The fact that we, as Australians, are such a big, handsome and powerfully proportioned people doesn’t normally seem like a disadvantage, until you drive a car like the Honda S660, a vehicle so cutely cool and unabashedly fun that it makes you want to turn Japanese, or at least move there.
The S660, which brings to mind the driving joy of the much-missed Honda S2000, albeit without any of the power, is what the Japanese call a “kei" car”, meaning extremely light and tiny, basically.
They are built to meet special government regulations and are considered too niche, and too small, for export, because people overseas are, to be blunt, a lot taller (and heavier).
It could be argued that a car powered by a teeny 660cc, 47kW, 104Nm three-cylinder engine only makes sense if it’s going to be driven by someone who weighs about as much as a large poodle, but it’s not the case.
Yes, it sounds like a very angry hair dryer and it is, by law, limited to a top speed of 134km/h, but speed doesn’t matter in a car like this, which weighs just 830kg and is 3.44m long, 1.47m wide and 1.18m high. Even Kylie Minogue is 1.5m tall.
There’s something so raw, basic and toy-like about the S660 that makes its charms irresistible.
One colleague who drove it around Honda’s Tochigi proving ground this week is well over six foot in the old money and most of his head was sticking out the car’s removable roof, but he still got out begging to buy one.
Even in Japan this is not easy to do, however, with orders backed up so far that slapping your 1.98m yen ($A22,600) down today won’t see you taking delivery until June.
It’s good to hear that some 57 percent of these little wonders sold are fitted with a manual, because the short-stick, short-shifting six-speeder in the S660 is a reminder of the fact that, when it wants to, Honda can make the best gearboxes in the world.
Yes, the cabin does feel cramped, even if you’re only of average Australian height, but this just helps the car shrink around you, and it’s partly the fact of how small it is, and how tiny the wheelbase is, that makes it such a chuckable, chuckling hoot to drive.
While any enthusiast would love to own an S660 as a weekend toy, it’s clear that this car is designed to appeal to youngsters, partly because it looks so funky and trendy, and partly because it would be such a perfect car to learn to drive in.
The Japanese are famously good at the art of miniaturisation and the S660 is one of their best examples yet.
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