QotW: What’s the coolest kei car?

Seeing some excellent examples of kei jidosha on the way back from Nagano last week got our brains churning. These uniquely Japanese micro machines are what put the island nation on the road and have been around for over 50 years. There are way more spiffy examples than our 360cc minds can sort out, so we put the question to you:

What’s the coolest kei car?

On paper, it would seem the Vamos is one of the most amazing cars ever built. A mid-engined Honda convertible with a 9,000rpm redline? Sign us up! Oh wait, it’s got a 30PS SOHC 0.36 liter motor? Well, at least we can go to the beach, have a picnic, and load ladders with ease while fashionably dressed.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining, well-written, or inspiring comment by next Monday will receive a random JDM toy. Click through to see the winner  from last week’s question, “What Japanese concept should have been produced?

Many great answers were given, but there can be only one. And that one was proffered by Nakazoto, who sayeth:

The Dome Zero. Any car that’s designed entirely with a ruler and pulls design cues from a doorstop should get produced.

Omedetou, sir! Your prize from the JNC gashapon is a Choro-Q Nissan Cherry, which looks like a concept and was indeed produced.


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29 Responses to QotW: What’s the coolest kei car?

  1. Mazdax605 says:

    It has to me the Mazda Autozam AZ-1. I mean what other kei car has the combination of an Austin Healy, Ferrari, and Delorean all in one package. Add in the zippy turbo Suzuki engine, and you have a recipe for fun!!! I’ll take mine with an externally mounted roll cage please.

    • Jay Hauss says:

      Hands down it is the Autozam AZ-1. Mid engine sports car with gull wing doors, 660cc of turbo-charged power. I remember seeing one in a show room in Ikebukoro back in ’92 and was amazed at it’s go-kart like like size, even the body panels are made of plastic. I later had the opportunity to drive one however my six foot gaijin frame would only be accommodated by removing the lower seat cushion in the non reclining bucket seat. It was tons of fun for a half ton curb weight sports car… Like a pocket sized MR2 Turbo.

    • ACSK says:

      My thoughts exactly. I’ve always wanted to get one and swap in a Hayabusa just for the heck of it. Alas, I’m probably too tall for the car T^T;

  2. James says:

    The Suzuki Cappuccino!! It’s a small scale version of the S2000!

    Weight is performances worst enemy and it doesn’t get any better than a 725 kg turbo 2 seater with 50/50 weight distribution, its a true performance car!

    And its rwd so its driftable. Need I say more!!!!

    • dankan says:

      There’s a guy here in the Ottawa area who imported one. I saw it going the other way on a country road last week. Simply could not believe it. I’ve seen plenty of imported Skylines, and an RHD Silva S13, but a Cappuccino? A truly inspired choice.

  3. dankan says:

    Count me as another in favour of the Autozam AZ-1. Yes, the Honda Beat and Suzuki Capuccino are great little kei sports cars as well, but the AZ-1 is better. Why? Because gullwing.

  4. RdS says:

    Other than the always-cool Cappucino/AZ-1/Beat collection of happiness, I’m going to have to give a shout-out to the CA72V Suzuki Alto Works RS-X (and to a slightly lesser extent, the RS-R).
    it has a turbo, intercooled, DOHC, 3cyl. it has a 12,000rpm tacho. it weighs 600kg. it has pink seats, a bonnet scoop, and the rear spoiler almost borders the entire rear window.
    It has more stickers outside than paint; and if the name isn’t long enough, it has a full paragraph of text on the door.
    its a whole cars worth of interesting, compressed into a tiny bonneted square.
    i want one.

  5. Tyler says:

    Suzuki Fronte Coupe. Because what other kei car can pull off a vinyl roof, fender mirrors and retina-searing orange paint at the same time?


    • toy_yoda says:

      Haha! And it looks like everything Japan made in the 70’s had an orgy and birthed this little bastard. It’s just plain cool and says “who cares…” as it drives away.

  6. Marc says:

    I am the proud owner of a Cappuccino and a Cara (suzuki’s az-1 sister car). Yes I am a lucky guy. The looks of the gullwing attracts a lot of attention but isn’t that handy for daily. Although the engines are exact the same they drive complete different. The cappuccino is a sporty GT and the Cara a hardcore race car. I have no favourite. It is like a good glas of wine. Some people prefer red and some white. Another car what I can recommend is the Suzuki Alto Works RSR 4wd. This was the first high performance kei cars model and a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    • ACSK says:

      The Cara is one of my dream cars. I like it even more than the AZ-1. But, they’re just sooo much harder to find. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say we’d really appreciate it if you ever got around to making a walk-around and test drive video of it ~_^

  7. Dave says:

    It absolutely has to be the AZ-1: http://pacificalab.tumblr.com/post/3303513934/micro-exotics

    The Fronte Coupe is close, being a rear-engine RWD sportster. But the AZ-1 is still that much cooler

  8. Drive510 says:

    The Diahatsu Basket

  9. Camshaft says:

    I’m going to wave the banner for Mazda obviously, but not the obvious choice. I vote for the Carol 360…it was a runaway success when it was introduced, and it helped to modernize and mobilize Japan. It featured numerous quirky features that us Mazdafarians love – like its tiny four-cylinder engine and that funky rear window. It also introduced Japanese enthusiasts to the concept of hot rodding, with many owners swapping in larger engines (from the Carol 600) and the like. In some ways, you could argue that the Carol 360 was an analogue to the Ford Model A – ubiquitous, inexpensive, and easily modified by now-bored young men in the early postwar era. The car is a milestone not only to kei-class vehicles, but to the Japanese automotive industry in general – and to our hobby as well!

  10. bert says:

    Me being 6 feet tall, and 270 pounds, I’m gonna stay out of the kei car argument!

  11. GEN2TWINCAM says:

    Besides long-gone Honda Z-600?

    I have to give equal love to the Subaru R-2 SS. Rear engine, air-cooled, and 100 hp/liter. I’d love to have one prepared for the track! The closest I’ve gotten is a 1/18 Tamiya model.

  12. shane_lxi says:

    My personal favorite is the Suzuki “Carry” truck. I can’t think of a more versatile kei-car, and I don’t think any other japanese manufacturers could either, because bottom line, nothing does as much as this thing. 4 wheel drive, comfortable seating (for a truck-class kei), dump bed. The bed even converts to flat bed simply by folding the sides and tail gate over. There’s a long list of goofy cars I’d buy if I ever won the lottery, and believe me, this little Zuk is right up there on my bucket list along side the Kenmerri and the MS55 Ute (not kei cars…).

  13. Drive510 says:

    The 1972 Honda Z600
    The 1973 Diahatsu EV-1
    (modern) the Diahatsu Basket
    (modern) The Nissan PAO

  14. Tofuik says:


    Nothing has every made me want a kei car more than this little hopped up suzuki… well, besides ill-minded’s Mira.

  15. cesariojpn says:

    Bedford Rascal/Suzuki Supercarry.. Because it tried to kill Richard Hammond. And failed.


    Not to mention they make crazy drifters driven by two stupid sods, one who is incredibly racist.

  16. Nakazoto says:

    Woohoo, awesome!
    Thanks! I love the Cherry, seen a few in real life. The K10 March was kind of the spiritual successor of the Cherry!

  17. Nigel says:

    Honda City Turbo !!
    Why ? It looks like something right out of Robotech/Macross.(With that 80’s look).
    (And I might be able to fit in it).

  18. Ellen Ripley says:

    I’d rock a Mitsubishi 360 pickup in a heartbeat.

  19. Kieran says:

    Theres a few for me, AZ-1 Carol, Cappuccino, Beat, B360, Today, Scrum and Carry. But my all time favourite would probably have to be the Mazda K360. The coolest and best looking of all the 3 wheel trucks. I wish I could own one but finding one is going to take a few years….

  20. Kelly says:

    The cs22s (alto works RS/R). Handles like a go kart, except its got awd and a turbo 660cc drivetrain… It’s as if Suzuki just stopped asking drivers what they wanted, and just gave them what they needed instead. If you get a chance, drive one.

  21. Kelly says:

    Also, to those mentioning height… I’m 6’7″ and I fit in the aforementioned alto works quite well, more comfortably than an nsx actually.

  22. Kevin T says:

    The lil Subaru 360 will do it for me. It’s puny. You can stuff it anywhere. You can still bang a hot chick in it or get some head action. Positions a plenty. You can hot modify it, flare it out, put some tiny deep dish old school volk meshes, caged, carb’d and you can slam the throttle in and out of every chicane come your way. You can just do so much with those lil suckas and having one today is like having the holy grail of such cars. Chicks dig it too cuz its all curved in all the right places. Heck they could of use the 360 for Bumble Bee in Transformers back in the days instead.

  23. Hans says:

    I vote for the Honda Life Step Van from 1972 because it really was ahead of its time. It failed to reap any major sales success, but its design and shape paved the way for future mini wagons like the successful Suzuki Wagon R and Daihatsu Move. The interior was super functional with the flat top dashboard that doubles as a writing desk! It has one of the most important kei essentials for me – a cute face (look at those litte indicators over the lights on a square face – says “whats up” like no other kei car!). To me kei cars are all about function and utility, not performance. However, its because of their simplicity and boxy shape that they stand out from the crowd today. Being the get away vehicle in Daft Punk´s anime ‘Interstella 5555’ only adds to its street cred. I could agree with all the other comments (or vote for my own Wagon R+) but I have to go with what I feel is a ground breaking car.

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