September 5, 2012

News & Features

Auto review: Honda Fit EV plays hard to get

New York Times News Service

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The Honda Fit EV is only available as a three-year lease in limited markets. (Honda)

As the original owner of a fuel-frugal 2007 Honda Fit that has largely justified my faith in it, I've long wanted to get behind the wheel of its even more environmentally friendly electric sibling, the 2013 Fit EV. Honda didn't make it easy for me, by restricting distribution to just 1,100 cars for the 2013 and 2014 model years and making them available initially only in California and Oregon. But with the Fit EV coming to the New York metropolitan area next spring, I was able to snare a few days in an electric-blue test car.

The low production numbers suggest that Honda is building the Fit EV primarily to comply with the demand of California regulators that mass-market automakers build some zero-emission vehicles. Even so, a lot of thought went into building the car.

The Fit EV is nicely packaged. The lithium-ion battery pack is under the floor, so there's no significant intrusion into the cabin or cargo area. The rear seats fold but, alas, the EV lacks the "magic seat," which easily folds in various ways, that makes the regular Fit so versatile. The Fit EV can seat five, with good rear legroom for a car of its size.

2013 Honda Fit EV
  • What is it? A battery version of the popular subcompact hatchback.
  • How much? $389 a month in a three-year lease. There is no purchase option.
  • What makes it run? Coaxial electric motor with a maximum output of 92 kilowatts, coupled to a relatively small 20-kilowatt-hour Toshiba battery pack.
  • What's the range? The EPA's "real world" estimate is 82 miles in combined city and highway driving. The EPA also rates the car at the electric equivalent of 118 mpg combined. Results will vary considerably depending on how you drive.
  • How long to recharge? At 240 volts, less than three hours from the "low charge" indicator (15 percent of range remaining).
  • Alternatives: Nissan Leaf SL, $38,100 before a $7,500 federal income tax credit; the Leaf can be leased for three years at $369 a month. Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE, $31,975 (before the federal tax credit).

At a glance, the Fit EV seems to lack the lavish Internet-inspired dashboard displays of the Leaf or the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. But the car conveys much of the same information in a low-key way. For example, the Leaf uses a graphic display to reveal how much power the accessories are drawing. In the Fit EV, blue lights remind you that the air conditioning or other systems are on, sucking up electrons.

For the range-anxious — nearly everyone who will drive this car — the remaining miles are displayed in a numeric digital readout and a conventional gauge with a charger icon. Their opinions sometimes seem to differ slightly. A power-charge indicator shows whether the batteries are adding power or losing it.

The three drive modes — Sport, Normal, Econ — are color-coded. If you punch the Econ button, the dash lights up in feel-good-about-yourself green; if you choose the sporting option, a red glow warns you that you're living dangerously, at least so far as the car's range is concerned.

Luckily, this electric car makes it easy to hoard miles. Selecting Econ mode and shifting into B (for braking) may not yield the fastest acceleration, but it certainly conserves energy. The B setting maximizes regenerative braking while enabling one-pedal driving; when you lift off the accelerator the car slows right down, sending power to the batteries and adding miles of travel.

Driving in Sport mode uses the motor's full 92-kilowatt output (equivalent to 123 horsepower) and provides acceleration that matches or at least comes close to the gasoline version of the car. It was fun to grab onto the instant 189 pound-feet of torque that makes acceleration to 30 mph so exhilarating. But the rapidly fading range — in a flash, 104 miles became 84 — soon had me back in Econ mode, which makes 63 horsepower. In any mode, the Fit's inherently good handling is enhanced by the EV's low center of gravity.

I made a game of staying ahead of the range curve, with stop-and-go traffic offering a good opportunity to add regenerated power to the battery pack. On a night out that included a folk concert at the town hall in Newtown, Conn., I covered 36 miles even though the range indicator dropped by only 15 miles. The 18-mile return trip was mostly downhill, which enabled lots of coasting and so much regenerated energy that I arrived home with 74 miles of range left — exactly what I'd had when I left Newtown.


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