"The penalty box of life."

Jeff Conrad, Honda's senior vice president and general manager, uses that phrase in reference to the Fit's small-car competitors. And when comparing the latest edition of Honda's mighty little hatchback to the rest of the field, he may well have a point.

Since the car's 2007 arrival, critics have lauded its fun-to-drive qualities and impressive carrying capacity. And with few exceptions, the newest and smallest of Hondas that are now arriving from their plant in Mexico should receive similar accolades.

The Fit sticks to a proven formula: keep the size and weight in check; keep the body lean and spacious; and keep drivers and passengers thinking they're ensconced in a vehicle that's larger than it actually is.

Despite being physically and dimensionally similar (a tiny bit wider and longer in distance between the front and rear wheels, but slightly shorter, overall), the Fit actually looks bigger, which is partly a function of more prominent bodyside creases and fenders that bulge out around the wheel openings. Also, the wraparound headlight pods integrate with the grille and no longer extend alongside the hood. The taillights are enlarged and the squared-off liftgate glass helps emphasize the width.

The Fit's interior has always been a marvel of practicality, but Honda has made some adjustments in this area. On the plus side, passenger volume has modestly increased and rear-seat legroom lengthened by 3.1 inches, primarily due to the new chassis and more compact rear suspension. However these spatial adjustments result in less cubic-feet of cargo space with the rear seat in place or folded flat. Mind you most owners probably won't notice the shrinkage. As before, the back seat cushion can still be folded up for transporting tall objects and the front seat still folds flat for toting oversized cargo. Both features place the Fit far ahead of the competition.

The luxury-oriented dashboard also deserves special mention, along with the easy-to-read gauges and glove-friendly oversized control knobs.

Getting the Fit under way is now the job of a new 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, compared to 117 horses and 106 pound-feet of torque for the previous 1.5.

Directing power to the front wheels is handled by a new six-speed manual transmission, or equally new continuously variable unit (CVT) option. Honda makes available a sport mode with paddle shifters, but ultimately it's no substitute for a multi-speed automatic, even if the latter tends to be slightly less fuel-efficient. Fortunately the standard six-cog manual gearbox is there to save the day.

What is undeniably positive about the CTV is that it helps with the Fit's impressive fuel economy numbers that are pegged at 33 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway, up from 28/35 with the previous five-speed automatic transmission. The six-speed manual delivers similar improvements.

Just because the Fit is Honda's bottom-rung model (starting at $16,200, including destination fees) it's by no means shy on content. For instance the top-line EX-L features a power moonroof, multi-angle rearview camera (a basic rearview camera is standard) leather-covered seats (heated in front) and push-button start that were previously not offered. Additionally, Honda's optional voice-controlled navigation system can be ordered, but only with the EX-L trim level.

On the road, the new Fit proves its worth by providing occupants with a quiet, comfortable and spacious environment. As well, the driver is treated with more than a modicum of driving enjoyment that, although not quite as sporty as the previous Fit, remains class leading. The little wagon handles winding roads with minimal body lean and tracks true over uneven surfaces. Those in back might even feel as though they're seated in a Honda Accord.

Poised and polished might seem cliché descriptors, but the Fit is again shaping up as the preferred entry-car by skating well clear of the penalty box.

What you should know: 2015 Honda Fit
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact wagon
Engine (hp): 1.5-liter DOHC I4 (130)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; continuously variable (CVT)
Market position: The range of small models continues to hold steady, with redesigned versions now being adorned with more standard and optional content. This tends to attract buyers who prefer all the goodies in a smaller package.
Points: Redesigned top to bottom, but retains  similar look; New four-cylinder engine ups power, while similarly increasing fuel economy; CVT saves fuel, but isn't as fun to drive as traditional automatic; All-new, larger HR-V wagon based on Fit platform due to arrive early next year; Impressive people, cargo space makes Fit tops in small wagon class.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 33/41 (CVT); Base price (incl. destination): $16,200

By comparison

Ford Fiesta Hatchback
Base price: $15,400
Sharp styling, three-cylinder turbo option make Fiesta a popular pick.

Nissan Versa Note
Base price: $14,800
Low-priced wagon holds an impressive amount of stuff. Easy on gas.

Chevrolet Sonic hatch
Base price: $15,600
Junior-sized Chevy also comes in sedan version, as do other competitors.

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