Curbside Outtake: Honda S660, Daihatsu Copen, and Daihatsu Move Canbus – My Top 3 Favorite Kei Cars

(First posted 7/14/2018)  CC has covered several of Japan’s small “minicars”; referred to in Japanese as the “kei jidosha” class of automobiles.  One of my favorites is Paul’s “bucket list” drive of an original Subaru 360.  It brought back memories of a Suzuki Cervo that belonged to a buddy during my first visit to Japan in 1981.  Like Paul, I’m long of torso, and my first time climbing in was memorable.  He asked if I wanted to drive, so I tried to cram myself into the driver’s seat – but there wasn’t enough room.  My legs were bent about as far as they would go and I still couldn’t safely manipulate the pedals.  Switching, I was able to fold myself into the passenger seat, but just barely and in significant discomfort.  Fast-forward, and Japan’s minicars, though still relatively small, have made immense progress over the intervening thirty-five some years.  Here are three that if I was in the market, I’d cruise on down for a test drive…

Honda S660 – the Junior NSX.  Well, maybe not in terms of performance, but the S660 definitely has the look.  I’m reminded of something I heard Tom Gale of Chrysler say regarding large versus small cars – “it’s always easier to style a larger car as you have more real estate to work with.”  Given its size, the S660 looks great.  Like a mid-engined exotic, the 658 cc turbocharged three cylinder is located behind the driver’s seat – and while it only makes 63 hp, it comes with a proper six speed manual.  And if you are looking for more hp, the folks at Mugen Motorsport, the official Honda Tuner Co., would be glad to assist.

Daihatsu Copen – When a Miata is Too Big.  Here’s another car that I think looks pretty good given its small size.  The Copen is more of a Boulevardier than the S660 and with typical front wheel drive, it’s not quite as exotic as the mid-engined Honda.  It does allow though for a folding hardtop roof option – nice to have for inclement weather – and just like your rich neighbor’s $60K Mercedes SLC at one-fourth the price.

Daihatsu Canbus – Small But Stylish Van.  Most of the small kei-class vans in Japan are used as commercial vehicles, so function takes precedent over style.  The “tall vans” – the Suzuki Wagon R and Daihatsu Tanto add a little spice, but I think the Canbus manages to look the best.  I’m not typically a fan of two-toning, but think it’s quite attractive here.  Lots of space inside too – I’ve sat in a Canbus – though it’s still narrow, I was comfortable both in front and in back.

Kei cars aren’t at the top of my list – they’re still too small for my aging, stiff body, but they’re no longer the tiny penalty boxes they used to be.  Given the right set of circumstances, I could see parking one in my driveway.

Jul 2024 Update.  I’m now six years older and a kei-class vehicle is looking much more desirable as I get farther into the senior citizen demographic.  Just like with most of Japan’s older folks, my next vehicle will likely be a kei, probably not a 660 or Copen, but a Canbus or Honda N-Box would fit the bill quite nicely.