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2012 Honda Fit Sport: Still a top subcompact contender

Stylish looks, roomy interior and good fuel economy keep the Fit going strong
by: HONDA MOTOR CO., The 2012 Honda Fit is still a good economy car choice.

I finally got to test the right car in the right place at the right time.

In the past, I've tested full-size pickups during long trips, convertibles during wet weather, and sports cars with low-profile tires during snow storms. Not good combinations. But this time I had a 2012 Honda Fit when local gas prices increased over 10 cents a gallon in just a few days because of regional supply shortages. Driving the thrifty subcompact allowed me to cruise by service stations with a smile on my face.

Now in its sixth year of sales in the U.S., the Fit isn't even the most fuel-efficent car on the market. Some newer subcompacts get better economy than the EPA estimated average 29 miles per gallon of my test vehicle. But that's still pretty good mileage, and there's a lot more to like about the Fit - incuding its impressive usable interior space, fun handling, well-designed front seats and numerous storage spaces.

On paper, the Fit does not look like a formidable contender in the suddenly hot subcompact field. Unlike some other entries, the Fit only comes in one body style, a five-door hatchback. It also comes with only one engine, a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 117 horsepower and 106 foot-pounds of torque. Only two transmissions are available and both of them have just five speeds - a manual and an automatic with a Sport mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. And it only comes it two flavors, Base and the more fully loaded Sport.

But in real world driving, the Fit is much more than the sum of its parts. Everything comes together so well that it does not seem at all out of date. The Sport version was so much fun to drive, it reminded me why hot hatchbacks first became popular. I never felt like I was sacrificing anything to save gas.

One big reason is the airy feel created by the proportionately tall height and large windows. Visibility is excellent for such a small vehicle, thanks in large part to the huge and steeply banked windshield.

Although the Fit is basically an old fashioned econobox, the angular styling gives it a conemporary look, helped by the 16-inch alloy wheels and exterior trim pieces on the Sport version, including a rear spoiler, a sport body kit with chrome exhaust tip, and foglights. The interior is also well designed for such a simple car, with an easy-to-read gauge cluster and large climate control knobs. The various soft plastic and fabric pieces fit together well, helping the Fit look like anything but basic transportation.

Truth be told, the little engine sometimes had to work hard to provide adequate accelaration with the five-speed automatic transmission that came with my test car. Putting it in the manual shift mode helped, although passing going up hills was still challenging. The transmission worked just fine for around town driving, however.

All Fits come standard with keyless entry, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, cruise control, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio input jack and an iPod/USB interface. In addition to the exterior pieces, the Sport version adds a driver seat armrest, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, and two additional speakers for the sound system. A navigation system with touchscreen interface, voice controls and a digital audio card reader is available as an option on Sport models. A rear back up camera is not an option, however.

Despite its age, the Fit competes well against such newer subcompacts as the subcompacts as the Chevy Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Mazda2. In fact, it also competes well against Honda's own compact Civic. It is more fun to drive than any version of the Civic except the sporty Si, and has a more sensible dash layout, too.

If you're considering a economy car, by all means test the newest ones. But then drive a 2012 Honda Fit, too. You just might be surprised.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2012 Fit Sport.

• Manufacturer: Honda.

• Class: Subcompact.

• Layout: Front-motor, front-wheel-drive

• Styles: Five-door hatchback.

• Engines: 1.5-liter inline 4 cylinder (117 hp, 106 ft-lbs).

• Transmissions: Five-speed manual; five-speed automatic with Sport mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 27/33 (as tested); 28/35.

• Prices: Starting around $15,325 ($20,310 as tested).