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2014 Honda Fit EV solves some issues, but range is still a problem

Our quick spin in the new 2014 Honda Fit electric vehicle convinced us that it has overcome all of the drivability issues of early EVs, but range is still a serious concern. Even buyers of city cars, who might choose a Fit may have trouble making this their only vehicle.

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The new 2014 Honda Fit is now on-sale, or on-lease more accurately, in selected markets in the US including the Northeast. At a recent auto-writers event we were lucky enough to have a chance to drive the Fit EV on public roads. This author has had a lot of real-life wheel time in the Fit gasoline version, knows the car very well, and likes it. If there is any bias on our part towards the Fit it would be in its favor. Here is the good news and the bad news.

The Honda Fit EV Could Not Be Less Expensive
A new Honda Fit lease will run you $259 per month. No money down, unlimited mileage, and that includes your car insurance (which is a value of about $500 per year). That is a great deal for any car this size, electric or not. It would seem that Honda is not looking at the Fit EV as a profit center, and perhaps ZEV credits make up some, or all, of its profit or break-even plan.

Driving the Honda Fit EV
Honda says in its advertisements for the Fit EV:
"The Fit has always been known for its nimble handling and the Fit EV is no exception. The Fit EV's low center of gravity and independent rear suspension provide an entertaining, all-electric ride. Think EVs are slow? Not this one. Using the same 92kW high-density coaxial electric motor as the much larger FCX Clarity, the Fit EV’s powerful acceleration is a treat for driving enthusiasts. Consider this: The gasoline engine in the Fit produces 106 lb-ft of torque. The Fit EV? Try 189. That's a 77% increase."

Based on our wheel time in the Fit EV we can tell you that this is 100% accurate. The Fit accelerates from a stop to about 40 smartly. After that things are a bit more sedate. At the suggestion of the Honda representative we drove the Fit in Sport mode. Use Standard or ECO and the accelerator becomes your nannie. There is no doubt this is an entertaining car. When starting from a stop sign and turning, the inside wheel will break loose and the will car peel out unless you are careful with the "throttle." It feels very tossable, and in the city this car will shine. The car is solid and has an obvious feel of quality.

Honda Fit EV Range
The “gas” gauge on the Fit EV looks like the one in the Fit gasoline car, but has a little electric symbol next to an icon of a gas pump. In the one we drove it was showing ¾ full. Next to that was a “Range 33 miles” indicator in words and numbers. We did some quick math and guestimated that at full charge that must mean the vehicle can go about 45 miles. That made no sense since the Fit EV advertises a significantly longer range, more like 82 miles according to the EPA. When we returned the car to the paddock we asked the Honda representative about this. He told us that the Fit EV is smart. It stores up driving habits and it then calculates the range based on that. The first quarter tank had been used by auto enthusiasts. They drive with a heavy foot and the EV adjusted its range calculation accordingly. Keep in mind we all drove on public roads, this was not instrument or track testing. It seems a bit unreasonable that the range can be nearly cut in half by one's driving style. If that were true of the EPA rating of gasoline cars it would be entirely meaningless. Furthermore, in EPA testing any device that affects improves performance and lowers mileage must be in the "On" position during all EPA testing. Therefore, the excuse that the Fit was in "Sport" mode should not be acceptable for this huge impact in range.

Honda Fit EV Range Limitations
A good friend of Torque News has a Fit gasoline car and she used it for many years to run around Providence RI as a city car where she both lived and worked. It was perfect for that. Having moved to a suburb of Boston, she now lets her au pair use it around town having moved up to a crossover for the now 30 mile commute to work in highway traffic. However, back in the Providence days she also used to occasionally take that car on much longer trips, for example to job interviews, or to hospitals in other New England cities where she occasionally worked. A Fit EV would not have worked for her in those instances. Thus, for this Fit owner, who lived and worked in the city and made mostly local trips of short distance, the EV could not be the only car she owned. It struck us that if that buyer can’t use the EV as their only vehicle, who really can?

Thinking this through a bit more it occurred to us that since she now lives just north of Boston and has friends in Providence, south of Boston, she could not use the Fit EV to make the round trip drive, as she often does. It also occurred to us that since she is now living in a condo with a shared parking lot, there would be no place for her to charge the EV, even if she were to keep it as a second car, like she now does the gasoline Fit. This is not an imaginary person, but the owner of the gasoline Fit that the author sometimes drives.

So the new Fit EV has overcome the drivability issues early Leafs and other early EVs had. It has a feeling of very high quality. It handles well, it accelerates nicely to about 40 MPH, and it is incredibly affordable. However, it still is hard to envision anyone owning a Fit EV, or any EV like it, as their primary or only vehicle, even if they are perfectly suited to the lifestyle of an EV owner. A range of 45 to 80 miles is simply not a reasonable compromise.

- Photo note– The Fit EV was not available for testing on day one of the two-day event. Instead, it stayed on the charger and was thus out of service. Photo by John Goreham

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