Honda S660

They shrunk the roadster, but boosted driving fun

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THE car industry is deeply concerned by the fact that young people arenít buying their wares, or even getting their licences, in the numbers they used to, but perhaps this is because theyíre not building enough cars like the Honda S660.

What 17-year-old, of either sex, wouldnít lust after a car as cool and fun as this?

The S660 roadster, particularly with the short-shifting, superslick six-speed manual gearbox, is a car that reminds us of how great Hondas used to be, before someone in charge nodded off at the wheel and woke up having lame Earth Dreams.

Sadly, this two-door (coin) pocket rocket is a Japan-only kei car, built for their domestic market as a replacement for the similarly cute Honda Beat and powered by an improved version of the same three-cylinder turbocharged engine of just 658cc capacity and 47kW output.

Itís not a lot of power, obviously, but then this diminutive diamond of a car weighs just 830kg Ė which makes the weight of the driver, and passenger, a major consideration in how fast it will get to 100km/h Ė and is just 1180mm high, 1475mm wide and 3395mm long. American supermarket trolleys are bigger.

Anyone of even slightly above average height will need to drive with the roof off, and genuinely tall people will feel the wind in the hairs of their eyebrows, but if youíre of a more manageable size the cabin is comfortable enough once you wriggle into it.

Once at the wheel, the joy kicks in as this tiny, mid-engined sports car wraps itself around you and makes you smile like a teenager with a new iPad.

The S660 has loads of character, a ringing, singing little engine that sounds like its voice hasnít quite broken yet and a wheelbase thatís so short, at 2285mm, it makes a go-kart feel cumbersome.

Winding it through the gears is an absolute hoot (a CVT with paddles is available, but nearly 60 percent of sales in Japan are manual) right up to the point where the 134km/h kei-car speed limit kicks in.

With so little weight and such dinky dimensions, it stops, turns and involves its driver like very few cars youíd pay twice as much for (at current exchange rates itís just under $23,000 in Japan, but thereís a waiting list out to June).

It would also be an absolutely fantastic first car for any L- or Pplater, because itís never going to overpower them, and itís so basic and almost retro in feel that you get a sense of being involved in driving thatís disappeared from a lot of modern vehicles.

In Japan, at least, the next generation has no excuse not to fall in love with the car. mm, mbersome. rough oot able

PLUS & MINUS

May struggle on hills two-up; not for tall folks; sold in Japan only Tiny; light weight; willing engine; great concept; a hoot to throw around Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Honda S660 658cc 3cyl, dohc, 12v, turbo 47kW @ 6000rpm 104Nm @ 2600rpm 6-speed manual 830kg 11.0sec (claimed) 4.7L/100km $22,600 Japan only

Spread the small love

How small are kei cars? So small that, in most rural areas of Japan, theyíre exempt from the requirement to certify that you can park a car before you buy one. These mini cars were created to popularise the idea of affordable motoring for all after the unpleasantness in the 1940s and have proven hugely popular in their home market.

Sadly, the idea has never caught on anywhere else, and human beings in the rest of the world arenít getting any smallerÖ