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We Drive the Honda S660: Be Careful What You Wish For

Since its release about two years ago, Honda’s S660 has been the darling of the online world. After all, why shouldn’t it be? It promises everything wished for by today’s car-driving, internet-surfing enthusiast: mid-engine layout, turbocharged power, open-air motoring and small footprint. It even comes from Honda, a brand long-associated with fine products.

One small bit of reality: The S660 isn’t available stateside and, from what we hear, it’s not heading here. Ever.

The Lane Motor Museum has one in their fleet—possibly the only one privately owned in this country—and thanks to their generosity we got to drive it.

What Is It?

You can call the S660 the spiritual successor of the 1991-’96 Honda Beat, another small sportster not sold here. Also like the Beat, the S660 is built to meet Japan’s kei car specs.

The kei car regulations came about soon after World War II, originally intended as a way to quickly mobilize the recovering population via a new, separate class of small, lightweight cars. Limits were placed on size, heft and engine output, with the originals limited to just 150cc of engine displacement.

Today’s kei cars still have to meet certain limits. Currently, that means a max engine displacement of 660cc along with a cap of 47 kilowatts—about 63 horsepower. Length can’t stretch beyond 3.4 meters (11.2 feet), while width is limited to 1.48 meters (4.9 feet).

Kei cars offer more than decreased running costs and easier parking as owners also receive tax and insurance breaks. Kei cars are easily spotted due to their black-on-yellow license plates—well, and their diminutive size.

Despite the limits, not all kei cars have been all boring. In addition to practical people-movers plus small trucks and vans, Japanese manufacturers have also offered high-tech niceties like all-wheel drive, forced induction and cutting-edge styling. The S660 keeps that tradition alive, following such standouts as the open-top Suzuki Cappuccino, gullwing Autozam AZ-1 and retro-inspired Nissan Figaro.

So, getting back to the S660, guess how much horsepower it makes? Yep, in American units, about 63.

Length? Right at 3395mm.

But it’s a kei car with some sizzle.

First Encounter

Either you love the look or not. End of discussion. The S660’s styling fully fits into Honda’s current DNA but, we admit, it’s extreme. Like it’s so extreme that we should spell it Xtreme.

The proportions are spot on, but it’s a small car. At a tick over 11 feet long, it’s more than 21 inches shorter in length than the latest Mazda MX-5–which itself is shorter than the original Miata.

Then you have to get into it. Thanks to its generous doors and low sills, you can pretty much fall into a Porsche 911—ditto the latest Subaru WRX.

At the other end of the spectrum, thick sills and tiny doors make entering the Elise not for the meek. The S660 is about on par with an Elise. A C4 Corvette will suddenly seem like a comfortable, practical alternative.

Once inside the Honda, you don’t need to compare numbers: The S660’s interior will make a Miata—any generation—feel roomy and plush. Our test driver was 5-foot-8 on a good day. The seat had to be pushed all the way back. (Oddly, though, the adjustable steering column didn’t need to be at its highest setting.) Put a second, not-petite guy in the passenger seat, and then the interior feels even more cramped.

Cup holder? That’s what the passenger is for.

Once in the driver seat, though, the S660 has an S2000-like vibe. In fact, the leather-wrapped, aluminum shift knob feels quite familiar. The start button, something more or less pioneered by the S2000, can be found outboard of the steering wheel. Stab the button and the S660 comes to life, welcoming its driver with a digital display that it very Honda-like. In fact, all of the controls give off that familiar family vibe.

Two transmissions are available, a six-speed manual or a CVT automatic. The Lane’s car is manual equipped, and the S660 easily slips into gear. If the S2000 and MX-5 transmissions are our benchmarks for excellence, then the S660 is right there with them. Even cold, the S660’s gearbox felt smooth and spot-on. Clutch action and engagement are also typical Honda-like.

Acceleration, though, doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of the S2000–or even a modern MX-5. We didn’t get to run data, but our butt-meter says that the S600 pulls like a stock NA-chassis Miata. Published instrumented tests confirm that feeling, listing zero-to-60 times around 10 seconds. (For the record, the 1990 Miata could hit 60 closer to 9 seconds but we’re going to call it a dead heat, more or less, as either will get dusted by today’s average minivan.)

Steering felt light and precise. The pedals and shifter are right where you want them. Seats felt comfortable once in them.

If we had to sum up the performance package, we’d call it Miata-like—and we’re talking about the original Miata, the one unveiled close to 30 years ago. The latest ND-chassis Mazda MX-5 will outrun it. Or, again, a new minivan.

The S660’s outward visibility is okay out front. Those A-pillars aren’t pencil thin. The over-the-shoulder view, though, is blocked by the bodywork. (We’re being polite here as our post-drive notes contains the following statement: “horrible rear visibility.”) As we learned, having a spotter when backing into a parking spot is reassuring.

The S660 does feature a tiny rear window. Like the del Sol, another Honda darling of years past, the window can be dropped at the touch of a button. Doing so, at least at idle, fills the cabin with the sound of the sewing machine of an engine working diligently. Opening that window, though, doesn’t do a thing to help visibility.

The S660’s top recalls past Hondas. The Beat received a traditional convertible top. The S2000 added power articulation. The del Sol’s solid Targa top comes off in one piece, either by hand (American market) or robotics (optional for the Japanese ad European markets).

The S660 mixes some elements of all three. It features a soft Targa top secured by latches on either side plus one up front. Without any instructions, we found it fairly easy to undo, roll up, and remove. Instantly the S600 features unlimited headroom—although the interior still remains tiny by any yardstick.

Okay, let’s wrap up things. We had been watching the S660 online for years and have wanted one–badly. It’s a fresh take on our favorite thing, the lightweight, two-place sports car.

The reality? The S660 is fun to drive. It’s lively. It looks different. It feels like a Honda. You can race through the gears and not look like a hooligan. That cockpit, though, is tight. It fits like a sport coat that’s one size too small.

And compared to almost every other new car offered stateside, the S660 is slow in a straight line—like, really slow. If you complain that a BRZ needs a turbo, then you won’t approve of the S660.

Despite the penalties to be paid, we still want one, even though we realize that it doesn’t make a ton of sense.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
Petrolburner
Petrolburner Dork
9/27/17 12:02 p.m.

I want one if they make it the S1000.  My Insight also does 0-60 in something like 10 seconds.  It's acceptable for a 55 MPG car.  A mid engine sporty car, not so much.  How big is the frunk?

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/27/17 12:24 p.m.
Petrolburner said:

I want one if they make it the S1000.  My Insight also does 0-60 in something like 10 seconds.  It's acceptable for a 55 MPG car.  A mid engine sporty car, not so much.  How big is the frunk?

The frunk is big enough to hold the rolled-up top--and that's pretty much it. 

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
9/27/17 1:55 p.m.

I'd like it a lot more if it wasn't shaped like a bathtub.  I prefer doors that don't come up to my ears.

Petrolburner
Petrolburner Dork
9/27/17 3:16 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:
Petrolburner said:

I want one if they make it the S1000.  My Insight also does 0-60 in something like 10 seconds.  It's acceptable for a 55 MPG car.  A mid engine sporty car, not so much.  How big is the frunk?

The frunk is big enough to hold the rolled-up top--and that's pretty much it. 

I know that it's stupid to compare new vs used, but with the lack of storage, I'd prefer to go with an MR2 Spyder.  Also, with the lack of storage in an MR2 Spyder, I'd prefer a Miata.  

Huckleberry
Huckleberry MegaDork
9/27/17 3:36 p.m.

If I can only have 63HP and want something tiny, sporty with great mileage I don't have to pine for things I can't have.

crankwalk
crankwalk Dork
9/27/17 4:00 p.m.

Everybody is talking about how slow it is but the benefit with this and every other turbo kei car is that with a tune and sticky tires, this thing would be WAY more fun for very little more money. Can't do that with a modern Miata. * Save the turbo Fiat version I suppose.

T.J.
T.J. MegaDork
9/27/17 6:54 p.m.

Wow, does that thing look as hideous in person as it does in the lead pic? Please tell me there is a better angle. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin PowerDork
9/27/17 7:03 p.m.

But will it fit 15x10s?

red_stapler
red_stapler Dork
9/27/17 7:05 p.m.

I would drive the wheels off that.

mazdeuce
mazdeuce MegaDork
9/27/17 7:18 p.m.

I want one. Dammit Honda. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/27/17 7:47 p.m.

It looked fine from behind the wheel. 

pres589
pres589 PowerDork
9/27/17 8:54 p.m.

I think the car looks fantastic from pictures.

It sounds like all it needs is a displacement doubling and a foot long stretch between the wheels.  So, you know, I should probably just go looking for a good MR-S.

Driven5
Driven5 SuperDork
9/27/17 9:01 p.m.
ProDarwin said:

But will it fit 15x10s?

One way or another, anything is possible...

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/28/17 12:19 p.m.

The M&M version looks mean. Details here: https://www.mandm-honda.com/mm-honda-s660/

LuxInterior
LuxInterior Dork
9/28/17 1:37 p.m.

The article didn't answer the most important car review question: what are the chassis dynamics like? Cmon guys!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/28/17 1:47 p.m.

It's from a museum collection, not a press car, so we couldn't beat on it--nor take it on track. For something so small and with such a short wheelbase, it rode better than expected. The chassis didn't feel choppy. Steering felt good if maybe a tad over-boosted. Shifter was spot-on. It doesn’t have much motor, but I don't see why it wouldn’t be fun at a track day--provided, of course, that you don't mind giving point-bys.

Type Q
Type Q SuperDork
9/28/17 11:48 p.m.
Petrolburner wrote:

.... I know that it's stupid to compare new vs used, but with the lack of storage, I'd prefer to go with an MR2 Spyder.  Also, with the lack of storage in an MR2 Spyder, I'd prefer a Miata.  

Actually comparing the Beat (or Kei class car) to anything sold by an OEM in the US is almost pointless. The the pictures really don't convey how small a Kei vehicle is. Many  side by side ATV's  have bigger foot print. Kei is a very specific Japanese market niche created by Japanese regulations to address issues with Japanese infrastructure.  Most Kei cars are small vans, pickup tracks, and passenger cars that remind me of a 5/8 scale 1986 civic hatchback.  The Honda Beat adds a little sport while taking advantage of tax breaks.     

Brian
Brian MegaDork
9/30/17 7:58 a.m.

I'm just going to assume I won't fit so I don't pine over something I can't have for another 23 years. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/30/17 11:19 a.m.
Brian said:

I'm just going to assume I won't fit so I don't pine over something I can't have for another 23 years. 

That's probably not a bad idea. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/30/17 11:22 a.m.

Duh, I just thought of something: There is a way for you--yes, you!--to drive this very car. Each fall the Lane Museum hosts the Rally for the Lane. It's a fund-raiser where participants take the museum's cars on a rally.

Good news: This year, at least, the S660 was one of the cars available. 

Bad news: They host two rallies each fall; one took place last weekend, and next weekend's is sold-out.

Still, maybe next year?

Caleb
Caleb Reader
10/1/17 9:29 a.m.

K-cars don't really work in the American land scape but in Japan where the average speed limits range from 18-45mph and there are plenty of one lane roads they thrive. There are also cultural differences like most Japanese greocry shop every day and they don't road trip because plublic trans is so good

brianathasport
brianathasport
10/4/17 10:29 a.m.

I want a Beat right at the moment. And of course swap a B16 in it. In 15 years I'll want this one with one of the current turbo motors. Probably the 1.0L turbo. 

brianathasport

Rupert
Rupert Dork
10/6/17 10:07 a.m.
crankwalk wrote:

Everybody is talking about how slow it is but the benefit with this and every other turbo kei car is that with a tune and sticky tires, this thing would be WAY more fun for very little more money. Can't do that with a modern Miata. * Save the turbo Fiat version I suppose.

Yes I had a X-19.  It got a lot of jokes and soon lots of rust.  But you could drive an entire solo II course with the right pedal mashed & almost no use of the brakes either.  Just throw it into a curve at any speed, no matter how stupid, & it managed to get through it.  Of course you got a better time if you stomped the brake pedal to start turn-in.

As to the "modern Miata."  I have an '02 and I promise it is tons of fun for what one costs on the market today.  I bought mine new and still feel it's worth every penny.  In fact I was doing some curve bashing in it already this morning.

 

That big old Merc also in my picture?  It just sits 99% of the time.  NO FUN!!  Too heavy, huge body lean, average or less brakes, etc.  It reminds me of driving a Chevy.

Rupert

Rupert
Rupert Dork
10/6/17 10:10 a.m.

Hey David,

That picture of what appears to be a '85 CRX SI almost made me cry!  I truly loved mine!  I got stupid and sold it with 145,000 miles on it.  And both my wife and I loved every one of them.  A pizza delivery guy bought it and it had 225,000 miles on it when he sold it.  Had I known he was going to sell, I'd have bought it back!

Rupert

 

 

kanaric
kanaric Dork
10/6/17 4:35 p.m.

One of these with a 1.0l turbo engine would be great, too bad we won't be getting this, the new focus ST, or any other cars.

If you like things other than just SUVs and muscle cars the US is kind of E36 M3ty for enthusiasts. Sometimes I feel like the dark ages of the 90s are making a comeback

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