Honda will again take aim at Toyota with variants of its third-generation Fit now in hybrid form and replete with new design language and improved one-motor hybrid drive system.
The car will be in U.S. showrooms “as early as next year” according to Automotive News, and in Japanese showrooms by this September. Regular gas varieties of the Fit will be available at U.S. dealers by next summer.
The new hybrid system is called Sport Hybrid Intelligent-Dual Clutch Drive and is said to boost fuel economy by 30 percent over the outgoing Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system used in present Honda hybrids.
Specifically, the Fit Hybrid is said to reach 86 mpg on the liberal Japanese cycle and this rivals the 83 mpg that the Toyota Prius c – known in its home market as the Aqua – achieves in Japan. U.S. EPA testing has not been done yet.
Honda intends to build the car closer to its point of consumption, and in America’s case, that means its new assembly plant in Celaya, Mexico, which will go online in Spring 2014.
Honda does not expect to build the hybrid version of the standard Fit five-door, but the U.S. is to receive hybrid versions of a Fit-based small crossover and sedan.
Powering the system will be a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine along with 22-kw electric motor channeling power through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
Transcending the present IMA systems, the hybrid Fit can go 1.9 miles at up to 31 mph in electric-only mode.
The hybrid will share design features with regular internal combustion varieties offered with a 1.3-liter port injection or 1.5-liter direct injected Earth Dreams engine.
The new global design language also gets a far-out name, Exciting H Design.
On the outside, the look features more creases and fewer rounded edges, and is intended to spice up the package with a sleeker appearance.
“We wanted a more emotional contrast in the design,” said Toshinobu Minaminami, global exterior design chief in Japan. “The character line captures the contrast of a round shape being pierced. The back end is sportier, the hood more pronounced. The interior isn’t plasticky at all.”
Inside, the company says it applied lessons learned on its flagging Civic which looked comparatively plasticky. The new Fit interior thus was designed to look less busy, more upscale, and features higher grade materials, a simpler layout and attention-grabbing high-tech center stack.
When turned off, the car’s center stack appears to be a sheet of black glass. But it comes to life when the car is turned on and electrostatic-control buttons control all functions from heating and cooling to navigation and audio.
The large touch screen works on the same principle of a smartphone and it dominates the vertical plane of the center console in the altogether more polished car.
“We aren’t going to take the attitude, ‘This is our cost, so make an interior that matches it,’” said interior designer Yoshinori Asahi. “My job is set high targets and achieve them with low-cost technologies. If you don’t do this, design quality deteriorates. I think that was the problem with Civic.”
Outside the new Fit features wrap-around LED tail lights, and a “solid wing face” grille with headlights merging into the grille.
Dimensions are roughly the same as the present Fit, with the wheel base stretching close to one inch.
The new Fit is the first of a revamped global product development strategy that aims to better tailor vehicles to local markets and regional manufacturing abilities.
Honda expects the Mexico plant to produce 200,000 Fits and Fit crossovers annually for North America.
This year, the gasoline-powered Fit sold 25,541 units in the half of 2013, up 5 percent from the year before, and there is no hybrid version here at present.
Last month Toyota sold 3,442 Prius c models and 20,575 year to date. Honda has sold respectively, Civic Hybrid: 568 in June, 3,141 this year; CR-Z Hybrid: 393 in June, 2,415 this year; Insight Hybrid: 384 in June, 2,362 this year.
Pricing has not been announced hut Honda expects about a 10-percent surcharge over regular Fits when the car is released next year.
Honda’s intent is to make its present record a memory. The new Fit Hybrid looks promising on paper, so we shall see.