We can suck up the fact that America’s big pick-up trucks don’t head Down Under, and can handle admiring the odd hypercar from afar, but missing out on Japan’s kei car segment is something just about all of us here at CarAdvice find heartbreaking.
When the rare opportunity arose to drive the new Honda S660 – the spiritual successor to the S500 and S600 roadsters of the 1960s, and more recently the S2000 – at the brand’s research and development headquarters in Tochigi, Japan, we naturally jumped at it.
The S660, as with all kei cars, has been designed to meet strict Japanese regulations, which in most cases mean the pint-sized playthings never leave the land of the rising sun.
At a smidge under 3.4 metres long, the Honda S660 is more than a foot shorter than the Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback, as well as less than a metre and a half tall.
Its powertrain specs are equally cute. As the name suggests, the S660 is powered by a 660cc three-cylinder petrol engine that produces just 47kW and 104Nm. The engine is mid-mounted and powers the rear wheels, just like an NSX.
We, along with the rest of the world, are holding out hope for a rumoured S1000 version powered by Honda’s new turbocharged 95kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder, though it’s not confirmed for production at this stage, and even then would still be a long shot for Australia.
Putting aside importation and homologation issues, the toy-like Honda would literally be too small for many Australians.
If you’re 180cm tall like yours truly, the top of your head will sit inches clear of the window sills, meaning a drive will mess up your hair, a crash will send your face into the windscreen frame, and a downpour will require you to remove several vertebrae to fit beneath the targa-style roof.
And yet, none of that can wipe the smile from your face when you’re behind the wheel.
The tiny engine sounds like a tortured blender, and sensationally spends 99 per cent of its life screaming between 3500-6000rpm – the mark of a true Honda motor.
Those humble outputs matter little as it propels its 830kg body to its electronically limited 134km/h top speed with plenty up its sleeve.
The highlight of the drivetrain is undoubtedly the S660’s six-speed manual transmission. I feel in love with Honda manuals years ago in an Accord Euro, and the sweet-shifting, stubby, short-throw stick is a euphoric reminder that the Japanese car maker is one of the best in the business at the dying craft.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also available, but you’d be out of you mind to pay more money to miss out on the manual.
The cabin is cramped and about as basic as they come, with little more than climate controls on the narrow dashboard.
But the S660 isn’t about heated seats or cup holders or other things that look good on a spec sheet. At 1.98 million yen ($22,800), it’s about the same price as the brand’s more sensible but far less spirited Jazz Hybrid, with Honda aiming to capture the imagination of the next generation of driving enthusiasts.
And it’s working. Order books for some variants stretch out 12 months, and we’re happy to report the majority of Japanese buyers have so far picked the manual.
Consider us well and truly smitten by the Honda S660. As we see it, there are only two options for the future: confirmation of the S1000 for export, or Japanese citizenship.