2015 Honda Fit Hybrid: Forbidden Fruit Drive Report

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We've always liked the Honda Fit; the current 2013 model remains one of the better, more capacious, and most flexible subcompacts on the market even though it's now the oldest vehicle in its class.

That'll change with next spring's launch of the 2015 Honda Fit, at least one version of which will be rated at 36 mpg combined, the company says.

Not for us

But 10 days ago, in Japan, we drove a version of the Fit that's already on sale in Japan that will likely be forbidden fruit for North America: the Honda Fit Hybrid.

We only spent a total of about 10 minutes in the Fit Hybrid, which is hardly enough for comprehensive impressions.

But the hybrid Fit has been a huge sales success in Japan, where vehicle-tax rules heavily favor hybrids.

The new Fit Hybrid is the first car to use Honda's new and more powerful i-DCD single-motor hybrid system.

Electric-only launch

And as we found on our drive of prototype systems last year, the new system is powerful enough to launch the car on electricity and take it to 40 mph or so before the gas engine switches on.

Honda Fit Hybrid (Japanese domestic model), Honda Proving Grounds, Tochigi, Japan, Nov 2013

Honda Fit Hybrid (Japanese domestic model), Honda Proving Grounds, Tochigi, Japan, Nov 2013

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That stands in contrast to the many generations of Honda's previous Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) mild-hybrid system. The IMA system provided additional torque to complement engine output, but it couldn't move the car alone for more than a few seconds at a time--and not at all from a standstill.

The new i-DCD system--it stands for Dual Clutch Drive--uses an electric motor with a peak output of 22 kilowatts (30 horsepower), against the IMA system's 15 kW (20 hp). Honda engineers told us it could provide sustained torque of 96 lb-ft (130 Newton-meters) and roughly 1 second of peak torque at 118 lb-ft (160 Nm).

The motor is, again, sandwiched between the engine and transmission, but now that unit is a  seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT)--hence the "Dual Clutch" in the name i-DCD--rather than the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Honda previously used in its IMA hybrids.

Recaptured energy is stored in a 0.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the load bay just behind the rear seat. Unlike that of the Honda current Insight and CR-Z, however, the new Fit has a full-depth load bay.

Quiet operation

The first thing we noticed in the Fit Hybrid was its small shift wand on the console, which is remarkably (and deliberately?) reminiscent of the similar control in a Toyota Prius hybrid. Like the Prius, the "parking" mode is a button marked "P" rather than a position for the lever.

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