As crazy as Japanese Kei cars are
, to call them sporty would be a bare-faced lie. After all, they're restricted to 660cc and 63bhp, so there's no real point in trying to make them go fast. Not that you would really want to: any more than walking pace in a car as wide as your arm-span is going to feel utterly terrifying
But that doesn't stop the Japanese engineers, who are even crazier
than the designers. And they stuff their Keis with all sorts of high-performance technology to squeeze every last one of the 63 horses they're allowed from the (literally) pint-sized engines. In fact, they pack so much stuff in, it borders on over-kill
. Here are five of the sportiest and most over-engineered Kei-cars in existence.
1. Suzuki Cappuccino
Yes, it looks a bit girly and it's named after a frothy coffee. But underneath, the Cappuccino is a serious sports car
. With the wheels pushed out to the corners and drive going to the rear, it's properly chuckable.
Power comes from a 657cc triple with four valves per cylinder, twin overhead camshafts and an intercooled turbo. It had to be heavily restricted
to keep it down to the maximum 63bhp and would easily pass a limiterless 100mph. Which must be fun when your head is level with truck axles.
The Cappuccino was officially imported to the UK from 1993-1995, with 1110 cars finding homes.
2. Daihatsu Avanzato
Otherwise known as the Daihatsu Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4 in the UK, this boxy little hatchback had some proper performance
credentials to go with its convoluted name. Its 63bhp came from a 659cc, four-cylinder, 16-valve motor with a DOHC head, a turbo and an intercooler. Four-wheel drive
put the grunt on the road.
UK market cars dispatched the 0-60mph sprint in 10 seconds, while top speed was around 100mph. There was even a short-lived one-make rally series for them. Which actually isn't all that surprising, since the spec makes it look like a tiny Mitsubishi Evo
Incidentally, 'avanzato' means 'advanced' in Italian, while the letters 'R' and 'X' represent danger
in Japanese culture.
3. Subaru Vivo
The hot version of Scooby's mainstay Kei-car broke with tradition, having an 'in-line' engine rather than a 'boxer', and a supercharger
instead of a turbo. But as ever the 658cc, 16-valve, DOHC 'four' produced the maximum 63bhp, inevitably harnessed by four-wheel-drive.
The Vivio was intended to be a rally car from the off, Subaru even producing a special RX-RA version with a close-ratio gearbox and beefed-up suspension. It played a starring role
in the 1993 Safari Rally when a certain Colin McRae flogged
his Vivio up to third place against works Group A Celica GT4's and Lancia Integrales before it fell apart, forcing him to retire.
4. Mitsubishi Minica Dangan
If you've played a lot of Gran Turismo, you'll almost certainly be familiar with the Dangan (which is Japanese for 'bullet'
). It mostly matched it's rival on spec: 659cc 'four'; twin-overhead-cams; turbocharger and intercooler; four-wheel-drive. But it won the game of one-upmanship, packing a huge 20 valves
into it's tiny cylinder head. They must be the size of pencils.
The original, three-cylinder Dangan of 1989 was the first production car with five valves per cylinder. Revving into the stratosphere, it was probably the ultimate
Kei-car of it's day.
5. Honda S500
The little Honda wasn't classed as a Kei-car in it's day, but it would be now, so that gives me the excuse I need to tell you about it's incredible engine
. It's tiny 531cc, four-cylinder mill drew heavily on Honda's motorbike technology
. It featured double overhead cams and four minuscule carburettors. Producing all of 44bhp it revved to a mind-boggling
With power peaking at 8,000rpm
, you had to work the four-speed gearbox hard to keep the S500 on the boil. But all-independent suspension gave it the handling to make maintaining precious momentum easy. It must have been absolute riot