Honda Joins the EV Club

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2013 Honda Fit EV.

The selection of electric cars grows each year these days, as the future of transportation is almost certainly going to include electrified vehicles from pretty much every auto manufacturer. Looming fuel economy standards and concerns about emissions output mean that a portfolio of choices will include those that don’t use any petroleum products.

Honda is no stranger to vehicles that have batteries in them, as it was one of the first brands to offer a hybrid with its original Insight hybrid that debuted in 1999. They’re also one of two brands that has been leasing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (which generate their own electricity to drive the wheels), though in extremely limited numbers.

It’ll be a little easier for someone living inSouthern Californiato get the new Honda Fit EV, though the cars won’t exactly be flooding the marketplace. As with the fuel cells, Honda’s playing it cautious and only leasing their new electric car in a relatively small quantity (about 1,100 over the next two years).

If you are able to get one, you’ll probably really like it. First, you won’t be one of the “I can’t have a car like that … what if I want to drive toLas Vegas?” people, as there’s a vetting process via Honda’s web site in order to be considered for one. They want to make sure you have a routine commute, plus a place to charge the car overnight like a private garage.

For those who are pining for an electric car and would fit the requirements, the Fit EV is really hard to beat, as it offers exceptional range and recharge time. Honda says up to 132 miles on a charge, though the EPA’s official estimate is 82 miles overall. (That’s the comparison number to measure against other electric cars, much like the way you can compare fuel economy estimates for gasoline cars.)

The other place the Fit EV shines is in its recharge time, which Honda says is about 3 hours when using a 240 volt charger. That’s also known as a Level II charging unit, which you’d have hard-wired into your garage or carport. It’s also the kind we see popping up in public parking areas as well.

To keep tabs on the charge, Honda gives you a little fob that shows not only your battery state but also lets you pre-condition the car’s climate control by pushing a button. You can also get this information (as well as program charging times) via an app for a smart phone.

As far as the way the Fit EV performs, that’s an equally appealing side. The car’s nimble size makes it very easy to maneuver, and acceleration is quick, which is typical of electric cars in general. The somewhat upright shape of the body also makes it able to carry people and cargo in a way that belies the shadow it casts on the pavement.

I haven’t done an extensive drive with it yet, but at a media preview inPasadenarecently I did get a chance to toss the little Honda through a closed handling course. It’s not a sports car by any means, but given its mission in life as a commuter car, it’s sufficiently sporty nonetheless. The battery-powered Fit also handled the hilly neighborhoods near the Rose Bowl with ease.

This is obviously a car that’s come a long way from Honda’s first electric, which was the EV Plus from 1997, leased only inCalifornia. That one was pretty rudimentary by comparison, and they only built 300 of them in a kind of early experiment in the technology.

Every 2013 Fit EV — which will lease for $389 a month for three years — will be built exactly the same way. Finished in a bright shade of metallic blue and equipped with automatic climate control, a navigation system, and so on. You won’t miss them when you see them out on the road, as they’re proudly labeled with “Fit EV” badging.

Electric cars are here, no doubt about it. Just look at all the Nissan Leafs and Chevrolet Volts already zipping aroundSouthern California. Now, Honda’s in the game as well, and is putting its own signature on the EV segment.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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