Johannesburg - In life there are things that go together and things that don’t. Lamb and mint, for instance, are an excellent combination, just like wasabi and sushi, but you’ll never find anyone putting ketchup on their ice cream; at least not a sane person.
And it’s the same story with cars. Spending a week with the new Honda Fit recently highlighted a mechanical combination that just doesn’t seem to work all that well, namely Honda’s peaky normally aspirated 1.5-litre V-TEC petrol engine and the CVT gearbox.
Separately, both of these have their respective strengths. Continuously variable gearboxes tend to be efficient, reliable and, compared with other auto gearbox types, relatively affordable to produce. And while they pair rather well with turbocharged engines where most of the torque is produced at low revs, a CVT can become noisy and drony at the higher ends of the rev range, which is where you have to take Honda’s normally aspirated V-TEC if you want anything resembling brisk performance.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine engine when paired with Honda’s slick-shifting manual gearbox, and it would probably be quite nice with a dual-clutch gearbox and somewhat tolerable with a torque converter auto, but in the new Fit Honda only offers it with a CVT.
With 89kW developed at 6600rpm and 145Nm from 4300rpm, the engine is capable of delivering adequate performance, especially given that the vehicle’s curb weight of 1.1-tons is not excessive. But to extract this engine’s potential often means putting up with quite a bit of CVT drone and that detracts from the driving experience somewhat.
Then again, if you’re gentle with the throttle and are happy with a more relaxed driving style then you’ll probably be quite happy with the driving experience on offer here. And, on the upside, you can expect fuel consumption in the region of 7.0 litres per 100km in mixed driving conditions.
The driving experience is an otherwise refined one, with smooth power delivery, well-suppressed road noise and a comfortable ride quality.
Oh, and with all that ranting about the drivetrain, I haven’t yet properly introduced the Honda Fit, for those who aren’t familiar with it. The car you see here is essentially a fourth-generation Honda Jazz, and the vehicle has in fact always worn the Fit badge in its home market and a few others. But in markets such as Europe it was known as the Jazz, because it was found out that its originally proposed name “Fitta” was in fact a vulgar term for female genitalia in Sweden.
But historical naming blunders aside, Honda SA has elected to retire the Jazz nameplate in order to emphasise the improvements that have been made to its refinement. Unlike the last-generation Jazz, the Fit is built in Japan and overall build quality in this new model is nothing short of impeccable.
All the good “Jazz” ingredients are present in this new Honda Fit too, including a cab-forward design that liberates generous interior space and the company’s brilliant “Magic” rear seats that can fold flat or flip up to create a separate luggage compartment in the rear. Rear legroom and headroom are generous, although the 309 litre luggage capacity with the seats up is rather average. That said, it should meet the needs of most owners.
Compared with previous Jazz models, the Honda Fit has a smarter looking cabin. Sure, some of the surfaces still look a little cheap but the overall execution is sound, and it also comes with the latest gadgetry which you’d expect in this segment. Our midrange Elegance model came with a very smart looking and comfortable grey cloth upholstery
Taking centre stage in the cabin is a new 9.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system (which is fitted to all but the base model). It boasts the usual Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, with the latter operating wirelessly.
As was the case with other modern Honda products, I was impressed by the way this cockpit blends digital with analogue. It’s got a big screen with modern-looking graphics, but you still have traditional controls for the ventilation, as well as an all-important volume knob, and Honda has also thrown in “home” and “return” buttons to make the infotainment system even easier to use. Full marks for functionality here.
As mentioned, our car was the mid-range 1.5 Elegance, which is priced at R359 900, and at a R40 000 premium over the more spartan base model and a R30 000 saving over the Executive model that comes with leather trim etc. There is also a hybrid model, priced at R469 900, and it comes with even more features, including a suite of driver assistance features.
But what do you get in the Elegance? According to Honda’s spec sheet, this model ships with automatic air conditioning, cruise control, leather-covered multi-function steering wheel, front and rear arm rests, push-button start, two rear USB chargers, six airbags, Vehicle Stability Assist, LED headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Apart from the engine and droney CVT gearbox combination, the new Honda Fit is a very worthy successor to the long-standing Jazz, adding a touch of extra class and modern gadgetry to what was always a practical and solidly-made product. If you drive it in a relaxed manner you should be perfectly happy with the driving experience as well.
Honda Fit 1.5 Elegance CVT
Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cyl, petrol
Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Power: 89kW @ 6600rpm
Torque: 145Nm @ 4300rpm
Fuel use: 5.5 l/100km (claimed)
Fuel use: 7.0 l/100km (tested)
Boot space: 309 - 1210 litres
Warranty: 5-year/200 000km
Service plan: 4-year/60 000km