With an electrified version of its Fit hitting the market later this summer, Honda is finally entering the big league EV game.
Well, kind of.
The Fit EV is part of a calculated and conservative approach Honda is taking to answering the"what comes next" question of vehicle propulsion. Instead of shooting for the mainstream as Nissan has done to mixed results with its high volume Leaf, Honda's shoehorned-in EV powertrain will reach only a handful of consumers over the next couple of years. Ford is essentially forging the same path with its Focus Electric.
Residents of certain California and Oregon markets will be able lease (not buy) Fit EVs beginning in late July and Honda will eventually offer the car to an undisclosed number of East Coast markets running from Washington, D.C., to Boston next year. If you're in flyover country, you're out of luck since just 1,100 Fit EVs are planned as part of this trial.
Those who do get the opportunity to write $389 checks to Honda every month for three years will get what's neck-and-neck with the Focus Electric as the best EV on the market at the moment, however.
Stylistically, its aero kit's revised fascias and its exclusive (and mandatory) blue shade won't attract much attention, which exemplifies the â€œstart with what we've gotâ€ approach the automaker has taken to electrification. Inside, the Fit EV is differentiated only by eco-friendly fabrics and a slightly higher floor, which actually works well since the standard gas-powered Fit has Stetson-worthy headroom. Like the Focus Electric, the big changes are not immediately visible.
Though the Fit itself is starting to feel a little dated, its taut suspension and communicative steering haven't been watered down with the arrival of a 92 kW (124 horsepower) electric motor and a 20 kWh lithium ion battery. In fact, the underfloor battery's affect on the Fit's center of gravity makes the subcompact five-door feel a little more planted in everyday driving.
But the real surprise is in the Fit EV's acceleration. Three powertrain modes with distinct power outputs - Sport, (92 kW), Normal (75 kW, or 100 horsepower) and Econ (47 kW, or 63 horsepower) - are accessible by switches next to the steering wheel to alter the electric motor's maximum power output. Like all EVs, torque is really the order of the day, and the Fit EV's 189 lb-ft. is found as soon as the throttle is tapped. The result isn't neck-snapping acceleration, but what's there is remarkably smooth and linear, enabling the small car to feel more than adequate in Normal and Sport modes. Econ mode will certainly save some battery charge, but it makes the Fit feel poky enough to elicit a honks from drivers in more of a hurry.
A detent on the automatic transmission lever (Fit EV has a single-speed gearbox) dramatically increases engine braking for hilly terrain. We found that it gave the throttle a golf cart-worthy on/off feel that some drivers might actually enjoy in normal driving. Improved regenerative brakes boast a more natural feel than most EVs and hybrids.
A numbers game
Like all EVs, the Fit's range varies by road conditions. Honda suggests that range drops around 10 percent in Sport mode but increases 17 percent in Econ. Left in Normal, the Fit should go 82 miles in mixed driving according to the EPA, and its overall, government-calculated mpg-equivalent figure is 118 mpg-e. Of course, that doesn't mean that the Fit EV can actually go 118 miles on a single charge; the EPA's measurements compare EV distances traveled to energy that would have been used to burn a gallon of gasoline. It's good math, even if it's not necessarily consumer-friendly given the small sample size of comparison vehicles.
A 6.6 kW quick charger gives the Fit EV the fastest charging time of any major automaker EV â€“ just three hours for a battery that's mostly depleted. Included with the Fit EV is a key fob remote with a 100 foot range that will allow drivers to pre-cool their cars and also check charging status. Smartphone users can download the HondaLink EV app that will show the battery's state, available range, the location of nearby EV charging stations and more.
In addition, Honda is throwing in collision insurance for the duration of the Fit EV's lease, which should save lessees around $50 to $100 per month. Honda is very much using the Fit EV as a trial run, so it wants to keep close tabs on the 1,100 cars it plans to lease over the next couple of years.
Leftlane's bottom line
Honda concedes that the Fit EV isn't meant to be the silver bullet that satisfies the motoring world's need to look beyond gas-powered cars, but we think its plan to lease just a handful of these impressive EVs is entirely too conservative.
The Fit EV doesn't rewrite the book on electrification, but its combination of drivability and currently class-leading figures on the things that should matter to EV buyers - namely, range and charging time - make it a contender that should be offered on the mass market. That it's surprisingly enjoyable to pilot is an added bonus hopefully not lost on most EV buyers.
2013 Honda Fit EV lease price, $389 per month (includes collision insurance).
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.