All froth and no espresso shot? Not this little mug. It’s full of beans and ready to deliver 660cc of Robusta excitement. All you good folks out in the US of A seem to always be yearning for something really original to show up with at your car meets. Well, if Camaros and Mustangs aren’t your cup of tea, your barista T87 has found the car for you. It’s tiny, sporty and completely unknown in your climes. And despite the colour, it is not “pumpkin-spiced.” Ready to try a new kind of Cappuccino?
Suzuki are more renowned for their sports bike than their sports cars. But back in the ‘90s, they got their act together and made the coolest sports kei of the period (along with the Autozam AZ-1). The Cappuccino was launched in October 1991, not long after the kei regulations had changed to allow engines to grow to 660cc. In the Suzuki, it’s a 657cc 12-valve turbocharged DOHC 3-cyl. that delivers all of 63 hp – the maximum allowed under kei regulations. Oddly enough, the aforementioned Autozam used the very same power source. The engine block was purposefully placed behind the front wheels to improve the car’s balance and weight distribution.
Power is sent to the rear wheels via a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed auto. The body, the wheels and the suspension – double wishbones all around – are aluminium, making the Cappuccino quite the featherweight: only 700 kg. In 1995, the engine block also switched to all-alloy and the 14-inch wheels went from seven to six spokes, taking another 10 kg off the car. Brakes were discs all around (ventilated in the front) and ABS was on the options list. But this is a kei car, so there was a limiter on the engine: the Cappuccino can only reach 140 kph (about 90 mph), but at least you’ll have a ball doing it. First though, you have to get inside and drive it, and that’s where things might get tricky for some of you.
If you’re over 180cm tall and your diet is not based on raw fish and seaweed, you might find it a bit too snug for comfort. As per kei regulations, Suzuki only had 3.3 meters (10’ 8’’) to design the car into and they still decided to push the engine back. For laudable and sporty reasons, sure, but that still ate into the footwells. Then, there is the clever modular hardtop to take into account. The Cappuccino is a coupé / T-top / targa / roadster. The roof can be taken apart (easily, this is not an MG) and stowed (manually, this is not a Mercedes) in the trunk while the rear window slides behind the seats. So they had to give this sucker a rear end, too.
And strangely, this rear end, smooth as it is, seems to lack any sort of identification or script. Looking a bit closer, you do see a very faint “Suzuki” embossed under the rear window, but the white paint that used to be there weathered off ages ago. No mention of the word “Cappuccino” anywhere. Period PR material does show a chromed “Cappuccino” script on the back of the car, but perhaps this was only optional.
Out on the front side, it’s also rather difficult to know what you’re looking at. Some Cappuccinos do have the Suzuki “S” emblem on the hood, but judging from a quick Google image search, they’re not necessarily the majority. Furthermore, no car I’ve seen on the Internets had the rear “Cappuccino” script, either. Another baffling branding decision by a Japanese automaker, optional emblem delete from the dealership or do this car’s badges tend to self-destruct with time?
Only 26,583 Cappuccinos – all of them RHD – were made when production stopped in late 1998. They were expensive and exclusive. In fact, they were meant to be strictly for the domestic market, but a few hundred were exported to the UK and Hong Kong, and a few dozen of the British ones ended up in another handful of Western European destinations, but 90% of them stayed in Japan. And they’re still popular. As a sporty RWD drop-top, this kei car is one of the few of its kind that never really went out of style. It seems the pre-1995 models command a higher price, due to their more reliable engine and their age, which makes them eligible for export to the US. I understand some have already crossed the Pacific. Overall, this is quite an irresistible little thing. It’s a ¾ scale Miata, but with the same amount of fun built into it.
Curbside Capsule: 1991-97 Suzuki Cappuccino – Hot Frothy Little Thing, by William Stopford
Didn’t Nissan have an Espresso, either kei or just a small car?
Nissan had the 4 cars known as ‘Pike’ cars: Figaro (convert), Be1, Pao, S-Cargo.
We actually have an S-Cargo here in town in Manhattan Kansas, as a pizza delivery vehicle.
The one seen with alarming regularity these days is the Daihatsu Cocoa.
I have only ever seen roadster Cappuccinos – the other variants must be heavier surely ?
It really is tiny in the metal though – makes an A/H Sprite look big !
There’s only one body style. Starting with the roof up, first the side panels of the roof come off and go in the trunk so that you have a T-top. Then the central panel comes off and goes in the trunk too, so that now you have a targa. Lastly, the back window drops away into the body so that you have a convertible.
It was all very clever, and it left you with no storage space whatsoever. The driving experience was so engaging that it didn’t matter!
I’ve actually seen a Cappuccino in the wild in the US, believe it or not. That car did have the script “Cappuccino” badge on the trunk — if it wasn’t for that badge I would have had no idea what it was!
Presumably that car was imported under the 25 year rule, so it must have been an earlier one. Maybe the earlier ones had the badge and they eliminated it on the later ones? Or maybe a lot of Cappuccino owners just like to follow the popular practice of “debadging” their cars.
I’ve seen several in my area, living in W. WA there are several companies in the area that import vehicles, mainly from Japan, under the 25 year rule, and sometimes 15 year rule to be sold to Canadians. One of them had a 2 Cappuccinos about a year ago. The rougher one that had some tears on the driver’s seat and supposedly needed a new clutch was $4K if I remember right and it included a full clutch kit which was pictured. I was seriously tempted as they look like a hoot to drive, though fitting in it was a big concern. I know at least one of them had the Cappuccino badge on it and it was more of the puffy sticker like badge.
These are my current favorites.
I fell in severe car heat when I saw one of these in Kobe on a business trip back in the mid-1990s (pre-earthquake). Unfortunately, it would be like trying to squeeze my size 12 feet into size 9 shoes.
A very nice find. And great Photoshop work again, Tatra! I like the desaturation of the background.
I didn’t Photoshop these pics, honest. The car was that yellow, and the rest of the world was that gray. It was like taking closeups of the sun.
I love this little thing! At 6’0″ tall, I probably couldn’t sit in it for too long, but it’s just so darned cute. Thanks for this overview.
I quite like this as well, but since I’m a bit larger than the pictured Dutch dame in red I don’t know if it could be a lasting relationship (with the car I mean). Bummer but I’d certainly like to try. I suppose the same probably holds true for the Autozam and the Beat as well.
I’ve seen a couple of the Autozams buzzing around. Utterly fascinating mini alien spaceships. Coolest keis on the planet, or rather outside of it. I haven’t caught one yet, unfortunately. But once I do, I’ll take it to my leader.
Is that a Cocoa next to the Cappuccino? That’s funny!
I would be all over one of those. More horsepower than my daily driver too. Maybe we can sneak some into CA before the courts settle the Fed vs State emission disagreement.
I have driven one, and at 183cm it was a squeeze. Fun car, but with my legs twisted so they would allow me to steer I couldn’t have done it for long. Could not have done it at all with the top up or if it had had a manual! But being so light it was quite sprightly and handled very well. Just a touch more room and I’d probably have bought one.
Another example of how great empires fall, for, despite inventing the class weeny-sportif and ruling it as it once did the waves, did we ever see Britain produce the Morris Cuppa Char, Austin Teabag, or Healey Horlicks? No, they clung blindly, whilst falling, to what they knew, knew of style but also of lever arms and leafs and leaks from above and from below.
Their former vanquished foe in the East first built their mousetrap under licence, then better, then made the trap entirely new, and flourished long after the victors had vacated the field.
After all, this mighty little car is the size of a 1960 Sprite, give or take, and is as cute (and it too has the name of a drink, not that Healey knew that then). If England had stayed the course, I would like to think it would be something like this machine.
Though upon reflection, perhaps the English may have been better to do as Suzuki did and used for nomenclature a drink not native to them – say, the “Triumph Champers”, for example – even though I reckon Suzuki missed a trick by not naming theirs the Suzuki Sake.
It does look about the size of a MG Midget, doesn’t it?
I would fit nicely in a kei car as I’m Japanese sized (5’5″) I wonder if I could import a Cappaccino or Figaro with the 25 yr regs, but how would I go about it? And service it? I suppose that would all be on me 🙂
No need to import it yourself, there are lots of companies that are in the business and have them for sale in the US. Most of them are on the west coast. One near me had 2 for a while but here is another currently for sale. https://www.theimportguys.com/product-page/1992-suzuki-cappuccino-1 That one is more modified than I’d prefer on such an oddball. Now if you do want to import yourself here are 25, though a number won’t be eligible for a few more months or are only good for Canada for now. https://carfromjapan.com/cheap-used-suzuki-cappuccino-for-sale?limit=50
Service? Well I understand much of the drivetrain is shared with the Kei trucks, so those items should be available but good luck on body and interior. But since they do have a bit of a cult following there is information on the web when you do need to fix something or track down parts.
Great article! The car still looks fresh after all these years. Just curious, isn’t the Cappuccino supposed to run yellow plates since it’s a kei car? Or is there a bigger engine under the hood of this one to warrant white plates?
Im not a fan of convertibles. But i do like small front/mid engine gt cars. Give this thing a gt fasback roofline and a motor based on a bmw k1600 motorcycle engine and im all over it.