This week was the Washington DC Auto Show. One day before the show opens to the public they have Public Policy/Press days which as an exhibitor I got to attend. Upon arriving for press day I spotted a blue Honda Fit that I knew immediately had to be the Fit EV. I also knew they usually give test drives during press day so I eagerly headed to the Honda booth to inquire about a test drive. Sure enough they were offering test drives and I was going to be the first person of the day to drive it, which was a little disconcerting since it was already 3 o’clock, how could I be the first! I also soon found out that I would graciously be behind the wheel of the ONLY Fit EV on the East Coast!
Unique EV Features in the Fit
I hopped straight in and took a moment to figure out every little feature that the Fit offered. One of the first and most important things you will notice when behind the wheel is that the Fit EV offers 3 different driving modes. These are located on the left side of the dash near the base of the steering column. The first mode is sport mode and it will tell the vehicle controller to provide more current to the motor for faster acceleration. The second mode is normal that is a balanced mode. The third mode is an Econ mode that tells the controller to conserve the most power by limiting the current to the motor so that acceleration is much slower but the benefit of this mode is that it will extend the driving range of the vehicle. I could see myself switching between these modes at different times while driving around the city.
Every mode offers 189 ft-lbs of instantaneous torque from 0 to cruising speed where the torque will usually roll off in an AC induction motor. This always available torque is what makes driving an EV such a blast.
Let’s talk about the most fun mode first! Sport mode allows the vehicle to reach 123 horsepower out of the motor or basically the max output of the AC induction motor. When you press the Sport mode button the whole dash lights up and turns from innocent green to a menacing, “You’re About to Enjoy Yourself” bright red! The other thing you will notice is that the gauges have changed. Most interestingly, the typical “Output” gauge that is provided on most all modern EVs that shows the driver when they are pulling energy from the battery pack or pushing energy back into the battery pack via regen.
We have all seen this gauge before, the needle moves into one range while driving and goes the opposite way when putting on the brakes. Well when you push the Sport mode button this gauge adds a second layer so to speak. The Sport gauge tells you how much further past the Normal mode you can push the vehicle’s ability to pull energy from the battery and deliver it to the motor for pure excitement’s sake! This nifty second layer may only be showing you the additional 23 hp you get above Normal mode but there is something slight psychological about seeing that extra “capability” being there when you want it! Also you will notice that the available range of the vehicle lowers when you put the car in Sport mode, this is because the on-board software is assuming you will be driving like a crazy person in sport mode by either accelerating super fast and/or driving at high speeds. Both of these assumed actions will lower the range of the vehicle so Honda did the right thing by letting you know first visually that if you want to drive in this mode it “MAY” limit you to this range. I bet that you could have the vehicle in Sport mode and hypermile it all you want and get the max range out. I don’t see anything that is actively taking more energy from the battery pack in this mode, it’s just allowing you to do more in this mode. The Fit EV owners website states the Sport mode also enhances the steering of the vehicle. Someone out there feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I will talk more in depth about range a little later in this review.
The Normal driving mode will limit the motor’s horsepower to a max of 100 hp. This is the mode the vehicle defaults to at start up and will probably be the mode most people travel in. The dashboard lights up white and states that it is in normal mode.
The Econ mode will limit the motor’s horsepower to a max of 63 hp. The dashboard will display a little green tree when in Econ mode and you build trees much like the Leaf does and the car saves your score every time you turn it off. The display remains green when in Econ mode but if you drive very inefficiently the dash lights will fade to white to indicate the level of inefficiency you are driving at. During the test drive I could feel the vehicle was slower to respond when in Econ mode as it should be. This helps those drivers with a lead foot not to be speeding away from red lights and in turn draining their battery pack before they know what happens. I would also say that I felt more of a regen pull on the vehicle when I let off the accelerator in Econ mode. I am a huge proponent of allowing EV owners to adjust their own amounts of regeneration. I wish the Fit EV had used the Audi E-tron’s paddle shifters that don’t shift but actually allow the driver to adjust the amount of regen they want the vehicle to apply. Which leads me to the next topic…
One of the next things you will notice upon sitting in the vehicle is the gear shifter. EVs don’t have gears per se in the typical fashion of most ICE vehicles. The Honda Fit EV has the usual P for parking, R for reverse, N for neutral, D for drive. Yet there is one difference which is B, and to my understanding B can be used for regenerative braking. The manual states that B is to be used when going down long steep hills much like you would put your gas car into a lower gear in the same instance. But I was also able to put the car into B while approaching a red light at about 25mph and half a block to the red light and the car almost came to a complete stop without me using any mechanical brakes. This might be useful for those serious hypermilers out there. Just be wary that there is, to my knowledge, no way for the vehicles behind you to know that you are regenning to a stop. There should be some feature on every EV that either slightly flashes or activates the brake lights to allow traffic behind you to realize you are slowing down.
When you check out the battery gauge you will see a nifty feature
I haven’t seen on other EVs yet and that is the gauge will report how much energy other equipment in the vehicle is using. (Update 02/13/12 22:20pm: I was informed that the Leaf can show the same statistics in the Information Screen on the navigation unit, I should pay more attention!) The battery gauge has the typical Full to Empty needle on the right but on the left is a new light up gauge that shows how much power the Heat or AC is using on the top half. The bottom half shows how much all the other accessories are using. The indicators you see in the picture I took was when the heat was on and I also turned the headlights on to show the “others” section light up. Once I turned off the heat and the head lights then all the indicators went off. I should have seen if the reported range increased when I turned the heat off but I failed to do that.
I believe that when I got into the vehicle it had a full charge. I took the vehicle for a 20 minute or so loop around the convention center and then parked it back where I started. I then snapped all the pictures you see in this article. I was shocked to see that I moved the needle on the range so much by such a short drive. Now granted, due to high winds that day, the temperature outside felt much cooler than the 45 degrees indicated on the dash board, so temperature could have played a small role in diminishing the remaining range. What played a bigger role, I believe, was the fact that I was gunning this car in Sport mode repeatedly because I wanted to feel the responsiveness of the car! This, in turn, sucked a lot of juice out of the battery pack. The first time I heard about the Fit EV I remember hearing that the range was going to be 125 miles. I don’t believe that made it to the production version. At least Honda will not say that is the EPA range; to my disappointment, Honda now claims an EPA range of 82 miles. Which is actually higher than the EPA-rated range of both the Nissan LEAF (73 miles) and the Ford Focus EV (76 miles). We all know that we can get more range out of the vehicle than the stated EPA range, so on a full charge expect to see the range above 100 miles! [Update (2/14/12 13:37): Just to clarify this statement, I am saying that certian people might be able to hypermile and regen enough to “possibly” get to that magic 100 mile range. I have also heard reports of people charging the Honda fit, and in the right conditions, the vehicle actually reports to them a range at or over 100 miles. But to be on the safe side, do no purchase this expecting to always get over 100. One should only expect the manufatures rated range of 82 miles!]
The Fit can also fully charge in 3 hours due to its 6.6 KW 32-amp on-board charger. The Fit has a combined mileage rating of 118 MPGe, which is the most efficient of all the cars available for sale to consumers in America.
Interesting discrepancies! How come the battery needle only moved a little bit, but the dash said I had only 47 miles of range left in Normal mode? Did I tell you that the car comes with a nifty keychain that tells you the state of charge of the Fit EV, as well as allowing you to control the heat/AC? I find it rather interesting that the key fob told me that I had 93% of my range left. Now if 82 miles of range is EPA’s estimate at 100% state of charge, then 93% of 82 should mean that I have 76 miles of range left, but the car actually reported 47 estimated miles remaining in normal mode. This could just be a beta bug, because the key fob actually crashed on me and reported an error when I tried to adjust the climate controls with it. Still, the battery gauge needle doesn’t look to be reporting 47 miles either, if I looked at that gauge I would think ~70+ miles easily. I hope this is all just to be on the cautious side of things. I am sure that us EV enthusiasts will get an OBD II battery pack read-out anyway, because we are nerdy like that. You would think Honda would include an option to display something like that, and maybe I didn’t get time to play around with all the information available.
The first thing I noticed as I put the Fit in gear and released the brake was more noticeable creep than has been available in other EVs. Creep is what happens in a gas car that is idling and you let off the brake, it will slowly inch forward. This is very helpful if you are on a hill so that the car does not roll backwards into traffic. The Fit just had a more noticeable amount of creep. I think it was telling me to come on, push the pedal and have some fun! So I did, I gunned it, and it shot out of the parking space – and that was in normal mode! The vehicle drives very smoothly and it feels light and nimble. I took the first left turn I made at a light rather fast, and it just hugged the corner with only the slightest roll. The suspension felt great, and with the lower center of gravity offered by the placement of the battery pack, this EV can handle! I pushed the Sport mode button and then the pedal and was amazed at the sheer zippyness of this car. It won’t throw you back like a Model S, but it feels quicker than the Ford Focus I test drove. The Focus has slightly less torque but it weighs 388 lbs more than the Fit, which is a smaller profile vehicle, so all that torque can get you moving faster than the Focus. I needed the brakes a few times while driving in Sport mode, and they worked flawlessly. The Fit’s brakes do not have that awkward pillow and then jolt feel that the first LEAFs had. The Focus had strong brakes but they came on quick and just didn’t seem to have that window of regen before the mechanical brakes took over. There was a very seamless feel to the brakes in the Fit and they, along with regen controls, offer a smooth stop or as need be a powerful stop.
After having my fun with Sport mode I put the Fit into Econ mode and was surprised that it didn’t feel very hampered in DC traffic being in this mode. I expected a much more noticeable drop in performance but that just didn’t happen. It handled the traffic of DC’s busy streets without a problem. Sure, it won’t accelerate like mad in Econ mode, but you wont be doing that going from stop light to stop light. What Econ mode offered was a perfect way to maximize range on busy city streets. There was more noticeable regen in this mode than the other modes.
Outside the Vehicle
On the outside the vehicle looks like a normal Fit.
The charging port is easily accessible on the driver’s side of the car. The car charges via a Level 2 charging port which is SAE J1772. I would assume the vehicle comes with an additional 110 volt adapter for level 1 charging from your typical wall outlet.
There is no level 3 charging, but when you can roughly gain 16 miles per 30 minutes of charge time at Level 2 there really isn’t a need for it!
This EV is about the same size as a Nissan Leaf. I felt that the outside of the vehicle seemed smaller than a Leaf
but I am not sure that a drive or passenger could tell that they had any less room than being in a Leaf. I can tell you that the driver’s seat felt just a roomy as the driver seat of a Nissan Leaf. UPDATE (02/13/12 22:10): I was able to find out that the Nissan Leaf has an interior passenger volume of 92.4 cubic feet while the Fit EV has a passenger volume of 89.3 cubic feet. I am not sure that I or my passengers would notice the missing 3.1 cubic feet.
The Fit EV is basically the same vehicle as the gas Fit. However, there aren’t many compromises that were made to convert the gas Fit into an EV. I was told that the battery pack actually fills a void where the fold down seats would disappear into the floor of the gas version of the Fit. So the Fit EV seats don’t actually stow away, they just fold down. The gas Fit has 4 different seat configurations, one of those being Tall mode that allowed the seats to fold up and out of the way giving four feet of space from floor to ceiling. Since the battery back fills the natural void in the cars seating design, there is no loss of trunk space/storage area. Having an EV be adapted from a production gas car has its pluses and minuses. The big plus being that it is cheaper for Honda to produce the car that way, and thus cheaper for you to own! The auto show was showing a sticker price of $36,600 before a federal tax credit of $7,500 and any other state discounts. Honda is also advertising a 3 year lease of $389 a month with only tax and title down. This lease includes collision insurance, maintenance costs, and road side assistance should you need it. Sounds like a sweet deal if you ask me!
Test Drive Conclusions
The Fit EV is one of the most fun EVs that I have taken on a test drive, and I have driven almost all EVs on the market. It’s a lot of EV in a small package, which makes it a blast to drive. It has great handling with a low center of gravity. The acceleration is good enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. There could be some competition in this space from the upcoming Fiat 500e, which has a 24 kWh battery and a 111 horsepower electric motor that delivers 147 ft-lbs of torque, all in a small 3,000 lb package which is 252 lbs lighter than the Fit. The 500e might be just as fun to drive and I will let you know as soon as I get a chance to take one on a test drive!
The short and sweet of it is that this vehicle is super fun and enjoyable to drive, and it’s currently #1 on my list of the EVs that I want to be driving now. I am keeping an eye out on any good leasing opportunity in the Washington D.C. area. (I can’t afford a Model S right now!)
Check out Honda’s Fit EV webpage for more info
Written by Eric Cardwell
Vice-President and Chief Test Driver