It's been more than 2 and a half years since we first drove Honda's remarkable Fit. This took place at Honda's R&D center in Tochigi, Japan. Needless to say, we came away very impressed with the Fit's incredible packaging, upmarket interior, and high levels of refinement and quality.
First introduced to the Japanese market in 2001, the Fit was an immediate hit. It was such a success that it became the first Honda model to ever top Japan's annual sales charts with over 250,000 units delivered during its first full selling year. Badged as the Jazz in Europe (and a few other markets), the Jazz/Fit has earned numerous awards across the globe, including Japan's 2002 Car of the Year, AutoExpress Magazine's 2002 Car of the Year, UK award, BBC Top Gear Magazine's 2004 Best Supermini Award, and AutoExpress's2004 Best Build Quality Award.
Shortly after our first drive in the Fit in Japan, we learned that the Fit was headed our way. At that point, little was known about the specifics of the Fit that was bound for our shores, but over the subsequent months, we managed to pick up little pieces of info here and there. Perhaps the most surprising piece of info that we learned was that the US-model Fit would be based upon the existing design. Given the timing of the US-launch, it was difficult for many of our readers to believe that that this could be true. With Honda's typical 5-year model cycle for high volume cars, bringing a car to the US market in its 6th year of the cycle didn't make a lot of sense. To top it off, the next-generation Fit is said to be ready for a Japanese launch within the next year or so. So if you're wondering why Honda is launching the North American Fit so late in the model cycle, we're right there with you. In the current climate of soaring gas prices and $20,000 Civics, we can only speculate that Honda decided they couldn't afford NOT to sit out this segment for any longer.
While the entry subcompact market has been stagnant for many years, analysts project a healthy growth cycle for the foreseeable future. The Korean automakers have been the only constants in this segment over the last decade - most other automakers have been busy trying to sell larger, more profitable vehicles, such as gas-swilling SUVs. Now that $100 fillups are becoming increasingly common in some of these behemoth SUVs, econoboxes are suddenly making more sense and automakers are looking back to subcompacts to keep their sales numbers somewhat aloft. At the moment, the entire segment is pretty small by industry standards; the top selling models move fewer than 10,000 units/month, but that doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent for the newcomers. Chevy (by way of either Suzuki or Daewoo) has been dabbling in the entry econo market for a while, but with the Aveo they have a surprisingly credible competitor, and its relatively strong sales performance in 2005 places them at the top of the segment. Toyota's last venture into this segment - their weeble wobbly-looking Echo - was met with failure. To rinse that taste out of their mouth, they've dumped the Echo and have just launched their all-new Yaris - offered in 3-door hatchback and 4-door sedan flavors. Nissan will be jumping into the fray soon with their Versa model. Honda initially announced plans to sell around 50,000 Fits annually but have since revised that down to 38,000-42,000, citing supply issues. 50,000 doesn't sound like a big number, but after a glance at the actual sales figures in this segment, it may have been a bit ambitious, particularly since the MSRP of the Fit places it at the pricier end of the spectrum.