As pressure mounts on automakers to meet the impending 2016 CAFE fuel-economy standards, research and development of alternative-fuel vehicles has kicked into high gear. While modern advancements in internal-combustion engines will undoubtedly contribute to improved efficiency and emission reductions, it’s simply not enough to meet the stringent mileage regulations required of full-line auto manufacturers. With the hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity, Civic Natural Gas and a trio of hybrids already in the Honda family, adding a full battery-electric vehicle to the lineup appears to be the final piece to the puzzle. Enter the 2013 Honda Fit EV, a limited-production electric car boasting a respectable 82-mile range and the highest mpg-equivalency rating of any vehicle on the market.
Although it shares the majority of its framework with the conventional Honda Fit, several key revisions were made to the Fit EV in order to accommodate the electric drivetrain and help justify the sizable price premium. For starters, the existing torsion beam rear suspension largely occupied the space needed to fit the massive lithium-ion battery pack beneath the cabin floor. To remedy the fitment dilemma, Honda engineers outfitted the Fit EV with a fully independent multi-link rear suspension and raised the interior floor height by approximately three inches. Although overall interior volume suffers slightly due to the raised floor, rear-seat passengers are greeted with ample headroom and over three inches of additional legroom (more than a mid-size Ford Fusion). Other niceties offered exclusively for the Fit EV include an automatic climate-control system, Honda’s bio fabric seating surfaces, navigation-based traffic services, and heated front seats.
When we jumped into the driver’s seat, our eyes were immediately drawn to the prominent 3-mode drive system located behind the steering wheel. Since most multi-mode drive systems simply alter throttle response, we assumed the Fit EV’s setup offered more of the same. To our delight, we were wrong. Pressing one of the econ, normal or sport mode buttons adjusted the electric motor’s output to 47 kW, 75kW and 92kW, respectively. Instant torque is conceivably the most desirable performance characteristic of electric vehicles, and the Fit EV’s 92-kilowatt electric motor immediately delivers all 189 lb-ft of peak torque regardless of rpm. The "normal" driving mode provided strong off-the-line acceleration and acceptable passing power on the highway, while the "sport" setting made quick work of high-speed overtaking maneuvers and short onramps. Though it can improve driving range by nearly 17 percent, the 47kW "econ" mode felt reasonably underpowered and its lethargic performance seemed to irritate surrounding motors. As the roads began to meander, however, the Fit EV felt light on its feet and tackled sharp corners with the accuracy of its mainstream counterpart.
Once the battery is depleted, fully charging the Fit EV with the standard 120-volt power supply takes roughly 15 hours, while a 240-volt level 2 source (not included) requires only three hours. The charge port’s location on the driver’s-side front fender acts as a visible reminder to drivers as they enter and exit the vehicle to either unplug or recharge. The Fit EV can be charged manually or by schedule via the instrument cluster display, Honda’s ownership site or the new HondaLink EV smartphone app. With access to helpful tools like a remote climate control, battery state-of-charge information and a handy EV charging station map, Honda’s free EV app effectively takes some of the guesswork out of electric-vehicle ownership.
Honda plans to produce 1,100 copies of the Fit EV over the next few years. As a 3-year lease-only effort, the 2013 Honda Fit EV carries a zero-down, $389 per month lease. At the end of a lease term, 36 monthly payments calculate to a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $36,625. On the surface, the Fit EV's price looks excessive, but that price includes maintenance, collision coverage, annual navigation map updates, roadside assistance -- and, of course, three blissful years devoid of costly trips to the pump.