Honda Fit in the Market

The big cliché in the auto industry these days is "the right car for the right time," which I've heard automakers claim for their small trucks, crossover vehicles, wagons and practically everything else. If you want the real right car at the right time, you're looking at it. The Fit is the best example of what is now the most significant vehicle class in the U.S. Pain at the pump doesn't necessarily make buying a new car an option, but in today's economic climate it makes the most affordable and efficient ones the most attractive for people who are ready to make the move.

While we Americans were distracted by light trucks, subcompacts got more roomy and generally more workable. People who wouldn't think about buying an entry-level car now will — or at least should. As subcompacts go, the Fit is expensive, with its $14,550-$18,760 price range for the 2008 model overlapping that of the Civic compact. That's not a bad thing. The name of the game now is downsizing, and people who have owned, say, a Civic or an Accord don't want to drive a heap. A high-quality small car is exactly what people are looking for — preferably one that makes few sacrifices. The Fit is that car. Compare the Smart ForTwo, which sacrifices seats, comfort, refinement and more. I don't care how long the waiting lists are; for what you get, the ForTwo's 33/41 mpg is too low and $11,590 is too much.

People who buy today won't necessarily dump their SUV or pickup for a subcompact, but they might add one to the family fleet for commuting, or as an alternative runabout they can bust out during the next gas crisis. Cars are pretty bad investments, but Honda's history of quality, reliability and longevity bode well for the Fit's resale value. As bad investments go, it looks like a pretty good one. Honda plans to import 85,000 Fits over the next 12 months. It won't be enough.

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