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 military tour in Japan in 1981. Like Paul, I’m long of torso (6’6″), 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 was just not 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 – he said its 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 Boulevarder 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 its 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.