximum horsepower is available from 3,695 rpm to 10,320 rpm, and the electric motor generates 189 lb-ft of torque from 0 to 3,056 rpm. For context, consider that a standard Fit makes 117 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 106 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Then again, the Fit EV is carrying an extra 700 pounds of weight, snugged down low in the chassis where it contributes to impressive handling.
According to Honda, the Fit EV provides 82 miles of range when fully charged, and the company reminds buyers that when it is cold outside, the car’s driving range is reduced. I had the Fit EV during the same week the country experienced a blast of arctic air, and temperatures in Southern California plunged into the 30s at night. I know, Brrrrrr, right?
In any case, I picked up my test car on a balmy 75-degree day, and the instrumentation showed more than 78 miles of available range. A few days later, after a cold night sitting on the charger, the gauges indicated a full charge and 59 miles of range. Yikes.
As a part of the Fit EV lease, Honda supplies the hardware for a 240-volt home charging station, but you’ll need to pay extra for installation. I recommend it. Using a standard household outlet, it can take up to 15 hours to recharge the Fit EV. Use a 240-volt home charging station, and recharging time is chopped to just 3 hours.
Plugging in is easy, and Fit EV owners can program charging for off-peak hours to make the car even more cost effective. Once the charger is disconnected from the charging port, get behind the wheel and turn the key in the ignition. The dashboard comes to life, your indication that you’re ready to roll in the absence of the noise, vibration and harshness associated with a traditional gasoline combustion engine.
Believe it or not, the Fit EV is all about driver engagement. You need to pay attention when you drive this vehicle, lifting off the throttle as soon as the light ahead goes red, shifting into engine braking mode to add juice to the battery. Then, if you need a quick getaway from the light, switch from Econ to Normal or Sport mode to improve the car’s responsiveness. Live in hilly terrain? Plan accordingly if you’ve got a hill to climb closer to the end of the trip. Then there’s the ever-present range-anxiety factor, especially when the weather is cold. Good times!
That sounds sarcastic, but it's not. Unexpectedly, the Fit EV makes the driver feel alive, like an active participant in the act of getting from one place to the next, which makes it the antithesis to the autonomous car. From the fishbowl view of the world to the way wind tends to buffet the car, the Fit EV delivers a deliciously raw driving experience. Instantaneous torque and rapid acceleration, especially in Sport mode, provide genuine thrills, and all that extra weight carried low in the car reduces the center of gravity and distributes weight in a 55/45 front-to-rear split, allowing the Fit EV to take corners at giggle-worthy speeds despite its low-rolling-resistance tires.
Admittedly, during a typical commute on the highway, there’s not much to recommend. The Fit EV is a snooze-fest on freeways, and the throttle is calibrated to resist the weight of the driver’s foot beyond 70 mph. It will go faster, but not happily.
Indeed, this is a car best used in the city and the suburbs. It takes awhile to get used to the car’s silence upon start-up, the whirring while accelerating and its unusual instrumentation. Otherwise, this is pretty much standard-issue Fit, except for the loss of one key selling point: the Magic Seat.
Form and Function
While the Honda Fit EV is surprisingly roomy, it loses its Magic Seat configuration because of the battery that’s sandwiched into the floor of the car. In a standard Fit, the Magic Seat can be flipped and folded for a flat, cube-shaped cargo area, or just flipped up in order to carry tall items on the floor of the back seat. That’s one of my favorite things about the Fit. And in the Fit EV, it doesn’t exist. That’s okay, though—most people won’t even notice it’s gone.
The Fit EV’s front seats are comfortable, sitting tall enough that separate height adjusters aren’t necessary. The driver gets a soft fold-down inboard armrest, but the door panel and door armrest are hard and unfriendly to elbows. The bio-fabric upholstery is comfortable, and Honda supplies heated front seats as standard equipment. If you ask me, those could be removed in the name of incremental weight and range savings.
The rear seat is perched tall upon the battery, positioned to provide a truly impressive amount of legroom and a great view out. However, the rear seatback is reclined at too great an angle for my comfort.
Cargo space isn’t as deep as in a standard Fit. The Fit EV features a load floor flush with the edge of the hatch, and there’s a compartmentalized storage bin under the floor. According to Honda, the Fit EV holds 12 cubic feet of stuff behind the rear seats. Fold them in half, and the car holds 49.2 cubic feet of cargo on an uneven load floor. Still, for an electric car, the Fit EV remains quite practical.
In terms of interior quality and controls, the Fit EV looks and feels familiar to anyone with experience in the gasoline version. Hard plastic is the rule, but it’s got a pleasing texture and low levels of gloss. The bio-fabric on the seats and door panels looks and feels good, and the headliner adds in quality what it lacks in plushness.
Honda supplies plenty of storage cubbies inside the Fit EV, and there are two gloveboxes. Cupholders are molded into the dashboard, where the vents can keep cold beverages cooler on warm days and hot beverages warmer on cool days. Controls are simple and straightforward, the gauges are clearly designed to reflect the status of an electric vehicle, and Honda arrays commonly used controls within easy reach of the steering wheel. If there’s anything here that looks out of place in a futuristic car, it’s the old-school Honda navigation system.
Naturally, the Fit EV’s gauges are different from those installed in a regular Fit. The center display includes a digital speedometer and a trip computer, and Honda employs color to illustrate the current driving mode. Red identifies Sport mode, blue accompanies Normal mode, and green glows in Econ mode. Gauges that show a power usage meter and a remaining charge gauge flank the center display, the latter resembling a conventional fuel gauge.
The standard navigation system’s appearance and graphics might look like yesterday’s technology, but it includes a very useful range display showing how far, in terms of radius, the car can travel round-trip and one-way based on remaining range. The system also shows the driver where the nearest charging station is located.
HondaLink telematics and smartphone pairing capability is also standard for the Fit EV, and a HondaLink EV mobile application allows the car’s owner to remotely program charging times in order to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates, to check the current state of charge and to heat or cool the interior prior to driving. Honda also includes roadside assistance with every Fit EV, just in case the car runs out of juice before you get to where you’re going, or to a charging station.
In addition to the car’s key, a remote control allows owners to start or stop the charging process, to check the current state of charge and to get a reading of the interior temperature from within 100 feet of the car. The remote also controls heating and cooling prior to driving the Fit EV. Yeah, that’s cool, but the remote and the key are simply too large in combination with one another to comfortably put into your pants pocket.
No wonder dudes are carrying man-purses these days.
Adding 700 pounds of weight to any small car should help it perform better in crashes with other small cars, but because the Honda Fit EV hasn’t been subjected to crash tests, there is no proof in this particular case.
Still, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) called the standard Fit a Top Safety Pick, and while that rating doesn’t officially apply to the Fit EV, some might consider it a guide of sorts. Furthermore, the Fit EV employs the same Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure as the standard Fit, one Honda created in order to help its products better deflect crash energy in a collision.
As far as safety technology is concerned, the Fit EV is equipped with the standard features that are included on every modern automobile, plus a reversing camera.
Our usual parameters for establishing a vehicle’s cost effectiveness don’t apply to the 2014 Honda Fit EV. With this car, the price tag is irrelevant, the resale value is irrelevant, the depreciation is irrelevant, and the cost of ownership amounts to the monthly lease payment and your local electricity rates. Plus, Honda picks up the tab for maintenance and collision insurance, effectively blowing up normal cost comparisons.
So, how can you assess whether it makes sense to lease a Fit EV? First, compare this to a regular Fit. Right now, during Happy Honda Days, you can lease the standard Fit with an automatic transmission for $205 per month. That’s $54 less than the Fit EV, though to be fair, that gap would certainly shrink, if not close, when leasing an equivalently equipped Fit Sport with navigation.
Now, if you drive 12,000 miles per year, and get the EPA-rated 31 mpg in combined driving, you’ll burn 387.1 gallons of gas each year with the standard Fit. At the current national average of $3.24 per gallon, that translates to a monthly gas bill of $104.52. A Fit EV lease costs $54 more per month, which means you’ve gotta spend less than $50 per month charging it up each night before the standard gasoline Fit is the cheaper car.
Here’s something else to consider. A FIAT 500e leases for $199 per month with $999 down (or $227 per month with nothing down). Plus, FIAT owners get 12 free 1-day rentals of a regular car just in case they need to travel beyond the car’s 87-mile range or just want to take a road trip. Yep, the FIAT’s got a much smaller back seat and can’t hold as much stuff as the Fit EV, but if you’re just buying an electric vehicle for daily commuting, that doesn’t really matter.
Alternatively, a Chevrolet Spark EV resolves rear-seat access issues, matches the FIAT’s payment structure with the Honda’s 82-mile driving range, and splits the difference between the FIAT and Honda with regard to rear seat room and cargo capacity.
Clearly, when selecting an electric vehicle, there are many angles to consider. Still, the Honda is compelling, especially as a second car, and particularly for people with set routines.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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