Car (South Africa)
The family-friendly fringe player
No doubt, there are plenty of readers who wonder just what the Fit is doing here – and with good reason, too. Several factors – a more powerful four-cylinder engine, CVT transmission and genre-blurring packaging that lies somewhere between small hatchback and MPV – are just enough to preclude it from direct comparison with its European rivals here. But the opportunity to demonstrate that something quite different and decidedly family-friendly can be had at a comparable price point means it’s worth a mention.
The Fit’s clean, obloid frame may not hold quite the visual panache of the others here, but it does form a placeholder for an interior that’s a far cry from the snug accommodations you’d usually associate with light hatchbacks. From the generous glasshouse, its A-pillar flowing almost unchecked into the front wings to form a considerable distance between driver and windshield, to a near lack of rearward rake to the roofline that contributes to impressive headroom, the Fit’s interior is Tardis-like compared with its compact shell. A big contributor to this wealth of space – other than the supportive front seats that are a tad narrow for largerframed folks – is the Magic-seat configuration. This setup places the 40-litre fuel tank in the centre of the chassis, beneath the front seats. It allows the rear seats to fold flat into the floor to better its rivals’ utility space by more than 250 litres for a total of 1 096 litres.
The rest of the cabin is an amalgam of funky and functional: simple and logically placed ancillary controls that meet a crisp touchscreen infotainment system, easily decipherable, inforich digital instrument binnacle and an eye-catching two-spoke steering wheel. All are solidly executed in durable-feeling and creak-free materials that add a calm and upmarket air to the Fit’s road manners.
Power is provided by a mildly tuned version of the same 1,5-litre petrol four-cylinder that’s already proven itself in previous models. Developing 89 kw in a narrow 6 600–6 800 r/min band, it’s the most powerful unit in this group, but its natural aspiration and an I-VTEC valve-timing setup that places the meat of its output quite high up the rev range means its 145 N.m of torque falls short of its turbocharged rivals. That extra power and the lightest kerb weight (1 117 kg) meant it was quickest out of the blocks in our acceleration tests, cracking the zero to 100 km/h run in 10,73 seconds. It was a similar story in our in-gear acceleration runs, where the Fit showed the others a clean pair of heels throughout. The team had no qualms with the engine’s performance and constant-speed refinement, but the Fit’s CVT proved a fly in the powertrain’s ointment. Some manufacturers add virtual steps that simulate gear ratios to their CVTS, but Honda has foregone this approach. The upshot is a fair bit of drone that permeates the cabin under acceleration. Despite sounding rather strained at times, the engine feels unburstable and with very little mass to shift, it returned the best economy of
6,1 litres/100 km on our mixeduse fuel route.
The Fit’s driving characteristics are as pragmatic as its packaging and it lacks its rivals’ level of driver engagement when tackling anything other than highways or town dawdling.
Where the preceding Jazz featured a surprisingly firm and sporty suspension setup, the Fit’s chassis has been toned down towards a comfort-oriented ride. There’s no question we didn’t miss the previous car’s choppy ride and appreciated just how composed the Fit felt on broken road surfaces. The light steering and a degree of body-lean that’s marginally more pronounced than the others mean it’s relaxing and pleasant to pilot, though, rather than entertaining.
Considering the concessions to practicality buyers often have to make when getting a small hatchback, it’s heartening to see a product like the Fit ensures the segment is not closed to those with load-lugging at the top of their list of requirements. Factor in Honda’s enviable reputation for reliability and the best warranty and service plan packages of this quartet, and the Fit is worthy of consideration in this company.
The first to fall away, but only by virtue of its preclusion from direct comparison – owing to its appreciably more powerful engine, CVT transmission, Mpvlike bearing and price – is the Fit. When last tested in our October 2021 issue, it netted a four-star finish. Having spent time in the company of capable alternatives, we stand by that score. Its styling may be an acquired taste and it cannot quite match the others’ levels of dynamic involvement, but the Fit is a brilliant package thanks to its Mpv-emulating space and practical packaging, not to mention its civilised road manners and likely bombproof construction. We love that the Fit’s clever design ensures the small-hatch segment isn’t out of bounds to those who need to accommodate their families, or don’t want to follow the crowd.
Big fans though we are of Peugeot’s wares, the new 208 left the CAR team somewhat divided. We loved the edgy design, supple chassis, and nimble and strong performance. But it was the Pug’s interior packaging that let it down. That i-cockpit dash arrangement proved too much of an ergonomic impediment to driving enjoyment and the cramped rear quarters hampered practicality.
On paper, the joint four-star finish may not suggest we do our best to avoid horses-for-courses finishes in our group evaluations, but while the overall star-rating tallies may have the Clio and Polo tied for top honours, the findings of our quantitative and qualitative tests tell a slightly different story.
There’s lots to like about the new Clio, from its involving dynamics and stylish packaging to its generous standard features at a competitive price point. The VW Polo, meanwhile, left us impressed with its solid, spacious cabin, impressively composed road manners, its amenity to being equipped with driver aids and safety features that are usually the preserve of larger vehicles, albeit at extra cost. Although the result is ever so close, we have to give the edge to the Polo. Its spread of talents is more balanced than that of the sportier (yet slower-accelerating) Clio, it serves up additional space and the impression of perceived quality is more pronounced in the German car. Factor in its longer service plan and a legacy of stronger resale and trade-in values, and the Polo remains the small hatch to beat.