10/1/2008 | 4 MINUTE READ

Honda's Fit is Trim

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Though slightly larger, roomier, and more powerful than before, the 2009 Fit combines sportiness and refinement in a package with global reach.


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"Our main focus for the second generation Fit was to increase its sportiness and utility, as well as its interior and exterior refinement," says Kohei Hitomi, Large Project Leader, Honda R&D. Another goal was to retain the outgoing car's packaging efficiency and fun-to-drive appeal without significantly increasing its size or hurting its fuel efficiency. As Hitomi's team discovered during the development process, the global market for cars like the Fit (also known as the Jazz in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia) are starting to converge. "High gas prices in North America are causing older buyers to downsize into more fuel-efficient vehicles with a premium feel," says Jeff Swedlund, Fit senior product planning manager, American Honda, "while younger buyers are attracted by cars that are both cool looking and unique." Adopting Lee Iacocca's dictum that, "You can sell a young man's car to an old man, but you can't sell and old man's car to a young man," the development team combined premium materials and features with a youthful-but-useful form language.



Design could not drive the development process, however, as Hitomi faced a world in which people are getting larger and the roads they drive on more crowded. "This required us to simultaneously increase the airiness of the interior, improve crash performance, and increase the car's dynamic abilities," he says.

The new Fit is 60-in. tall, the same as the previous model, but the wheelbase is stretched by 1.9-in. (to 98.4 in.), 0.5-in. is added to overall width (interior width is up 1.2-in.), and the overall length is up 4.2-in. to accommodate a more robust front structure, U.S. bumper and headlight requirements, and to give the nose a sportier slope than its Japanese and European counterparts. (When shown a model with a shorter nose, people in a clinic told Hitomi's team the car looked like a minivan.) The engineering team also discovered it could use the increased length to get a longer crash stroke in order to comply with U.S. regulations that require testing with unbelted occupants.



Inside, the goal was to provide maximum space, actual and perceived. For example, the base of the windshield is 4.7-in. further forward; the steering wheel is rotated back 3° and has a tilt-telescope function to accommodate a wide variety of driver sizes and shapes; the A-pillars are 0.8-in. slimmer; and the front quarter windows are three times larger than before for better forward visibility. Rear seat passengers in the second-generation Fit have a 0.8-in. wider lower seat cushion to sit on, a 0.6-in. taller seatback, and 0.71-in. more leg room. And, despite the rear seat sitting 0.6-in. higher, rear seat headroom is 0.4-in. greater.



The front body rigidity of the '09 Fit is increased a whopping 164% compared to the previous model. This is due in part to an increase in the use of high-tensile strength steel from 40% to 54%, as well as to a redesigned structure. The '09 uses Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) front body structure. This allowed engineers to straighten the front side rails, add a lower member that is joined to the front frame structure, and to use a fully boxed front bulkhead. In addition, the larger cross-section side rails are made from thinner gauge steel but supplemented by a new center rail and a side-sill extension that is formed via draw-press molding to eliminate the former design's seam and add rigidity.

Bushings for rear suspension's trailing arms feed their loads into the side wall of the mid-body cross member, and a stiffener has been added to connect the rear damper mount to the tailgate's perimeter frame to improve vertical rigidity. Says Hitomi: "The trailing arms are longer to reduce the tendency for the torsion beam to rise under cornering, and the spring lever ratio is lower." Both the rear roll steer and roll camber geometry have been altered, and the front MacPherson struts have had their mounting points realigned so the lower compliance bushings are on the same axis as the front suspension arm bushing to improve initial compliance. Also, the electrically assisted 13.8:1-ratio steering box is both more rigid and more rigidly mounted to give a crisper feel. The brakes, 10.3-in. discs in front and 7.9-in. drums in the rear, feature standard four-wheel ABS, electronic brake force distribution, and—on Sport models fitted with the navigation system—electronic stability control.



Like its predecessor, the Fit's 1.5-liter four-cylinder is a single overhead cam design, supplemented by the addition of Honda's iVTEC variable valve timing system. This two-stage system varies intake valve timing and lift between high- and low-speed settings, thus optimizing valve overlap. The previous system, on the other hand, deactivated half of the intake valves to create swirl in the combustion chamber to increase torque output below 3,400 rpm. Larger 28-mm intake valves boost valve surface area by 4%. The L-shaped primary rocker arms are made of a proprietary aluminum mix that is 20% stronger than before, and, like the piston connecting rods, are fracture-split.. The exhaust manifold is an integral part of the cylinder head, and the close-coupled catalyst is designed to tolerate higher temperatures. Engine output has increased to 117 hp @ 6,600 rpm and 106 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm, and both the manual and automatic gearboxes have five forward speeds.