Honda Fit Hybrid (Japanese domestic model), Honda Proving Grounds, Tochigi, Japan, Nov 2013Enlarge Photo
The gasoline Fits, on the other hand, have more conventional chrome shift levers.
On a Honda test course that includes stops and starts, a long, straight acceleration section, some sharp bends, and a coast-down section, the Fit Hybrid spent perhaps 20 percent of its time in electric-only mode.
We drove Japanese-market right-hand-drive production cars, some of which we later saw coming off the production line at Honda's Yorii assembly plant, part of the larger Saitama factory complex.
New & previous generations of Honda Fit, Honda Proving Grounds, Tochigi, Japan, Nov 2013Enlarge Photo
The new Fit is quieter inside than the old one, and while we heard some whining from the motor on deceleration when it acted as a generator, the engine switched off and on almost imperceptibly. Honda's done a very good job with noise suppression and vibration damping there.
The most noticeable reminder of the car's hybrid nature, in fact, was occasional mild juddering as the motor engaged and disengaged with the DCT just before or after it up- or downshifted.
It was no worse than motor engagement or disengagement in the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid--in fact probably better--
But it does point out that the DCT has discrete gear steps, rather than the infinite range of the CVT, without a torque converter to buffer the changes as in a conventional automatic.
In fact, for its larger and more luxurious (non-hybrid) cars, Honda will use an eight-speed DCT with a torque converter added on for precisely that reason.
On the smaller, less expensive Fit Hybrid, however, the electric motor is used to buffer the changes--but the drivetrain operation remains perceptible under certain circumstances.
30 percent gas-mileage gains?
We weren't able to ascertain anything useful about the fuel efficiency of the Honda Fit Hybrid from our short drive.
Honda has said its gas-mileage may be as much as 30 percent higher than that of the previous IMA hybrids, which might bring the Fit Hybrid close to the 50-mpg ratings of three different Toyota Prius models.
But we may never find out what ratings the Fit Hybrid would receive in U.S. test cycles.
Honda executives reiterated that they have no current plans to bring the car to the U.S. market.
Among other reasons, said Yusuke Hasegawa, general manager and senior chief engineer in Honda R&D's technology development group, the cost differential in Japan between the gasoline and hybrid Fits is roughly $3,000.
Japanese incentives on registration and road taxes, along with much more expensive gasoline, make that a reasonable premium for consumers to pay.
But in the U.S., gas prices run only $3 to $4 a gallon, no government incentives remain for consumers to purchase hybrids, and the Fit currently carries a base price of $15,425 before delivery. (With 2015 Fits coming from Mexico, Honda likely hopes to keep this price stable for the new car.)
If a gasoline Fit is rated at 36 mpg, even if the Fit Hybrid could reach 50 mpg, that would be a difference of only 117 gallons of gasoline each year at 15,000 miles a year.
Even at $4 a gallon, the payback would take more than six years--far longer than consumer will pay, Honda feels.
So unless something changes, we're not likely to see the Honda Fit Hybrid we drove in the States any time soon.
Over time, however, you might expect the new i-DCD hybrid system to show up in future Honda Civic Hybrid models--and perhaps the next Insight and CR-Z. IF those models are replaced, that is.
Until then, the neat little Honda Fit Hybrid and its new small hybrid system will remain forbidden fruit.
Honda provided airfare, lodging, and meals to enable High Gear Media to bring you this first-person report.