For many moons, Japanese automakers have dominated the compact and subcompact segments here in the United States and really, that is still very much the case with the 2015 Honda Fit being a top model in the diminutive segment. However, we have seen new models from Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, although the only subcompact in the Chrysler Group family tree is the Fiat 500.
The 2015 Fiat 500 and the 2015 Honda Fit are obviously two very different subcompact cars, with the Honda being a slightly larger 5-door hatchback that focuses on functionality while the Fiat is a 3-door hatchback that focuses more on fun-to-drive characteristics and Italian style. However, with both cars occupying the same basic price range, the Fiat 500 and the Honda Fit could appeal to the same buyer looking to spent around $22,000 so today I’m going to examine the pros and cons of each of these small, efficient hatchbacks.
First and foremost, for this comparison to work, the prospective buyer should be on the fence as to whether or not they really need the second set of doors and a spacious rear seat. If rear seating space and easy access to the rear seats are a high priority, then the Honda Fit is the easy pick here, but the rear seating space is less important, then the 500 Sport and the Fit are both great options when it comes to a $22,000 subcompact car.
For this comparison, we are looking at a 2015 Honda Fit EX-L with Navigation, which is the top of the line package with a price of $21,590 and it only comes fully loaded. The other subcompact in this $22,000 buyer’s comparison is a 2015 Fiat 500 Sport with the 5-speed manual transmission, leather seats, the comfort group with navigation and a sunroof, which carries a price of $22,300 – although if you remove the $1,100 sunroof, the price drops down to a very similar price to that of the loaded Fit.
The interior is where the 2015 Fiat 500 Sport and the 2015 Honda Fit differ the most, as the Honda has a longer wheelbase and an extra set of doors, making the rear seats much roomier and much easier to access. The back seat of the 500 Sport can accommodate two adults when the front seats have been moved up a bit, but the back seat of the Honda Fit can accommodate those same adults while still letting the driver and front passenger stretch their legs. Of course, in addition to having more rear leg room, the rear doors of the Fit make accessing those rear seats exponentially easier. If you frequently use your rear seat for larger cargo or adult passengers, the Fit is the better choice, but if the back seat really isn’t a big concern to you, the Fiat 500 should suit you just fine. I rarely use the back seat for anything other than my camera bag and when I do have my wife and kid in the car, he has no problem climbing into the back seat of the Fiat. However, I could see loading a baby into a child safety seat in the 500 being far more difficult than having a full rear door like the Fit.
If rear seating space and access isn’t a concern, these two $22k subcompacts offer very comparable comforts for the front seats. Both of these cars have heated leather front seats with plenty of leg, shoulder and head room for even very tall drivers. The seats of the 500 are a little sportier, conforming to the body a little more so if you like that feel, you might prefer the feel of the Fiat front seats while the Honda has a broader, softer seating surface.
In terms of cargo space, the Fit has a slightly larger rear cargo area than the 500. You can fold down the rear seats in both vehicles to make for a much larger area, but the Fit still has the advantage there as well.
The next key area where these two cars differ greatly is in the level of technology. The Honda Fit EX-L with navigation (shown above in black) comes with a big, bright touch screen infotainment package that integrates the sound system, the navigation software and the hands-free phone system. The Fiat 500 Sport (shown below with blue light) has a comparable sound system, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and navigation, but it has a traditional stereo head unit in the dash that includes phone system access with buttons on the steering wheel. Also, the Tom Tom navigation system is a component unit that plugs into the top of the dash so it is there when you want it, but you can stick it in the glove box when you do not. Overall, the functionality is similar, but the Honda has a much more high tech, all-in-one design that many consumers prefer so if you want the high tech look, the Fit is the better choice.
In terms of the interior, these similarly priced cars are vastly different. The Fiat 500 Sport has far less rear seating space and it lacks the high tech infotainment system. If you need that extra seating space or if you demand the cutting edge technology, the Honda Fit is the easy choice here. However, if you are happy with a simple radio and a cool component navigation system while not having any real need for the rear seating space, the Fiat 500 Sport has a comfortable, stylish cockpit.
The 2015 Honda Fit is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.5L 4-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower and 114lb-ft of torque, with that power being channeled to the front wheels via a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The 2015 Fiat 500 Sport is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.4L 4-cylinder mill that sends 101 horsepower and 98lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission, so the Honda has a significant advantage in power. However, the Fit is a couple hundred pounds heavier than the 500 Sport so when combined with the 5-speed manual transmission, the Fiat packs more fun to drive factor. Really, the Fiat feels much better than 101 horsepower and 98lb-ft of torque, with solid acceleration and the ability to be tossed through the turns. The Honda Fit would likely win the drag race, but the 500 is definitely the more fun to drive of the two $22k subcompacts.
Now, don’t get me wrong – the 2015 Honda Fit is a fun little car to drive, but compared to the Fiat 500 Sport with sport tuned suspension, the smaller overall form and the manual transmission, the 500 is definitely the more engaging “driver’s car”. Then again, someone who is more concerned about driving comfort than driving fun will likely prefer the ease of use with the Fit and while both of these cars offer a smooth ride on the open road, I would give the slight edge in ride quality to the Honda.
Finally, a key factor among most subcompact buyers is fuel economy and both of these cars are among the most efficient non-hybrid vehicles sold in the US. The 2015 Fiat 500 Sport offers figures of 31mpg in the city and 40mpg on the highway while the 2015 Honda Fit offers 32 in the city and 38 on the highway. During my time driving both of these vehicles, I recorded better fuel economy from the Fiat with the same basic drive cycle that consisted of 60% highway and 40% city.
In the end, both the 2015 Fiat 500 Sport and the 2015 Honda Fit offered solid ride quality, but even with less power, the Fiat offers the more engaging driving experience. As someone who really enjoys driving, I preferred the drive of the 500 Sport over that of the Honda Fit, but when you consider the fact that the $22k 500 Sport comes with a manual transmission, a prospective buyer who wants to stick to their budget without having the shift their own gears, the Honda Fit is definitely the easier of the two for daily driving.
The Final Word
So which $22,000 subcompact do you buy? Well, as mentioned more than once above, if seating or cargo space is a key concern, the Honda Fit is likely the better buy and if you cannot drive a manual transmission, the Fiat 500 will cost you an extra grand for an automatic transmission, possibly putting it out of your price range. However, if you want a car that offers more entertaining driving dynamics, has a manual transmission for gear-banging fun and offers slightly better fuel economy (based on my experiences), the Fiat 500 Sport is the better choice for you. Both of these cars are great options for $22,000, but the Honda Fit offers more every day functionality while the Fiat 500 Sport offers more fun to drive factor and better fuel economy.