The Tokyo Motor Show ended last night, and we have one thing to say: Oh Suzuki, how we’ve missed you. Not only do we not see your funky little cars on US roads any more, but then you show up to the big show with a bunch of throwback concepts.
It’s impossible to describe just how integrated kei cars are to everyday life in Japan. Due to lower taxes and lax parking restrictions, everyone from farmers to food truck operators to delivery companies use them. You can turn your humble Suzuki Carry into a mobile produce market, for example. All of Suzuki’s great concepts were keis, and a peek at their lineup shows just how much diversity is possible despite government mandated dimensions of 3,400 x 1,480 x 2,000 millimeters.
Our favorite was the Suzuki Mighty Deck, a modern kei ute with the face of a creature from Super Mario Brothers and a reference to one of the great kei jidosha of all time, the Suzuki Mighty Boy.
As is typical of space-maximizing kei cars, it seats four, but they can be folded flat to accommodate your surfboard or whatnot. The roof is a beachy canvas roll-back style.
The taillights look like the center of a sunflower. Interestingly, when the rear tailgate is folded down, the taillight bezels come with it. In bright yellow, it’s also reminiscent of the Toyota bB Open Deck.
One of the best surprises at the show as a new Suzuki Alto Works, a sport version of the Alto kei car, and a revival of one of the greatest kei nameplates of all time.
The original Alto Works was introduced in 1985 as one of those insane Japanese cars that could have only been dreamt up during the Bubble Era. Top-spec models were available with AWD and came with a turbocharged, intercooled, multivalve 3-cylinder engine that holds the honor as the first kei motor to bump up against the 64-horsepower limit for kei cars. And that was back when the displacement limit was 543cc, not the current 660.
Like the 276 Gentleman’s Agreement, 64 horsepower was what the official rating stood as, but in reality the engine probably produced more than that, as aftermarket kits could easily push the rating up to 150 horsepower or more, in a package that weighed 1,320 pounds.
Sadly, one trait that was not carried over to the new Alto Works was the alphabet soup explosion of decals, detailing everything from the EFI to the twin-cam turbo to the personal message from its creators reading “This model was developed through teamwork of enthusiastic Suzuki engineers. It’s certainly worthy of the name ‘WORKS’.” Oh yeah, and it had pink seats.
Suzuki didn’t disclose much information about the new Alto Works. They did note it has Recaro seats and a 5-speed manual and some unspecified suspension tweaks. Still, it was good to see the name return after its cancelation in 2000.
The Suzuki Air Triser isn’t a throwback to a specific vehicle, but the idea of compact vans in general. At 4,200mm long it’s bigger than a kei, but still smaller than an original VW Type 2 microbus.
The interior seats can be rearranged into a C-shaped lounge area while the screen arching over the middle can display movies, music player controls, or pre-programmed disco ball. It’s nicer than some apartments I’ve lived in.
The Suzuki Ignis isn’t a kei car either, but the production version of the IM-4 concept that debuted at its debut at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.
Styling cues from past Suzukis appear all over it. The rear vents are from a Suzuki Fronte coupe, the headlight and grille graphic are from a 1977-82 Suzuki Cervo, and the vent in the hood is a callback to the Escudo (aka Geo Tracker).
We’d love to own any number of these cars, but even if these concepts were to see reality, Suzuki automobiles’ departure from the US market sadly precludes any chance of that.