Another showdown at Wildsau’s OK Corral.
This time it’s between two vehicles that I wouldn’t have put against each other if I had to list the other’s competitors, but once you sort things out on paper, you’ve got two similar chaps strutting their stuff on the boardwalk, itching to draw against the other. Let’s let them have at it!
The Fiesta is Ford’s entry level car, starting at a paltry CDN $12,499. The review example was a top-line SES hatchback, starting at $18,999, but with the included options, it might cause a Ford Finance officer to blush, taking a $12,000 car up to CDN $25,449, everything in. Ouch. We’ll go on a bit of a cost weight-loss clinic shortly.
Likewise, the Honda Fit is Honda’s entry level car, starting at $14,580. My sample was a Fit Sport, also the top-line trim, and it rang in at CDN $21,575, all-in.
To bring the Fiesta back in line, price-wise, I deducted the things that set it apart, which are the $300 remote starter, the $800 premium exterior package, the $1400 premium interior package and the completely retarded $500 graphic tattoo. That brings the price down to $22,449, making these cars only about $900 apart and much more comparable on paper.
I do appreciate the slight tweaks the Fit has received – it feels like it has grown up a bit, and looks more mature and less toy-like. I think it looks more utilitarian, almost like a micro-van. The Sport gets some nice body-colored bits, and fog lights as well as handsome wheels. The front end even gets a hint of aggression, but the rear end looks like someone is clenching their butt-cheeks, waiting for something bad to happen. It’s a good-looking little vehicle though, and it makes sense. It’s a cool little ugly duckling. Check it out below.
The Fiesta is the sportier-looking car, blessed with a relatively clean, fun shape. It looks a little less upright, and seems to flow a little more smoothly toward the rear end. The front end styling also has some attitude (I liked the vertical LED driving lights), and I thought the rear end of the hatch looks great. It looks less chunky and less utilitarian than the Fit. I have to chide Ford for the horrifying tattoo graphic on the side. Nobody in their right mind who has functional eyes would want this on their car, never mind paying $500 extra for it. Here it is.
I was surprised at how close the side profiles were to each other.
Advantage: Fiesta, but not by much
The Fit has a very basic interior, fitted with hard plastics and the dash is an interesting but unattractive sea of shapes and textures. Ergonomics seem strange at first, but in the end, you get used to the layout quickly, and everything works very well.
The Honda’s fabric seats offered good side bolstering and middling thigh support – they’re comfortable and manually adjustable. I found the headroom to be spectacular, the legroom to be good, and the knee space to be a bit cramped by the center console. As usual, Honda gives you a great steering wheel, with controls for cruise control, Bluetooth phone and handsfree controls. Behind the wheel sits a simple bin of gauges.
The Fit doesn’t really have a center stack – the audio system sits in the center of the dash, and to the left of it is a set of three chunky, knurled manual climate control knobs.
You’ll find a very simple gear selector (as mentioned, no manual shifting with it), and a traditional e-brake lever.
The Fiesta’s interior spices things up considerably, in this case with 2-tone red on black. It’s very fun, but a bit garish, and probably too eye-grabbing for the long run – for me anyway. You’d almost forgive an officer of the law for pulling you over for distracted driving with this interior. You’ll find the theme on the seats, dash, steering wheel and the door panels. Much of the materials are soft-touch, rubbery plastics, but unfortunately the dash and door insert panels were given the texture of 10-grit sandpaper. It’s not horrible, but it doesn’t look very good.
The leather seats are great in terms of comfort and look good too – they’re heated, and manually adjustable, with good side bolstering and terrible thigh support (read: none). Legroom and head room are good, and knee room is a bit cramped due to the center console, just like in the Fit. The Fiesta also gives you a great steering wheel, with cruise, phone and media controls. It doesn’t adjust for reach, only for height.
The dash is well laid-out, with basic gauges. The center of the dash holds a small screen, and below that is a cluster of media control buttons that is a bit too busy, especially in comparison to the Fit’s spartan layout. Below that is a set of chunky manual climate control knobs and seat heater buttons.
The Fiesta has a handsome gear selector (again, with no manual shifting ability), and behind it is a little divot with exposed 12V, auxiliary and USB plugs.
Advantage: Fiesta, although I wouldn’t opt for the 2-tone interior – also keep in mind that the leather and other goodies are expensive upgrades
Under the Hood
Neither car has anything to write home about under the “bonnet”, but both of them get the job done.
The Fit get’s Honda’s 1.6-Litre 4-cylinder. It puts out a lofty 117 HP @ 6600 RPM, and a stump-pulling 106 lb.ft of torque at 4800 RPM. I kid. The numbers seem a bit hilarious, especially considering I just reviewed a 550 HP car of utter and awesome ridiculousness. Of course, in terms of everyday driving, the hilarity actually lies with the 550 HP monster, and these cars make way more sense. The mill is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with no manual shifting ability. Honda rates the Fit at 7.1 L/100 km (33 mpg) in the city, and 5.4 L/100 km (43.5 mpg) on the highway. I averaged 8.2 L/100 km (29 mpg) during my time with it. The Fit has a 40 Litre tank.
Both engine bays are below – the Fit is on top, Fiesta below.
The Fiesta’s numbers barely differ. Its 1.6-Litre 4-cylinder cranks out 120 HP @ 6350 RPM, and 112 lb.ft of torque at 5000 RPM. This goodness is jammed through a 6-speed automatic – also with no manual shifting abilities. The Ford’s mileage is rated at 6.9 L/100 km (34 mpg) in the city, and 5.1 L/100 km (46 mpg) on the highway. My average was 8.4 L/100 km (28 mpg) – it has a slightly bigger 45.4 Litre tank.
Advantage: Tie – on paper, the Fiesta beats the Fit by a small margin in all departments and even gets another cog in the transmission to work with, but as you’ll see later on, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a real life advantage.
The Honda seems to be a bit short on tech, but does have a few goodies. The simple one-liner driver information screen shows you instant and average mileage, a trip meter, the oil life and your odometer. Simple and it works just fine.
The stereo uses AM, FM, CD, auxiliary and USB sources – no satellite radio here – and it sounds OK. There is a nice, simple wide read-out which is highly legible and very effective in its own little low-tech way. Power windows, door locks and mirrors are all here.
The Fiesta’s driver information screen is bigger than the Fit’s, and shows you average mileage, average speed, trip meter, fuel range, outside temperature and your odometer. Ford also added an upper screen in the center of the dash – it’s small, but certainly packs some punch in terms of delivering media, phone or car settings information.
The sound system feeds off AM, FM, satellite, CD, auxiliary and USB sources and sounds pretty good. The Fiesta also has power windows, door locks and mirrors, as well as a cool push-start ignition.
Advantage: Fiesta – it feels pretty loaded up when you get in (mind you, it SHOULD for $5,000 more!), and the Fit comes across as decidedly low-tech, but shouldn’t be written off because of it – I didn’t miss many of the toys
Neither car has an abundance of storage, but there is usable cargo space as well as some neat touches.
In the Fit, there are a couple of cupholders, a small and large bin in the console and tall door bins with bottle holders. I particularly enjoyed the small storage “cups” on either end of the dash, perfect for standing a smart phone in, or a small coffee cup. There’s also a flip-up lid over an upper dash compartment, where you’ll find the USB connector – it sits above the conventional glove compartment.
The trunk’s cargo space is impressive for the Fit’s size at 20.6 cubic feet and a monstrous 57 cubic feet with an almost flat floor when the second row is folded down – seats split 60/40.
The Fiesta has usable door bins with bottle holders, a great glove compartment and two in-line upholders. Trunk cargo space is about 25% less than the Fit – you get 15.4 cubic feet with the seats up. Ford doesn’t specify cargo space with the second row (60/40) folded down – note that the seats don’t fold anywhere near flat. There is a solid, flip-up tonneau cover over the cargo space.
Advantage: Fit – the cargo space is measurably bigger, there are some nifty ideas and it has another ace up its sleeve – see “Details”
The Fit has a decent back seat, with acceptable head and legroom for this size of car. There are 3 seats, headrests and seat belts, but consider it seating for two – the seats are actually quite comfortable. There’s a ceiling light, 1 seatback map pocket and bottle holders in the doors, as well as 2 LATCH anchors for kids’ seats. I was able to get all three of my kids in the back, and they were relatively comfortable back there.
The Fiesta seemed to be a bit friendlier for rear seat passengers, with conveniences like 2 overhead lights, and a cupholder and a nice angled storage bin at the back of the center console, as well as an extra 12V plug. There’s 1 seatback map pocket, and no door bins. As with the Fit, there are 3 seats, headrests and seat belts – but you can safely consider this seating for 2 adults. Here’s the issue – although the leather seating is comfortable and the details seem better thought-out, all dimensions back there are tight. Headroom, legroom, foot room and knee room are quite tight and less than in the Fit, and the front seatbacks are hard plastic, so your knees won’t be happy as they bang up against them. Again, my three kids were fine back there – you’ll find 2 LATCH anchors for their seats. But adults won’t be pleased.
Advantage: Fit – the Fiesta is nicely appointed, but the simple Fit rear seat is more roomy, which matters more if you’re actually sitting back there.
Neither of these cars is quick, of course, but both do just fine in everyday driving. Both have enough power to get into traffic, and for cruising around town and on the highway. Both also take their time when you need immediate power, such as passing on the freeway, or when racing someone. Again, I kid. You won’t be racing anyone.
Both transmissions are remarkably smooth, especially for this price-point. I thought the Honda’s 5-speed seemed more intelligent and worked incredibly well with the engine – it always felt like it was in the right gear. As a matter of fact, the Fit just felt more powerful and satisfying to drive than the Fiesta. The Fiesta’s, a dual-clutch unit with an extra ratio, disappointed a bit – it always seemed to head for the higher gears and then always took a slightly longer time to react when you needed it to shift down or just get moving. And when it finally did shift down, there still wasn’t a lot of jam unless you wring the engine out to the high end of the RPM band.
The Fit was exceptionally quiet in terms of road and wind noise. The ride was firm, but controlled and comfortable enough around town. Handling is pretty good, and although there’s quite a bit of body roll around corners and it feels a bit top-heavy, the Fit is going to end up exactly where you pointed it. Where things went downhill was at higher speeds. I felt the steering got a bit funky and vague, and worse, the suspension didn’t feel buttoned-down enough, and things got a bit floaty at highway speeds. I also noted that the suspension got crashy over bigger bumps like expansion joints – it was fine in town, but notable on the highway.
Outward visibility from the Fit borders on perfect – you feel high off the road, and can see well in basically every direction.
Ford’s Fiesta rides very nicely, and the handling is fantastic. It feels sportier than the Fit, and although there is also some body roll, turn-in is crisp and the suspension always felt competent. The car felt very comfortable at higher speeds – wind and road noise were admirably low as well. Unlike the Fit, the suspension in the Fiesta seemed at ease at these speeds as well.
The visibility out of the Fiesta is also very good, IF the two outboard rear headrests are folded down out of the way. If they’re up, you get a bit of tunnel vision out the back. The one thing I wasn’t too fond of on the Fiesta was the electronic steering. It felt great at low speeds, of course, but on the road and the highway, it feels vague and disconnected.
Advantage: Fiesta – it’s sportier, and more gathered at higher speeds, but the Fit isn’t far behind because of how well the engine and transmission work together
One thing that bothered me about the Fit was when the front windows were partially down, they would rattle over any irregularity in the road. It wouldn’t happen if the windows were up or down completely, but it happened all the time if they were part-way down. Very annoying, and cheap-feeling.
The Fit has an added facet of storage flexibility that I just absolutely loved. The second row seat cushions fold UP and out of the way, creating a massive, tall storage area behind the front seats – from floor to ceiling. You can quickly create this space, and easily access it. It’s brilliant.
This seemed like it would be a close one when I had both cars for the week. And it was. These cars are comparable on many fronts – the price (when similarly equipped), dimensions, fuel economy, drivability, etc.
What struck me after reviewing my test notes and writing this comparo is how close they were in each of the categories. I can’t say that any of the categories was a blow-out, and when there was a winner, the other wasn’t far behind.
I give the Honda Fit a 7 out of 10. It lost some points in my books for the lack of high-speed stability – we do a lot of highway driving, and that’s important to me. Otherwise, even though it comes across as a bit stodgy in terms of tech, it was a very satisfying car to drive, felt roomier than the Fiesta and would be fantastic if you stuck to the city. I want to add that I’d give the Fit a 7.5 out of 10 if the highway drive was more gathered and controlled-feeling.
I give the Ford Fiesta a 7.5 out of 10. I loved the premium feel, but I took issue with the fact that it rang in at well over $25,000 as tested, considering you’re looking at a well-equipped Focus for that kind of money. I wouldn’t go for the 2-tone interior, or the goofy graphics, but I did enjoy the goodies that the additional cost brought to the table. Of course, that additional $5,000 makes all the difference in the world to some buyers, and would immediately cut this particular Fiesta out of the shopping equation.
Kudos to both Honda and Ford for building cars that remain affordable, provide true utility for everyday use and are actually pretty fun to drive. I’d happily own either of these vehicles, and I’m guessing buyers of both would be very happy with their purchase. Both vehicles didn’t come across as cheap, entry-level vehicles – they both felt very well-built and very well thought-out. Gone are the days of looking at entry-level vehicles and knowing you’re only going to find crap. It’s a good time to be a car buyer.
Disclosure: Vehicles were provided by Honda and Ford.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.