Has Honda lost its mojo?
There are some people who make the argument that it has. It seems that the company that produced products that were ostensibly the results of clever, committed engineering, not marketing studies and surveys, has come to a point where what it is putting on the market lacks that certain something that once characterized the company.
It is not entirely clear to me how a company that—let’s face it—is in business to make money, which means that it needs to compete, should create products that appeal, by and large, to a group largely consisting of people who would never actually buy a Honda, would stay in business if all it did was follow a path of automotive peculiarity in order to satisfy those who are looking for that mojo. (How, for example, did that route work out for Saab?)
That said, there are still plenty of uniquely Honda products out there. Like the CR-Z. And the Crosstour. And the Ridgeline. No mainstream manufacturer has anything to put truly head-to-head with vehicles like these.
Yes, the new Civic isn’t what some hoped it would be. And it will be refreshed sooner rather than later. And the Accord is getting long in the tooth. But it will be replaced before the year is out.
The engineers are still in the house. The manufacturing personnel haven’t forgotten how to work. And the designers haven’t’ taken a leave of absence.
The car that tells me more than any other that Honda still has it—je ne sais quoi—is the 2012 Fit Sport.
This little five-passenger car (four unless the fifth is little) is fun and functional. It has character and capability.
It has a base MSRP of $16,910 (throw in the $770 for destination and handling, and you’re good to go).
And it should be noted that cars like the Fit are generally bought by people who want value for money, the Fit was recently named by Consumer Reports as the best overall value compared to approximately 200 other vehicles—at all price points—that Consumer Reports assessed.
Clearly, the quality, reliability and durability mojo that defines Honda is there in spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs.
The Fit Sport has a freshened appearance, with a new front fascia and black headlight bezels to make it appear more up market. And inside there is a dark metallic dashboard, a dashboard that caused me to rethink this current obsession with “soft-touch” instrument panels. I don’t know about you, but generally when I am driving a car I have my hands on the wheel and, if as in the case of the Fit Sport I drove, the gearshift knob. The only time that I touch the instrument panel is when I am cleaning the inside of the windshield and the Windex obeys gravity. Through some evident though, the Fit interior designers have come up with an IP and gauge package that look technical. The people who molded and assembled the parts did so in a way where the edges are flush and flashless. Forget the soft-touch nonsense. (Although I’m willing to bet that the aforementioned Civic refresh and forthcoming Accord will have their share of more pliant polymers.)
The car is exceedingly roomy, with 20.6-cu. ft. of storage space. And there is the rear 60/40 Magic Seat that provides some origami-like functionality with little effort.
The car is powered by a 117-hp, 1.5-liter iVTEC four; the standard transmission is a five-speed manual, which, as mentioned, I drove. For zipping along around town it was ideal. When I was on the freeway I wished it had another gear. But you can’t sniff at an EPA 27/33/29 city/highway/combined mpg rating, a rating that I found readily achievable.
There are a MacPherson strut suspension in the front and a torsion beam suspension in the rear and electric power-assisted steering, so the chassis and suspension setup checks all the boxes.
Certainly, there are plenty of cars in this category. Plenty of good cars. Cars from essentially every make as people begin to start thinking hard about fuel efficiency again (according to the recent J.D. Power 2012 Avoider Study, gas mileage is now the most influential reason for purchasing a car).
But the Fit is a package that simply says Honda for all the right reasons.
Engine: 1.5-liter, i-VTEC
Materials: Aluminum block and head
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Horsepower: 117 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 106 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Wheelbase: 98.4 in.
Length: 161.6 in.
Width: 66.7 in.
Height: 60.0 in.
EPA: 27/33/29 mpg city/highway/combined