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

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Sep 29, 2017 | Honda | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

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
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 GRM+ Memberand 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. 

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