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Honda enters the electric-car fray with the Fit EV

Consumer Reports News: July 27, 2012 05:08 PM

Electric cars are rolling out fast and furious. And it seems the technology improves with each new debut. The latest EV to hit the streets is an electric version of the Honda Fit.

Rather than be a purpose-built model like the 1990s Honda EV Plus, the Fit EV has been extensively repackaged from the standard Fit. Its lithium-ion drive battery sits under the floor, so the car has been raised 40 mm. The rear cargo floor has also been raised 35 mm to make more room for the battery pack, and the rear seat has been moved back 85 mm to restore passenger space otherwise lost to the battery. This eliminates the standard Fit's neat rear-seat folding tricks that make the car so roomy and flexible. Styling tweaks and a full underbody tray give it 14-percent less aerodynamic drag than the standard Fit.

The air-cooled 20-kWh battery pack is 15-20-percent smaller than those in the Ford Focus Electric and the Nissan Leaf. It uses a new lithium-titanate oxide material in the anode, which Honda says gives the battery better durability over deeper and higher charge cycles. Honda produces the battery, which it calls SCiB, through a new partnership with Toshiba. The Fit EV has been rated at 82 miles of range by the EPA, a bit more than the 76 miles for the Ford Focus EV and the 73 miles for the Nissan Leaf.

The Fit EV is rated at the equivalent of 118 mpg (MPGe) by the EPA, compared with 105 MPGe for the Focus EV and 99 MPGe for the Leaf.

Like the latest Honda hybrids, the Fit EV has three driving modes: Eco, Normal, and Sport. In the Fit EV, however, the three modes actually change the output of the motor.

Eco mode yields just 63 hp to conserve battery, Normal is rated at 100 hp, and Sport mode delivers 123 hp--notably six more horsepower than the conventional Fit. The motor is the same as that in Honda's FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle.

The Fit EV has a 6.6-kW onboard charger that can deliver a full charge in just over three hours on a 240-volt Level 2 charger. Perhaps more significant, if you can find a Level 2 charger when the battery's low, it can give you about 20 miles of range in an hour. The three-hour charge time means drivers in California and other states with lower off-peak electric rates can get a full charge within the lowest rate window, Honda says.

A smartphone app or key fob remote will allow drivers to precondition the cabin for up to 30 minutes before driving, map local charging stations, verify the state of charge, and more.

Honda is making the Fit EV available for lease, first to customers in California and parts of Oregon. Leasing a Fit will cost $389 a month for 36 months, with no down payment. The deal includes collision insurance, free maintenance, traffic data for the standard GPS system, and roadside assistance. Next spring, Honda plans East Coast introductions, primarily in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor.

Honda only plans to build 1,100 Fit EVs for the 2013 and 2014 model years. After that, a new version of the Fit will debut, and Honda alludes to an improved electric version of that car. Once the cars' lease is up, Honda representatives say they have no shortage of fleet customers waiting to use the cars.

We borrowed a Fit EV to evaluate this week, and we'll share our driving impressions soon.

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Eric Evarts

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