Honda Fit EV’s B Gear Increases Regen Braking, But Not Substantially

By · July 30, 2012

Honda Fit EV B gear

My one-week loan with the Honda Fit EV ended today. Most of my exploration of the car related to the Fit EV’s unique proposition: multiple mode settings. The modes give drivers the choice to emphasize range, performance or a balance of both. As I’ve argued for some time, what makes a great electric car is not acceleration—but how it brakes. So, in the last few days, I used the “B” gear as much as possible in the Fit EV. When you slip the Fit EV into B, there is a noticeable increase in grab from the regenerative braking system.

When I was in Tokyo last year, I had a long conversation with Honda brake engineer Kunimichi Hatano about the company’s new regenerative braking system. Honda's idea is to increase the amount of regenerative braking without affecting feel or stability. “Our new system is different because the medium to apply the brakes is using an electric motor to directly drive the pump that serves the brake fluid,” Hatano told me. He said this technology increase accuracy and efficiency by at least 5 percent.

My goal was to see how much regen I could pick up, even beyond Honda's gains, by using the B gear—and not diminish any of the fun-quotient by staying in Sport mode. My hope was that the 20-mile range penalty you pay for using Sport rather than Eco mode would be repaid.

Volt Has Something Similar

This is not very different from what Chevy Volt drivers do when they use Sport mode and the “L” gear. Some Volt drivers like Patrick Wang believe this is the key to enjoying brisk acceleration while maximizing efficiency. It also simulates the feel of one-pedal driving found in Tesla vehicle and the BMW ActiveE. Other Volt drivers, such as Ron Gremban, believe that you get no advantage by robbing Peter to pay Paul for the energy.

I was looking for proof in the pudding: Was I able to boost the 70 or so miles of range while driving in Sport mode in the Fit EV? The answer is no. At the end of my run on a fully charged battery pack, the trip meter read 65.7 miles, with an estimated 2 miles remaining. That’s essentially identical to my experience in D gear while using Sport—barely a blip different (lower, actually). The difference could have been caused by any number of driving factors.

Moreover, I came to the conclusion (like Ron) that all this switching back and forth of gears and modes is mostly a zero sum game. I imagine that it would grow old after a few weeks of driving, and I would revert to driving as usual. If I want great acceleration, I’ll just pound harder on the accelerator pedal (rather than switching to Sport mode). I would probably use the B gear when descending a steep road—but otherwise drive in D.

I still maintain that BMW’s one-pedal driving and strong regen—much more assertive than the Fit EV in B gear—is the benchmark for all electric vehicles.

Leaving Well Enough Alone

Honda Fit EV lifetime efficiency

I imagine that playing it straight—normal mode and D gear—in the Fit EV would provide more than 80 miles of range on a regular basis. That’s very efficient for a car with a 20 kilowatt-hour battery pack. I would have to drive with extreme care to get four miles out of every kilowatt on my Nissan LEAF.

But on my loaner EV from Honda—now sadly vacated from my driveway—the dashboard shows an average of 4.3 miles per kWh over its lifetime of 579 miles. After a week with the Fit EV, I see why, according to the EPA, it is rated as the Number One most efficient car on American roads, with an estimated MPGe rating of 118 miles per gallon equivalent. If I owned one—that is, if Honda made that possible by selling rather than only leasing the Fit EV—I would be satisfied with that extraordinary level of efficiency, and drive it without messing around too much with its gear and mode selections.

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