Small cars usually mean big compromises when it comes to balancing comfort, roominess, efficiency and sticker price. Since its introduction, the Honda Fit has been at the top of the list in offering an efficient package with an affordable MSRP that's also fun-to-drive. The 2015 Honda Fit EXL builds on that reputation by making the new model more substantial in looks, trim and equipment while offering better fuel economy at a price surprisingly close to the previous generation.

The big enabler in Honda's ability to offer more without a huge bump in price is the shift in the car's production from Japan to a new plant in Mexico. The lower costs in both labor and transportation are at the heart of the big improvements on offer.

Shorter, yet roomier

The 5-door Fit retains its cute bug eye styling, but in a slightly larger package that adds a sweeping character line to the side. This line not only gives the car a sense of forward motion, but its deep draw also makes the flanks of the car less slab sided and more muscular, which is important in a car that rides on a 99.6-inch wheelbase and measures 160 inches overall. While the wheelbase has grown by 1.2 inches and width by 0.3 inches, overall length is actually 1.6-inches shorter. The all-new platform underneath the car not only takes advantage of the extra wheelbase, but also repositions the 50/50 split rear seat to help boost that row's legroom by nearly 5 inches.

These new dimensions add to the feel of a more substantial vehicle. The front passengers have more elbow room and the rear seat offers the kind of space found in cars a class or two above. The 2015 Honda Fit also retains the previous model's center-mounted fuel tank, which pays huge dividends when it comes to hauling stuff. This allows for a low rear cargo deck and a folding rear seat as flexible as a circus contortionist. Fold the seat forward and the bottom cushion nests into the footwell allowing for a fold-flat cargo area. The bottom cushions can also be lifted up and secured against the seatback providing a tall load space behind the front seats and finally, the front seats can be reclined all the way back and form a bed with the rear seats for the so-called "Refresh" mode.

New Engine, Better Fuel Economy

Using direct injection, the all-new Earth Dreams 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 130 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque (up 23 horsepower and 8 lb-ft) driving the front wheels. Honda offers a choice of a CVT (with paddle shift-controlled steps for a sporty driving experience) and a 6-speed manual transmission. The CVT delivers 33 mpg city, 41 highway and a combined 36 mpg on the EPA cycle, a boost of five mpg in city and combined and six mpg highway over the previous model, which was equipped with a conventional 5-speed automatic. The manual transmission is rated at 29 mpg city, 37 highway for a combined of 32. These gains are more modest at a respective two, four and three mpg.

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Along with the new powertrain, Honda redesigned the suspension with a new strut-type setup in the front and an H-bar torsion beam in the rear. The slightly wider track and new suspension reinforces the feel that this car is more substantial than the model it replaces. Steering is light, quick and responsive; the car exhibits little in the way of roll. Because of the longer wheelbase, the ride is compliant for a car with such a short overall length.

Safety in a Small Package

Even though the Fit is Honda's entry level model, it offers a wide range of safety features including the Lane Watch system found on larger models that projects an image of the right side of the car in the center screen when the right turn signal is activated. The Fit also offers such features as a rearview camera, Hill Start Assist and a motion adaptive electric power steering that helps initiate turn-in in the proper direction when the vehicle stability assist detects oversteer or understeer.

With Lane Watch and backup cameras come either a 5.5-inch standard screen or on upmarket EX and EXL models, a 7-inch touchscreen. The screen is nestled in a dash covered with soft-touch materials, which also extend to the door panels. The interior has an upscale aura not usually associated with cars in this class. The outgoing model features only two trim levels, base and Sport/Sport Navi, while the 2015 Honda Fit starts with an LX model, with EX, EXL and EXL with Navi. The LX includes such new features for the base car as a rearview camera, the 5.5-inch screen and automatic headlamps. Pricing starts at $15,525 for a manual LX (the CVT is $800 more), an increase of just $100 over the previous base model. The EX, which replaces the Sport trim, is only $225 more and starts at $17,435 for the manual and $18,235 for the CVT with added content that includes the 7-inch screen, more powerful engine, auto headlamps and review camera. The EXL model, which is only offered with the CVT is $19,800, while the EXL Navi is priced at $20,800, just slightly more than the previous Sport Navi, which cost $19,970.

With the 2015 Fit, Honda has raised the bar in a segment that has some pretty tough competition in the Nissan Versa Note, Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2. It's no longer a question of settling for less, but rather settling for the best.

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