Two Wheels or Four? Ducati Bike vs. Honda Fit
The best way to grin through roller-coaster fuel prices and a down economy is to choose an efficient vehicle that delivers plenty of thrills for under $20,000. So, what’ll it be: a subcompact or an exotic Italian bike? We took the Honda Fit Sport and Ducati Hypermotard S out on the road and took a look at the stats to help weigh the option.
The adrenaline rush that comes from piloting a sporty car or a hot-blooded motorcycle through a series of sinuous curves is a joy every gearhead craves. It’s not all about gunning for flat-out, maximum speed. Smoothly connect each corner with the perfect combination of velocity and precision and the experience becomes more than just a cheap thrill—it’s an accomplishment.
Such mechanized fun doesn’t have to come with a sky-high price tag or an EPA fuel-economy rating in the single digits. In fact, for less than $20,000 you can buy a vehicle that will serve as both a weekend toy and a fuel-efficient commuter. The big question is, two wheels or four? We gathered together a pair of seemingly dissimilar vehicles—a high-strung, Italian-bred Ducati Hypermotard 1100 S and a sensible, versatile Honda Fit Sport—to see how they stack up when it comes to fun, practicality and fuel efficiency. We brought them both to Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., and ran them through our usual instrumented tests. We braved many miles of Los Angeles’ famous traffic, and then, finally, we had some fun on Glendora Mountain Road, a 15-mile roller coaster of twisting, turning blacktop in Angeles National Forest. So can a sexy superbike compete with a fuel-efficient hatchback when it comes to value? Can the humble car match the bike for driving thrills? The results may surprise you.
The excitement of any PM test is tempered the moment we leave the office and hit the crowded freeways of Los Angeles. Yet the $15,660 Ducati turns the rigors of rush hour into a real-life video game. The machine is proud to be loud. Twist the grip and the cannonlike exhaust lets out a bark that echoes off 18-wheelers and makes pedestrians jump. Sometimes it’s good to be bad. The tremendous torque of the 1078 cc L-twin rolls on instantly. And with short gearing, we burst through holes in traffic. The downside to these thrills is comfort—we were saddle-sore in less than 100 miles. And there’s no windscreen. Once clear of traffic—at 70 mph—the wind buffeting is fierce and tiring.
In contrast, the $17,580 Honda Fit Sport, loaded down with luggage and test gear, made the grueling rush-hour test loop, well, easy. Compared to the Ducati, the Fit is like a Boeing Business Jet. The effortless five-speed automatic meant our feet were not fatigued by clutch work. And of course, the fully enclosed, climate-controlled cabin—not to mention the MP3-ready 160-watt audio system—kept stop-and-go frustrations to a minimum. The Fit is no Lexus, but it’s a cocoon of silence compared to the bike. You arrive at your destination relaxed—not frazzled, with a bad case of helmet head.
The Hypermotard does hold one practical commuting advantage—lane splitting. The California Highway Patrol says lane splitting is “permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner.” We oblige. The Hypermotard has a tall, upright riding position—similar to a dirt bike’s. So visibility and maneuverability are excellent. The major disadvantage is the lack of room for people and their stuff. Yes, the Hypermotard can handle one passenger. But as a vessel to transport gear and people, the Fit claims an easy victory
On the Weekend
The Ducati produces 95 hp and weighs just 397 pounds. The Fit delivers 22 more hp but has to haul more than an extra ton of metal, glass and rubber. Not surprisingly, the Ducati was the star of the dragstrip. Our hired gun, professional test rider Matthias Jezek, hustled the Hypermotard to 60 mph more than 6 seconds quicker than we could manage in the Honda. In fact, the Ducati reaches 90 mph before the Honda even gets to 60 mph—about two-and-a-half seconds sooner. That’s staggering. So it seems like the Fit must be no fun at all, right? We disagree. The Honda isn’t quick—heck, it’s downright slow. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a blast on a really good slab of tarmac.
Glendora Mountain Road rises from roughly 750 ft at the base to around 3500 ft near the top. It doesn’t have long, sweeping curves but rather tight corners that reward a nimble machine. The Ducati is made for this road. Its long-travel suspension, breathtaking engine and nearly race-spec Brembo brakes make short work of switchbacks. But on test day, Glendora was a minefield. Recent rainstorms had loosened debris from above and caused dirt and softball-size rocks to roll down onto the road. It takes a special kind of bravado (or stupidity) to ride a motorcycle at 10/10ths when every corner hides a mudslide. And we did dial back our speed. Still, short of a full-fledged enduro, this Hypermotard was as well-suited to the challenging terrain as any ride.
One might have thought the Italian Stallion would have walked away from the lowly Fit on this road. But at almost every turn heading up the mountain, the Fit filled the bike’s rearview mirror. The handling balance and grip from this Honda is extraordinary for a car in its class. You can fling the Fit hard into the tightest corner, ride the brakes slightly to take the edge off the understeer and then power out to the next turn. It was surprisingly quick, especially on the downhill, where momentum makes up for the lack of engine power. The Fit actually arrived at the bottom of Glendora ahead of the Ducati—its front brakes nearly smoking. Fun? Oh yeah.
The Bottom Line
So, which one offers the best bang for the buck? There’s no easy answer. The Ducati and Honda are both fun, but we’d certainly crown the fire-breathing Hypermotard king of that battle. As a commuter, we’ll give the edge to the Fit. The Ducati can make better time, but the stiff seat and cramped foot-peg position mean this bike isn’t our first choice for a long-distance cruise. The Fit, on the other hand, would be comfortable enough for a cross-country Cannonball Run. The endgame comes down to fuel efficiency and price. Over our test route, the Honda returned a solid 29.8 mpg. But the high-strung, Italian-bred superbike delivered an incredible 48.9 mpg and cost about $1900 less. That’s the tipping point. Winner: Ducati.
More from Popular Mechanics
The Truth about Fuel-Sipping Turbos
How to Turn Grease Into Biodiesel (for Cheap!)
Quiz: How Do Your Automotive Skills Stack Up?
The 5 Best iPod Car Adapters
Top 5 Fun, Fuel-Efficient European Cars (You Can't Get in America)