Honda N-One


Debut: 2012
Maker: Honda
Predecessor: Life / Zest



 Published on 10 Nov 2014 All rights reserved. 


Government regulations could distort the free market. In Japan, government regulations created a special kind of cars: Kei cars, or light automobiles in official terms. They are limited to 3.4 meters long and 1.48 meters wide, powered by motors no larger than 660 c.c. and produce no more than 64 ps. Compared to normal cars they are benefited by lower tax rates, license fees and insurance. The original intent of light automobiles rules was to promote motorization of Japan after the Second World War, when fuel was in short supply. Over the years, it became a tradition that bureaucrats unwilling to change. K-cars account for 40 percent of all cars sold in Japan today, and they support the very survival of Suzuki and Daihatsu. In the years of poor economy, they could even outsell normal cars. It is such an important segment that no local manufacturers could ignore.

Honda entered the K-car market in 1967 with N360, abandoned it for a decade and then re-entered with Today in 1985. Since 1997 its core K-car model had been Life, which went through 3 generations. It was not too successful, so by late 2012 it was replaced by a radically new model, N-One.

The N-One is not just another “me-too” K-car like its predecessor. It is quite special among the seas of competitors. Look at its cartoonish front-end design, with round headlamps and two-tone paint job to resemble a cute animal face, how can you not love it?



Brilliantly, the cute looks did not compromise practicality. Its body profile is boxy and tall (some 1610 mm) thus maximizes interior space. Moreover, its wheelbase has been stretched to 2520 mm, just 10 mm shy of the larger Fit / Jazz. This exceeds Daihatsu’s and Suzuki's K-car platforms by 30 mm and 95 mm respectively and becomes the new class record. How can it achieve that? Honda specially designed its new S07A engine to be as slim as possible, relocating its peripherals to shorten its north-south dimension, thus allowing the engine and front axle to move closer to the nose and free up more cabin space. No wonder the car has the longest cabin length of the class, offering remarkable knee room for all 4 adults. Headroom is aplenty, too, thanks to the tall roof.

Unusually, the car employs a central fuel tank mounted right under the front seats, something learned from Fit / Jazz. This frees up the space under the rear seats so that the latter can flip up to reveal a large storage space for carrying tall items. The rear seatback may also fold flat to expand boot space. This is really a versatile small car.



The S07A powerplant is also quite remarkable. This DOHC 12-valve variable-valve-timing triple replaces the outgoing SOHC 6-valve twin-ignition unit. It is more powerful, more efficient and sweeter revving. It runs a high compression ratio of 11.8:1, thanks to dual-fuel injectors per cylinder and sodium-filled exhaust valves (which help cooling). It produces an outstanding 58 horsepower at 7300 rpm, which looks peaky, but a good 48 pound-foot of torque arriving at 3500 rpm means it is more flexible than imagined. Coupled to a paddle-shift CVT its performance is surprisingly useful for commuting in towns or cities. Of course, if you want more overtaking power on highway you had better to opt for the turbocharged version whose output is capped to 64 hp, but peak torque is a remarkable 77 lbft at 2600 rpm.

The N-One steers and handles like most K-cars – it is nimble and easy to slip into tight, congested streets. Controls are light and major on ease of driving. Women drivers will be delighted, but if you ask for more driving excitement then you had better to look elsewhere, perhaps beyond all K-cars. Its body roll is not as well contained as European minicars as it is not designed to be hustled. Its narrow tires do not promote fast cornering, as are the weak brakes.



Compared with other K-cars, the baby Honda is noticeably more refined and better built. Its chassis feels generally stiffer. Its sound insulation is more effective. Its interior is made of classier materials and assembled in a way more like bigger cars. It also offers classier equipment, such as glowing instrument dials, a touchscreen that turns into sat-nav when it is connected to smartphone, push button engine start, paddle shift, sat-nav controls on steering wheel, cruise control, stability control and side curtain airbags. Yes, the N-One is indeed a premium K-car. It is priced considerably higher than the offerings by Daihatsu and Suzuki. Moreover, it tempts you to pay extra for customization – you can opt for special paint schemes, different color/pattern for some body panels (such as the front grille panel and side rubber stripes) and of course different interior trims and decors. Sounds very Fiat 500, but the Japanese car makers have long mastered these tricks.

Overall speaking, the N-One is a brave attempt that we car enthusiasts would love to see. However, whether it succeeds depends very much on the invisible hands behind the free market. Are there sufficient buyers want a premium K-car? Or will they opt for a proper car like Fit / Jazz? Recent sales figures show that Honda sold only 29,000 N-Ones in the first 3 quarters this year, slumping from last year’s sales total of 108,000 units (which ranked only 7th on the K-car chart). It seems that Japanese motorists are not ready yet for a big change.
Verdict:
 Published on 10 Nov 2014
All rights reserved. 
N-Box


The significance of N-One goes beyond its own sales performance, because its all-new platform provides the basis for more derivatives, such as this N-Box. As suggested by its name, the N-Box is shaped like a box to maximize space. It is a K-car MPV, offering features like sliding rear doors, sliding rear seats, a (slightly raised) flat floor, a super-tall roof (1780 mm, the same height as this author) and enormous amount of cabin space for a footprint so small. This concept is hardly original, as Suzuki Palette and Daihatsu Tanto have been serving the market for quite a few years.

The N-Box shares all the underpinnings with N-One. Since it carries 130 kg more than its sibling, performance inevitably suffers a little, ranging from marginal for the 58 hp naturally aspirated engine to acceptable for the 64 hp turbocharged engine. Still, for use in cities there are few complaints. Its soft-tuned suspension soaks up urban bumps well, while cornering roll is well managed enough for urban speeds.

The interior space is really eye-opening. With the rear seats slide to rearmost position its legroom could beat many luxury cars (although luggage space is reduced to joke level simultaneously). There is ample headroom for even NBA players, even though two of such guys will inevitably fight for shoulder room.  Although a panoramic roof is missing, huge glass area delivers a light and airy ambience. Sadly, all the interior’s plastics are cheap, toy-grade, and the dashboard design is not as sleek as N-One’s. Unlike the latter, the standard N-Box is sold as a bread-and-butter car. Those asking for a more premium interior could opt for the N-Box Custom, which gets classier instruments, trims, plastics and equipment. This strategy is proved to be successful. Last year, the N-Box topped the K-car sales chart with 235,000 units sold. Even in the overall sales chart it trails only Toyota Aqua and Prius by small margins.
Verdict:
 Published on 10 Nov 2014
All rights reserved. 
N-WGN


Launched in late 2013, the N-WGN is the third car born from the N-One platform. WGN is the short write of Wagon. It implies that the car bridges between N-One and N-Box for versatility. Its body shell is taller and more upright than the N-One but not to the extent of N-Box. Its interior features more storage cubbies and trays, including the large tray underneath rear seats. Although it cannot flip up the rear seat cushions for placing tall cargos, its luggage carrying capability is generally stronger, because the rear bench can slide longitudinally for 200 mm to increase boot space. If you remove the boot’s false floor you will find extra storage space, thanks to the lack of fuel tank there.

However, apart from these features there are little to separate the N-WGN and N-One, especially mechanically and dynamically. It is more a direct rival to Suzuki Wagon R and Daihatsu Move. In other words, more conventional by the K-car norms.
Verdict:
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
N-One
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
3395 / 1475 / 1610 mm
2520 mm
Inline-3
658 cc
DOHC 12 valves, VVT
-
-
58 hp / 7300 rpm
48 lbft / 4700 rpm
CVT
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
-
155/65SR14
840 kg
-
-
-
N-Box Turbo
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
3395 / 1475 / 1780 mm
2520 mm
Inline-3
658 cc
DOHC 12 valves, VVT
Turbo
-
64 hp / 6000 rpm
77 lbft / 2600 rpm
CVT
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
-
155/65SR14
970 kg
-
-
-
N-WGN Turbo
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
3395 / 1475 / 1655 mm
2520 mm
Inline-3
658 cc
DOHC 12 valves, VVT
Turbo
-
64 hp / 6000 rpm
77 lbft / 2600 rpm
CVT
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
-
155/65SR14
850 kg
-
-
-




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N-One


N-Box


N-WGN



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