With roughly 7.5 million sold in 20 years, it's safe to say people love the Honda Fit, or as it's called in Europe and elsewhere, the Jazz. "Elsewhere" would be the key term since Honda's versatile subcompact hatchback is not only sold all over the world, it has also been built in 10 plants in eight different countries, including China, where the authorities were so honored to have a Fit factory within their borders, they allowed Honda an unprecedented larger share in the joint venture.
A major reason is safety, which was highlighted from the very beginning. I attended the original launch at Honda's Tochigi R&D center in Japan, which started with a crash test. The 2,535-pound Fit was subjected to an offset impact with a six-year-old, 4,030-pound Honda Legend sedan at a closing speed of 62 mph. When our ears stopped ringing, the Fit's crash-test dummy passengers were shaken but intact, the doors opened and the passenger cell retained its shape. The Legend's passengers didn't fare so well, with the pedal box detaching from the firewall taking the driver dummy's feet with it.
Part of this early emphasis on safety was perhaps to assuage any fears about sitting atop the fuel tank, as the Fit's was uniquely placed under the front seats protected by chassis members. This design has been common to every generation, including the all-new Honda Jazz seen here, and makes it possible for the amazing rear seats, originally called "Ultra" and now known as "Magic Seats" to exist. Distinctively, the backs can be folded flat onto the bases to create an ultra-low load floor, or the bases can be folded up against the back leaving a big empty well in the middle of the car to swallow yucca plants or German shepherd dogs. The result has been unmatched space and versatility for the segment, something that continues with the new version.
What wasn’t clear in Japan 19 years ago was just how reliable the Fit would prove. It regularly tops reliability surveys and (partly) as a result, it tends to appeal to an older constituency of buyers who value a car that starts every morning and costs just cents in maintenance over rival subcompacts that looked better, drove better or had more premium cabins.