Automotive

Small car, big fun – a quick spin in the Honda S660

Small car, big fun – a quick s...
The car's canvas roof can be taken off and stored in a small compartment under the bonnet
The car's canvas roof can be taken off and stored in a small compartment under the bonnet
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The S660 is mid engined and rear drive
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The S660 is mid engined and rear drive
Honda's designers took clear inspiration from the Honda Beat when penning the S660's front end
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Honda's designers took clear inspiration from the Honda Beat when penning the S660's front end
Those yellow plates are a sign the S660 fits Japan's Kei-car laws
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Those yellow plates are a sign the S660 fits Japan's Kei-car laws
They might be small, but the S660's tires give you good grip when you're throwing it around
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They might be small, but the S660's tires give you good grip when you're throwing it around
The S660 can be ordered with a CVT, but why would you bother when the manual is this good?
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The S660 can be ordered with a CVT, but why would you bother when the manual is this good?
There's not much space inside, especially if you're long-limbed like me
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There's not much space inside, especially if you're long-limbed like me
The engine is tiny, putting out 63 hp
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The engine is tiny, putting out 63 hp
It might be small but the S660's engine has plenty of character, especially when you wind down the window designed to let turbo noises into the cabin
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It might be small but the S660's engine has plenty of character, especially when you wind down the window designed to let turbo noises into the cabin
The instruments are clear and easy to read
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The instruments are clear and easy to read
As is becoming common on sports cars, the S660 is fitted with a g-force meter and a turbo boost gauge
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As is becoming common on sports cars, the S660 is fitted with a g-force meter and a turbo boost gauge
The car's canvas roof can be taken off and stored in a small compartment under the bonnet
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The car's canvas roof can be taken off and stored in a small compartment under the bonnet
The car might be small, but there are plenty of neat styling touches that make it stand out
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The car might be small, but there are plenty of neat styling touches that make it stand out
Rumours that a 1.0-liter version of the S660 is coming to western shores have been swirling around since its launch
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Rumours that a 1.0-liter version of the S660 is coming to western shores have been swirling around since its launch
The vents behind the front wheels cool the brakes
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The vents behind the front wheels cool the brakes
With sharp steering and flat turn in, S660 is great fun on the twisty roads
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With sharp steering and flat turn in, S660 is great fun on the twisty roads
With the roof off, things are a bit blustery in the S660's cabin
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With the roof off, things are a bit blustery in the S660's cabin
The vents behind the windows are one of many similarities between the Honda S660 and Lamborghini Aventador
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The vents behind the windows are one of many similarities between the Honda S660 and Lamborghini Aventador
The S660's motor comes from the Honda N-Box, but it's got a sportier tune for the sports car
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The S660's motor comes from the Honda N-Box, but it's got a sportier tune for the sports car
The S660's gearbox is one of the highlights of the experience
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The S660's gearbox is one of the highlights of the experience
The car's interior is stripped back, but it has everything you need
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The car's interior is stripped back, but it has everything you need
The S660 drew admiring glances wherever we took it
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The S660 drew admiring glances wherever we took it
With the engine so close, you're able to hear and feel everything that's going on in the S660's motor
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With the engine so close, you're able to hear and feel everything that's going on in the S660's motor
View gallery - 22 images

When people think of Kei-cars, they tend to think of boxy wagons and quirky hatchbacks designed only for the Japanese market. With tiny 660 cc engines that qualify them for cheap tax and insurance, the Kei-car platform doesn't seem like a natural place to start when designing a sports car.

That didn't deter Honda from creating a mid-engine, rear-drive sports car to fit the strict yellow-plate rules.

The S660 was originally teased as a concept at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, but made it to production virtually unchanged. In the metal, there's a strong resemblance to the Honda Beat, one of Honda's pint-sized sports car from the past. Those low, wide headlamps mirror the Beat's lights, while the line that runs along the side is also a clear reference. The rear deck is short, with pronounced hips and small cooling louvres over the tiny 3-cylinder powerplant, while there are small cooling vents cut into the front flanks.

With sharp steering and flat turn in, S660 is great fun on the twisty roads
With sharp steering and flat turn in, S660 is great fun on the twisty roads

The S660 has even got Lamborghini Aventador style air intakes sitting over the driver and passenger's shoulders, and a tiny window between the rear buttresses that opens up to give you a better connection to the engine's turbo noises.

Sounds a bit gimmicky, but the little window is actually one of the best features on the car – we found ourselves giggling away as the little engine huffed and puffed its way through town.

Roof off, tiny rear window down and it was time to hit the open road ... and first impressions were good. The car's clutch is light and the gear ratios are perfectly spaced for making the most of the little engine's 63 hp (47 kW) as we zip between immaculately maintained taxis and boxy Daihatsus towards the Tomei expressway.

The S660's three-cylinder turbo engine is from Honda's N-Box, but it's been tweaked with new turbo geometry for better performance off the line and in the midrange. It sounds raucous and rattly as we buzz along, but it's got plenty of punch provided you keep it between 3,000 and 6,000 rpm.

While the S660 is performing perfectly, I'm not doing so well. With no data connection, Google Maps is having a minor freakout and at the Tomei Expressway's first toll booth, I pull up to a gate specifically for people with a prepaid toll card. I, being from Melbourne and not Tokyo, don't have that card. Cue an awkward exchange with a polite, gloved gentleman who runs across from the neighboring booth to take my money.

Eventually we get back up to speed, accompanied by some brilliant turbo noises between gear changes. With the engine right over your shoulder, you can hear everything that's going on back there, feel the warmth it's creating as you look over back to change lanes.

With the engine so close, you're able to hear and feel everything that's going on in the S660's motor
With the engine so close, you're able to hear and feel everything that's going on in the S660's motor

At highway speeds things are a little blustery in the S660's cabin. The top of my head pokes out above the top of the windscreen, which makes for plenty of buffeting at 100 km/h (62 mph).

It's worth keeping in mind the S660 isn't exactly designed to do highway miles with lanky foreign journalists behind the wheel. That said, it feels absolutely rock solid at high speed and the ride is compliant and comfy. There's also no feeling that you might be blown off the road by the big semi trailers blasting past, which is reassuring for the gangly gaijin behind the wheel.

Off the freeway, it's time to point the tiny Honda's nose at some bends – and what better place to do it than in the hills above Hakone. From the first corner it's clear that it takes a fair bit to ruin the S660's composure. The little Honda is perfectly neutral: once it's turned in, it just holds its line perfectly.

As well as being perfect for Tokyo's tight streets, that light steering means you can flick the car around on the tight roads around Hakone without too much awkward hand-shuffling on the wheel.

What's more, the S660's size makes it perfect for exploring narrow roads. Anything bigger would make you nervous about drifting across the lines on the seemingly never-ending blind bends around Hakone, but the little Honda's tiny footprint means you can move around in your lane and find a neat line without worrying about hitting something coming the other way.

The steering is light and direct, and the S660 stays flat when you throw it around. Because it's so light the suspension doesn't need to be rock solid to keep the mass under control, so the fact it's compliant and comfortable on the motorway doesn't hold it back when you're having a crack.

The car's interior is stripped back, but it has everything you need
The car's interior is stripped back, but it has everything you need

Highlight of the whole experience, though, is the gearbox. Honda has a reputation for making super-slick manuals and the S660's is no different. Shifting with the short-throw metallic gearstick is an absolute joy, and a reminder that paddles and power don't always equal more fun.

There has been talk about an S660 making its way to the US and other western markets with a bigger, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine. While the car's size would be restrictive for bigger buyers, we're sure that Honda would find driving enthusiasts looking for an inexpensive weekend car that you can enjoy at legal speeds.

View gallery - 22 images
10 comments
Bob Stuart
"Because it's so light, the suspension does not have to be rock solid to keep it under control." Please, try to appreciate finesse when you feel it, and not publish silly theories. We really could have used a number on "light," too.
GiolliJoker
Place a VFR1200 engine inside it and you have a serious sportscar... Even with that tiny powerplant it's actually lovely. How is it priced? Compared for example to an average Honda Civic on the Japanese market or to the Toyota GT86...
bhtooefr
Stumbling through the respective manufacturer sites:
S660: 1,980,000 JPY
The only Civic in the Japanese market now is the Type-R (which is much, much more expensive), so I'll use the Fit and the Vezel (HR-V) instead.
Fit: 1,299,800 JPY Vezel: 1,931,000 JPY
Toyota 86: 2,987,673 JPY
And, just because it's also likely to be compared...
Mazda Roadster 1.5: 2,494,800 JPY
Jeff G
I would love to see this here in US with the larger engine.
pwndecaf
I liked it when I first saw some preview pics a while back. Looks like fun and is quirky enough for me!
No picture of the trunk in front? I don't imagine it would hold a golf bag with clubs?
Martin Hone
It's not like this is Honda's first foray into small sports cars. The S600 was even more of a novelty but sold internationally, and is a collector's item now.
bergamot69
Leave it as it is and introduce it to the UK market (please)- it's already right hand drive, so as long as it can pass Euro Ncap crash tests it would be a winner.
Yeah, so it's only got a 67bhp engine. So its really not going to be many people's first choice for motorway travelling, but like certain British cars of the past such as the 'real' Issigonis Mini and the Hillman Imp (and variants of both), it should be an absolute hoot to drive, and if it proves to be exceptionally nimble, it would wipe the smile off the faces of drivers of much more expensive and powerful mainstream cars when the going gets twisty and/or congested.
Go on, Honda, I dare you...
owlafaye
660 cc should be good for 75 mpg if the weight is around 1850 lbs. I can live with 67 hp...my Geo is 48 hp (1565 lbs) and prepared passes in 3rd gear are quick. I would love a 660cc sports car.
Bruce H. Anderson
Of the N600, my father said "If I could have fit in it, I would have bought it." Well, technically he could fit, but...you know. So me at 6'1" wonders what qualifies as "lanky." I bet the 660 is plenty peppy and could be more than a weekend toy, but a fun/economical commuter as well. Honda should bring it to the USA ASAP.
mdr
It would be nice if they made a single seat version that would comfortable fit a 260 lbs. 6'4" individual.