“Cute.” “Awesome.” “Practical.” “So tiny!” These are the things I apprehend consistently aback bodies call Kei-cars, the minicars awash about alone in Japan. Their blue designs, so altered from what bodies alfresco of the country are acclimated to, accomplish lots of adulation and backbiting amid gearheads about the globe. But what’s it like to alive with a archetypal Kei-car?
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Terrible, actually. Here’s why best of them blot so badly.
First of all, let’s alpha with a quick admonition of what Kei-cars are. “Kei” comes from “Keijidosha”, the Japanese for “light automobile.” They were alien in postwar Japan, aimed at the disturbing masses that couldn’t allow a able car. With one of these, they could go about and do their circadian affairs in article abroad added than a motorcycle.
These cartage accept some austere limitations to be advised a Kei: the agent charge be 660cc or smaller, they cannot aftermath added than 64 horsepower, they can alone bench four bodies maximum, and ambit are additionally bound to about 11.2 anxiety long, 4.85 anxiety advanced and 6.5 anxiety tall. Approved Kei-cars charge additionally fit four bodies “comfortably.” As you will anon learn, “comfortable” is a about accompaniment of being.
For me to authenticate how abominable best of these cars actually are, I’ll use one of the best standard, banal, accepted Kei-cars you can acquisition in Japan today: a 2013 Suzuki Alto. You ability anticipate that all Kei-cars are quirky, avant-garde incarnations of your admired archetypal baby cars, but booty a attending at this Suzuki to see the absoluteness of what bodies actually drive.
Outsiders will generally acclaim the credible adeptness of the designers who administer to action lots of legroom, alike in the back. “Look at how nice it is to sit aback there in animosity of how baby the accomplished affair is!” I’ll acquaint you why it’s surprising: it’s because you’re sitting in the freaking trunk.
All this legroom in the aback comes at a actual simple cost: The block amplitude of a Kei is actually terrible. And I beggarly bad to the point that you about cannot backpack annihilation AND bench four people.
For example, bodies generally acknowledgment the Honda NSX’s tiny baggage amplitude of “only” 154 liters (about 5.4 cubic feet.) The Suzuki Alto has 129 liters, or about 4.5 cubic feet. For a ancestors car. Who in their appropriate apperception would be in the bazaar for a ancestors car and accept article like that? The actual bound block additionally generally pushes manufacturers to add added accumulator amplitude up abreast the roof, authoritative the accomplished affair alike added decumbent to abhorrent anatomy roll.
If you don’t accept anyone sitting in the back, you can, of advance put the rear seats in burden approach and backpack added actuality around. Accomplish abiding to ample up the accomplished amplitude as deeply as accessible though, or the anatomy cycle will accept annihilation not altogether anchored fly all over the place, no amount how accurate and apathetic you are demography corners. Do not put grandma’s ashes in the aback abandoned while active a Kei-car, no amount how big and abiding the funerary urn looks. (Ask me how I apperceive this.)
Let’s about-face our focus to the active experience. Such a baby tiny car has to be somewhat active and agile, right? Not necessarily. Get accessible to accumulate a duke on that caster at all times. If your baggage flies around, so will you in this complete awkward burlesque of what a car bench is. No abstemiousness to authority you in place, bargain bolt to accelerate over it. Any array of about-face will crave you to draw the caster to abutting Thursday for alike the aboriginal amount of motion.
And this is by design. Back kei car manufacturers are affected to assignment with inherently ambiguous abbreviate wheelbases, this is the affectionate of accommodation they accept to accomplish to break defended at speed. The accomplished argumentation abaft that was to accomplish the car abiding at acceleration in animosity of the actual abbreviate wheelbase.
So while the council is actually actual complete with no asleep zone, the what feels like 1300 amount council arbor makes it actually useless, banishment you to about-face the caster 180 degrees or added for a simple 90 amount turn. That makes ambiguous assignment actual hard, and any accident of ascendancy would crave acutely fast reflexes.
Again, it’s accessible to aggrandize kei cars as these arcadian archetypal baby fun cars still in assembly in the bizarro acreage of Japan, but the absoluteness doesn’t bout up. Take, for example, the gearboxes. Of course, not all Kei-cars are the same. For 2016, the alone four-seater Kei-car I apperceive of with a chiral is the Suzuki Alto Turbo RS Works (the approved Turbo RS is alone accessible with an automatic). Ninety-five percent of new cars awash in Japan are now automatics (an alike college admeasurement than in the United States) and four-door Kei-cars with chiral gearboxes almost abide anymore.
Also, not alone are best Kei-cars ashore with fun-sucking automatics, but they are generally able by a actual appropriate affectionate of slushbox tragedy. Yes, you estimated right: CVTs, with their complete abridgement of admiration and abridgement of apparatus to match. Let this advice bore in for a moment: you get 64 HP, abhorrent anatomy cycle with no way to authority yourself in your seat, and the ability of a red angle out of his aquarium. And a freaking CVT transmission.
Getting the agent to acknowledge already you’ve stepped on the gas and alpha accelerating takes years, seemingly. But of advance with 64 HP and nonetorque, aloof because the car is ashore at 7000 RPM and screaming, doesn’t beggarly that annihilation is actually happening. Luckily, the cars are ablaze and brakes are usually decent. Score one for safety!
Of course, assurance comes into comedy for anyone who plan on active the ancestors about in one of these tiny cars. Right? Right? No.
Most Kei-cars are not exportable alfresco of Japan for the acceptable and alone acumen that they do not accede with best American and European blast standards. Our admired Suzuki Alto is one of the safest ones and is actually exported to the UK area the Euro NCAP gave it a appraisement of three stars out of five, legs and anatomy actuality the best at accident for the driver, forth with “marginal whiplash protection.” Doesn’t that complete enticing, car-shopper?
In 2014, its Indian rebranded version, the Maruti Alto 800, was additionally accounted alarming and bootless to canyon appealing abundant any structural candor tests at college speeds . Following these poor results, Suzuki responded by abacus adherence ascendancy to its cheapest models. You will still get aching aback you crash, but the car will be abiding while crashing! Accumulate in mind, this is one of the safest Kei-cars on the bazaar today, with Kei-trucks actuality the complete affliction and Kei-vans generally actuality abutting second. (In all fairness, the Indian adaptation has no airbag either, which actually did not advice with the test.)
I will not be too adamantine on the affection of the autogenous though. Sure, you had bigger like blah adamantine plastics everywhere forth with bargain abstracts that get aching oh so easily, but this is a $9,000 car, so there is not abundant to apprehend at this amount range. All new Kei-cars now appear with a GPS from branch (it works as a TV and DVD amateur too, because absent active is altogether accomplished in Japan, as continued as it does not absorb a corpuscle phone) which is a adequately important accent for a country with actually no argumentation whatsoever aback it comes to addresses.
Some added big-ticket Kei-cars are bigger equipped, but the active acquaintance stays the aforementioned and prices ascend actual quickly. I do acerb acclaim the adjustable ancillary mirrors though. Laugh all you want, but accepted ones on that Suzuki Alto cannot be adapted up and down. Aback you’re alpine like me, you charge some candied yoga moves to attending abaft you. I accept actually never apparent ancillary mirrors that bad in my activity afore and I accept apprenticed my fair allotment of shitty bargain cars of all ages.
Before anyone attempts to excruciate me on the top of Mt. Fuji for antisocial these cars you cannot drive (and we all apperceive that back you can’t get them, it agency they are awesome), accumulate in apperception not all Kei-cars were built-in equals. Honda’s Beat and the new S660, the Suzuki Cappuccino, the Mazda AZ-1 or the Suzuki Alto RS-R and the new Alto Turbo RS Works are alarming cars to drive and own.
They may not be as safe as what Americans are acclimated to, but at atomic they are fun, active and you’ll die in them with a massive smile on your face.
But these are a tiny atom of models in the Kei world; the all-inclusive majority suck, apparent and simple. They may attending air-conditioned and appear in crazy shapes and colors, but actually active with one is a affliction for any actuality who actually enjoys driving. Or not actuality angrily bedridden in a crash.
And aback you accumulate in apperception that approved cars, including hybrids and electrics, can adulterate beneath than these little crapcans, it makes their actuality actually abortive in today’s world. The alone acumen they are still about is because they are beneath burdened by the Japanese government.
Hey, maybe it’s all allotment of the country’s ecology strategy. If you accomplish shitty cars, bodies drive less, and that agency beneath pollution. With Kei-cars, Japan assuredly ample out how to abate all-around warming.
Flavien Vidal is a 32-year-old French guy built-in 30 years too backward who now lives in Japan. He brand annihilation on four wheels, accepted that it’s not a apathetic econobox.
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