Electric Vehicles Review: I’m Addicted To Sport Mode On The New Honda Fit EV

Published on June 29th, 2012 | by Susanna Schick

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Review: I’m Addicted To Sport Mode On The New Honda Fit EV

All Photos Courtesy Honda North America

Honda invited us to preview the Fit EV at a special test track in Southern California. Specifically, a nice little course they’d set up in a parking lot at the Rose Bowl, as well as a spin around the ‘hood on our own. Because I don’t like having to reign in my driving style to keep from terrorizing the poor sales rep, I generally avoid doing test drives. But this test drive was set up to enable us to really drive the cars the way we normally would..and then some. Read our first take from the LA Auto Show here.

Honda also had the Fit EV’s nearest competitor on hand for comparison testing on the track, the Nissan LEAF. I also had a chance to take the Honda CNG (Civic Natural Gas) out for a spin…and I hated it after driving the Fit EV. In the CNG I literally was beat off the line by a MINIVAN. That’s because the Civic CNG has a 1.7L engine, while in Sport Mode the Fit EV compares to a 3.0L BMW Z4 Si. You read that right.

The Full Specs:

  • 20 KwH Lithium-Ion battery
  • 92 Kw AC synchronous electric motor (similar to the one in the FCX Clarity)
  • 29 KwH per 100 miles, 118 MPGe (mile per gallon equivalent EPA combined city/highway, adjusted)
  • 3-mode drive system: Normal, Sport and Econ
  • Electric servo brake system for regenerative braking
    • B mode simulates engine braking and increases regeneration
  • 6.6 Kw on-board charger (120/240V capable)
    • Charging time is less than 3 hours at 240v

How Fun Can Driving in LA Traffic Be, Anyway?

Most of the natural gas cars you see are fleet vehicles, and now I know why. They are gutless enough to keep employees from having any fun in them. My mom’s Prius has better acceleration. But Charis seems to like them. The Fit EV, however, was indeed loads of fun. The only fun small car I’ve driven before is the Fiat 500 I had for a week in England earlier this month. That car was a riot, especially diving into roundabouts wishing they’d mow the grass on the divider so I could better see if anyone else was planning to enter the roundabout. But there was all that pesky shifting, and an engine that redlined where my motorcycle is just waking up out of idle. In the Fit EV, there was none of that, just pure, smooth torque. 189 ft/lbs, to be exact, way more than CNG which makes due with a paltry 106 ft-lbs of torque.

I started out on their test track in Sport mode, then did a lap in Normal mode, where the video above begins, then Econ mode, and then back to Sport. On the track I didn’t notice that much difference, but it’s clear in the video that Sport Mode is faster. It was also became a lot more clear out on the open road, especially when I was able to shoot for pole position from a few cars back when that freeway on-ramp went down to two lanes. That was FUN, and extremely important for surviving Los Angeles traffic.

The car felt smooth and easy to drive, but I had to admit I’d be in Sport mode all the time if I had this car. But then again, I’m a motorcycle racer, whereas most drivers would probably be happy with Normal mode most of the time, using Sport mode to make a quick pass only when necessary. I asked their Principal Engineer what the shortest possible range would be if I were to keep the pedal floored at 90mph…not that that’s how I drive ALL the time. He said 50 miles is about as far as I could get like that, though Honda says  you can get up to 132 miles while driving in the city, 105 miles on highway, or 82 miles on a mix of city and highway. That’s in Normal mode. Subtract 10% for (most) Sport mode drivers, and add 17% if you’re restrained enough to always drive in Econ mode, which is still MUCH more fun and powerful than the Civic Natural Gas.

Features of Interest

The feature I’m most excited about, but hope to never try out, is the pedestrian injury mitigation design. They use impact-absorbing materials in the front fender to minimize injury to pedestrians (and I suppose, cyclists). Yet another awesome feature all cars should have, really. However, the EV safety feature I’m most concerned about, the noisemaker, is still too quiet. They explained to me that it’s loud enough for the visually impaired to hear it, but standing in front of the car as it drove toward me, I couldn’t hear anything special. I will not feel safe until anyone can hear all cars at any speed from at least 50 feet away.

There is also standard GPS, it’s as hateful as any GPS, really. You can tell from the video I really hate having a computer tell me what to do. I’d much rather stop and look at a map. The HondaLink mobile app is more interesting. It enables the driver to schedule and monitor charging as well as climate control. Why waste battery power cooling the car off on a hot day, when you can pre-cool it while plugged in? That’s cool.

However, if you want to buy one of these puppies, you’re outta luck. Honda will not be selling the Fit EV at first, and will instead only offer it as a lease option, and in a limited number of places. Only if you live in one of the wonderful parts of America where EV infrastructure is strong and growing, (West Coast, represent) you can lease one starting in July in California and Oregon for $389/month for 36 months. Next year they’ll expand to key East coast cities, then to certain Zipcar fleets.

They showed us a chart comparing ownership costs of the Fit EV vs. the average for all compact & small cars. Over 3 years, maintenance & fuel costs are $3,981 lower on the EV, which is nice, but you’re still leasing and not owning. Sure, leasing makes sense to the manufacturer of a vehicle where the technology is developing so rapidly. 20 years from now, will Honda still make batteries that fit the Fit? Or will they only be manufacturing Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? It was clear from the presenters and engineers I spoke to that Honda feels strongly that hydrogen is the future, and that battery-electric cars are just a stepping stone.

Honda’s Future Is Here (In Los Angeles)

The FCX Clarity is only available in areas with decent Hydrogen fueling infrastructure. ie- Los Angeles. I took a drive in the FCX Clarity, their hydrogen fuel cell car, accompanied by Stephen Ellis, their Fuel Cell Vehicle Marketing Manager. The car was clearly a luxury car, which makes sense given the current cost of HFC cars. If it’s going to be expensive to make, you may as well make it a proper luxury car. Everything from the iridescent paint on a stunning body to the roomy interior to the $600/month lease make this clear.

What made it more fun than the battery EV was the higher top speed- 100mph instead of 90mph. Ellis explained that because you’re not limited by long charging times, and the hydrogen tank can hold up to 240 miles of range, they could program the motor for higher speeds (as opposed to 82-132 miles average ranges for the Fit EV). Because the Clarity can be filled up just like a regular petrol car, it would also be a more natural transition for most people.

As much fun as the Fit EV is in Sport mode, it seems clear that Honda sees this more as a placeholder than a permanent solution. So my question is, when can I buy a Honda hydrogen motorcycle?




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About the Author

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.



  • Jon_K

    Honda engineers think hydrogen is the future? I think they’re nuts unless they mean the distant future. Every house in the country has an electrical outlet. No one has a hydrogen outlet. There can’t be more than a handful of hydrogen refueling locations in the county. Besides the economics are what, an order of magnitude off? Hydrogen cars are crazy expensive aren’t they?

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/susannaschick/ Susanna Schick

      I agree, and hope that one of the many brilliant minds trying to bring us the sort of batteries we’d be happy with will prove Honda wrong. I think they do mean distant future, everyone knows the cost is still ridiculous, there’s no infrastructure, etc.

    • Jay

      @ Jon_K : Not everyone has Petrol/Diesel outlet at their home, but still whole world is run by Petrol/Diesel. So they just need to make hydrogen available at all fuel stations and not at every home. The disadvantage of fuel cell is “Users need to buy the Hydrogen at the corporate price from fuel station, where as electricity is generated at home for free (Ideally) by using Solar/Wind energy”

  • http://MrEnergyCzar.com MrEnergyCzar

    The hydrogen car is a net-energy losing joke. Move on….

    MrEnergyczar

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/susannaschick/ Susanna Schick

      I’ve heard that before, but don’t know enough about why. Please explain, or direct me to a link that does. Thanks!

      • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ NeilBlanchard

        Hi Susanna,

        If you get hydrogen from steam-reforming of natural gas, then it still produces a lot of carbon. If you get hydrogen from electrolysis then it uses ~3.5X more electricity than just charging batteries.

        Transporting hydrogen is extremely hard — hydrogen is extremely caustic, very unstable, it leaks right through many materials, extremely explosive. So pipelines are very expensive, and trucks are using yet more energy.

        You have to compress hydrogen to 700bar / 10,000PSI which is none trivial — so much so that some hydrogen filling stations can only service 15 cars PER DAY! And it takes a lot of energy. And the FCX Clarity carries ~4kg of hydrogen (which is about all you can fit in the car!) and it has a 4kW battery (not a plugin) and it has all of ~240 miles of range.

        Compare this to the Tesla Model S, and you see why hydrogen is not viable. The FCX Clary cost in excess of $2M per copy, with the fuel cell alone costing about $250,000. So you can buy 3 or 4 Model S cars for just the cost of the fuel cell. And you can drive farther on much less energy.

        Electric cars are the future. Hydrogen cars are probably just invented to string us along…

        Neil

        • Jon_K

          Thanks

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ NeilBlanchard

    Hi Susanna,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the Fit EV — I’d love to be able to drive one! I have two questions:

    Is there less front headroom than in the standard Fit? I’m fairly sure that the rear headroom is reduced because of the battery pack requiring the space.

    And did you try the Economy mode at all? I am hoping that the free-wheel coasting when you lift your right foot off of the accelerator pedal is implemented by all other EV’s, and I would like to hear how it worked for you.

    Neil

  • http://importantmedia.org/members/susannaschick/ Susanna Schick

    Hi Neil,

    I’ve never driven the gas Fit, so I can’t compare it. They may have a diagram comparo on their website. (linked in the article). I did drive in Econ mode for a few minutes each on the track, streets, and highway. It was not as gutless as the CNG Civic, and fine for normal drivers. When you release the gas pedal, you don’t get free wheel coasting, you actually get a certain amount of braking applied without touching the brakes through their Active Braking Assist. Shifting into B mode increases the braking force, again, without activating the brake pedal and lights, to simulate engine braking. There’s nothing worse than that guy who taps the brakes on the freeway for no reason, so the person behind them slows down, and behind them, and so on until the people 20 cars back are stopped. As a motorcyclist I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lanesplit through traffic to see exactly this.

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  • John

    “though Honda says you can get up to 132 miles while driving in the city, 105 miles on highway, or 82 miles on a mix of city and highway”

    That’s incorrect. Please fix. Honda doesn’t say that at all. The first numbers are the “MPGe” rating, which is efficiency. MPGe is NOT range.

    Here is the “real” statement:
    132/105/118 city/highway/combined miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent (MPGe) rating; 82 mile combined (city/highway) driving range rating (adjusted). Ratings determined by EPA. Your MPGe and range will vary depending on driving conditions, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, battery age/condition, and other factor

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