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Although the market
shift from affordable sports cars to crossovers is not going to be
reversed anytime soon, Japanese manufacturers, backed by fresh profits
generated from favourable exchange rate, are resurrecting their
interests in affordable sports cars. Toyota and Subaru introduced the
GT-86 / BRZ duo first, followed by the new generation
Mazda MX-5 and a pair of sports cars in Kei-car category, i.e. Honda
S660 and Daihatsu Copen. The world of affordable sports cars is once
again dominated by the Japanese.
Readers old enough should remember Honda
Beat, which was also a
mid-engined small sports car designed to the Kei-car rules. That thing
was incredibly small and lightweight, whereas its 660 c.c. naturally
aspirated triple could spin crazily to more than 8000 rpm. However, the
Beat was slow due to the lack of torque, and its chassis could be
described as fragile by today’s standards. The new S660 is very
different. It feels a lot more substantial, not just because the
current Kei-car dimensions are larger (3.4 m long x 1.48 m wide versus
3.3 m x 1.4 m) but also it takes crash safety more seriously. More than
60 percent of the chassis is made of high-strength steel. Moreover, the
car is now a Targa rather than a convertible, with full-width rollover
protection structure built upon the rear bulkhead. No wonder it feels
rigid. In fact, it is more rigid than the last sports car built by
Honda, the S2000.
On the downside, the car weighs 830-850 kg depending on transmission.
That's not only 70 kg more than Beat but also the same as
Honda's production K-car, N-WGN, which seats 4.
Styling must be the highlight of the little roadster, otherwise it
can’t sell. Honda does not disappoint. The S660 is eye-catching and
distinctive, especially at the back. Unlike its predecessor, it looks
mid-engined thus there is quite a sense of mini-supercar – tuners would
be glad to work further on that direction for sure. It shares no common
exterior parts with other Honda K-cars, including the fast windscreen.
Inside, its dashboard, console and door panels bear little resemblance
to other Hondas, too. A few detailed designs are a little gimmicky
though, such as the fake air vents behind the front fenders and the
pseudo diffusers. Don’t be silly to assume a car with 87 mph top speed
needed those aero aids! Nevertheless, they did please boy racers or
anyone pursuing looks over speed. Extra styling kits are available as
options, as shown in the pictured white car.
The small roof is made of fabric. You can detach it manually, roll it
into a bundle and store in the smallish front boot. It’s not as
the manual soft top of MX-5, let alone
the electric folding roof of Copen, because it takes many steps and you
need to get out of the car to do the job. As shown in a video on
Honda's website, opening or closing the roof takes a skillful driver at
least 1 and a half minute. It goes without saying the roof is a
compromise with costs and
The cabin is better. Thanks to narrow transmission tunnel and
slim door panels, it offers enough space for 6-foot-2 or 3 guys. The
unusually small steering wheel also frees up knee room and allows easy
access to the driver seat. You sit low as in a true mid-engined sports
The high waist lines cocoon you. In addition to the presence of
bar, the environment feels more supercar than roadster. On the
downside, the cheap plastics all over the cabin are purely K-car grade.
The instruments and buttons are not much better. An optional
infotainment display can be added to the dash top. It offers smartphone
integration, through which you can run an App to play artificial
exhaust sound from one of the 3 choices – the four-cylinder Civic Type
R, six-cylinder NSX-R and even
the V10 of McLaren-Honda MP4/5! Crazy!
The engine breaths through air intakes incorporated at the B-pillars.
Codenamed S07A, the 658 c.c. three-cylinder turbo is basically the same
unit as you can find in the turbocharged N-Box, N-WGN and N-One. Its
maximum output is capped at 64 ps as per the regulation of K-cars, of
course, and the peak torque is
also unchanged at 77 lbft @ 2600 rpm. However, thanks to a smaller
turbine the engine is a tad more responsive at low rev. Mind you, it
still needs to be revved hard to extract reasonable performance. It
works best from 5000 rpm to 7700 rpm redline (for manual gearbox,
whereas CVT is limited to 7000 rpm), when it produces a sporty scream.
Unfortunately, at no time the S660 feels fast, just as you would expect
from any cars with only 64 horsepower. It is expected to do 0-60 mph
sprint in 11 seconds or so. Apparently, that's not quick enough for
export markets, no wonder Honda is rumored to be working on a 1-liter
turbo engine for that task.
Fortunately, the 6-speed manual gearbox saves the game. It’s a bespoke
development for the S660 as all other Honda K-cars employ CVT. The
gearshift is slick and short-throw, supported with a smooth and
well-weighted clutch. It’s a joy to use!
Handling is good, too. The mid-engined machine has a good balance of
45:55 front to rear. Its chassis is stiff, and the suspensions are well
tuned. The front axle employs conventional MacPherson struts, while the
dedicated rear dual-link struts are mounted on an aluminum subframe. To
enhance traction and match weight distribution, the Yokohama tires at
the rear wheels are larger in diameter and considerably wider than the
fronts. To enhance braking, this K-car unusually adopts all-round disc
brakes. Last but not least, it has added torque vectoring by brakes to
tame under and oversteer. On the road, the S660 is not only nimble but
also remarkably stable in corners. It maneuvers in a neutral manner.
Power slide is definitely not in the scope, as the level of traction
and grip is well beyond the capability of its engine power to break.
Perhaps too much. Its chassis begs for more power to exploit its true
talent. Only by then we could see if it is worth the same admiration as
the great Toyota MR2 Mk1 or Mazda MX-5 Mk1.
As it is, the S660 can still be admired for its head-turning styling
and good packaging. However, it certainly needs more power and a more
convenient roof to shine, especially at the prices it asks for. In
Japan, the Honda starts at 2 million yen, which seems expensive
compared with the 1.8 million yen Daihatsu Copen which has standard
electric folding roof. For another 0.5 million yen you can buy a new
Mazda MX-5, which is so much faster, more fun to drive and sensible to
own. Honda sold just 34,000 units of Beat over its entire life cycle.
Its predecessors S500 / S600 / S800 managed 26,000 copies. I suspect
the S660 could repeat history once its initial popularity cools down.