Extended Honda Fit EV Drive: Two Innovations Quickly Leap Out

By · July 25, 2012

Honda Fit EV and Nissan LEAF in driveway

An EV dream driveway: My loaner Fit EV in front, with the Nissan LEAF charging up in the back and solar panels on top of the car port.

A shiny new blue Honda Fit EV arrived in my driveway on Monday, for a one-week test drive. I haven’t yet put the car through its paces in terms of range and efficiency, to see if EPA’s assessment of the Fit EV proves accurate in real-world driving. The EPA pegs the car’s efficiency at 118 MPGe, and 82 miles of range on 20 kWh battery pack—making it the most efficient car in America. But there are two innovations that already stand out to me as something that all EV-makers should seriously consider.

(I’ll continue to post throughout the week about the Fit EV, and reflect on how it differs from my Nissan LEAF and other EVs on the market. What do you want me to check out for you?)

The first innovation is use of a set of three driving modes: Normal, Eco and Sport. Obviously, this is not a new concept, but Honda’s execution is impeccable. As I experienced when I first drove the car last year in Japan, normal mode feels a lot like daily driving in the LEAF. It’s a good middle ground between decent range and a nice brisk ride. Then, there’s Eco mode. If you know that you’ll need every electron to make it to your destination, then use Eco mode to extend range and back down on acceleration—an acceptable compromise for getting safely from Point A to Point B.

But punch the Sport mode button, which gives the dash a red hue, and the Fit EV comes to life. At this stage, any shortcoming of the Fit EV's economy feel, such as thin seat cushions and plastic interior details, is immediately forgotten. If you know that you only need 40 or 50 miles of driving for the day, then why not have some fun? (Fifty miles is a guess for now, but I’ll test out a day behind the wheel in Sport to see what it produces.)

The Fit EV in Sport is an absolute blast to drive (maybe even dangerous when it comes to speeding tickets). Except for my brief time with a Tesla Roadster, it’s the most fun I’ve had in an EV. It’s every bit as engaging (or more) than the BMW ActiveE.

The main point here is to give drivers a choice, and that’s what the Fit EV’s modes offer.

SOC Gauge on the Go

Honda Fit EV fob

The Fit EV keychain has a key, and a remote device to see battery state of charge, start charging or operate climate control.

The other innovation is the key fob-thingy, on the same keychain with the regular key that you turn to start the car. Push a little power button on the side of the remote unit, and presto—it shows you battery state of charge. There are apps and websites that will do this for other EVs, but the convenience of having it right in your hand before you leave the house, or while sitting at your desk, is fantastic. (I’m not yet sure how far away you can be from the car, but it works well from any location in my house). The fob also allows you to engage climate control or start charging—but it’s the SOC meter display that I most appreciate.

Is seeing SOC right on the key a make-or-break function? No, but little things can sometimes make a huge difference. This innovation reflects a thoughtfulness that adds to the overall EV ownership experience.

One final word—okay, a rant—about the Fit EV being labeled a “compliance” vehicle. Yes, Honda is only making enough to meet the lowest level of California’s Zero Emission Vehicle requirements. That translates to 1,100 vehicles for lease over the next three years. Why is compliance a bad thing? In fact, I see it as a great thing. The ZEV program is working exactly as it should.

If Honda weren’t forced to comply, then we wouldn’t see the Fit EV’s innovations on the road. These are still early days in the EV market, and of course there will be divergent views among automakers on how and when to enter the market. We shouldn’t expect every carmaker to take the risk that Nissan is taking. Two thumbs up for Nissan, but we can be honest that the LEAF’s low sales numbers reflect uncertainty among consumers. So it’s only logical that thoughtful car companies will be careful with their own timing and investments. Without compliance cars, we would have fewer models—each with their own innovations like modes and SOC key fobs—to consider and to help inform the next generation of electric vehicles. Hopefully, an enthusiastic response to a so-called compliance car will embolden Honda and other carmakers to go well beyond the legal requirements, but for now, compliance is a great start.

Stay tuned for more about Fit EV in the next day or two.

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