2013 Honda Fit EV: First Drive Of Honda's All-Electric Car

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The 2013 Honda Fit EV is a fun and well-executed little all-electric hatchback.

It's quick, handles decently, gets the highest EPA efficiency rating of any vehicle on the market (118 MPGe), and its rated range of 82 miles is longer than that of the somewhat larger Nissan Leaf.

Too bad you have very little chance of buying one.

That's because the Honda Fit EV is a "compliance car," a vehicle built to ensure its maker meets California rules requiring sales of a certain number of zero-emission vehicles.

1,100 cars and no more

Quizzed at the introductory drive event this week about prospects for the Fit EV, Honda executives said repeatedly that 1,100 cars would be the number it will build and sell during 2013 and 2014.

It is a test vehicle that will let Honda learn about how real-world drivers use electric cars, Honda says. It will provide data on how dealers need to prepare for and support plug-in car sales, and whether there is actually a sustainable market for all-electric vehicles.

Honda Fit EV shown at Los Angeles Auto Show, Nov 2011

Honda Fit EV shown at Los Angeles Auto Show, Nov 2011

Would Honda make more Fit EVs if demand exceeds its production total of 1,100? The answer appears to be "no."

The 2013 Honda Fit EV goes on sale next month in selected California markets and Portland, Oregon, and will be extended next spring into such East Coast markets as Boston, New York, Hartford, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. (That's a tentative list, Honda said.)

The Fit EV can be leased for $389 a month for 36 months (down from the $399 announced last fall).

It cannot be bought outright, however, meaning that Honda can (and likely will) take back the cars at the end of the lease period to avoid the cost of ongoing service and spare parts supplies.

Motor from FCX Clarity

The Honda Fit EV Concept made its world debut at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, and Honda displayed the production 2013 Fit EV at last year's LA Show.

The production 2013 Honda Fit EV uses the electric motor from the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, a much larger car, which develops a peak power of 92 kilowatts (123 horsepower).

Honda Fit EV shown at Los Angeles Auto Show, Nov 2011

Honda Fit EV shown at Los Angeles Auto Show, Nov 2011

Developing peak torque of 189 lb-ft (256 Nm), the motor gives the subcompact Fit EV punchy performance--especially in Sport mode (more on that later). Maximum speed is limited to 90 mph.

The 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, using lithium-titanate oxide cells provided by Toshiba, is mounted in the floor and under the rear seat, cooled via fans that force air through the pack itself.

A recharging port door on the left front fender is outlined in blue LEDs that light up while charging takes place.

Honda has built in a 6.6-kilowatt charger, meaning that a full pack recharge can take 3 hours or less. Honda offers a Leviton Level 2 home charging station to Fit EV lessees, while its Fit EV-authorized dealers can recommend local inspection and installation partners.

Lower drag of a compact sedan

In adapting the current Fit, launched in 2009, to electric drive, Honda focused both on drivetrain efficiency and improving the aerodynamics of the subcompact five-door hatchback.

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