Jim Holder
9 November 2012

What is it?

Japan’s best selling kei car.

Around one-third of the cars sold in Japan are kei cars, size restricted vehicles that attract favourable toll and tax breaks in the largest cities.

The main restrictions are in length (3.4m), width (1.48m) and height (2m). Engine size is also restricted to a maximum of 660cc and 63bhp.

Around 20,000 Honda N Boxes are sold each month.

The car is also noteworthy for having been commissioned by ambitious Honda boss Takanobu Ito, and its success is credited with forming part of the bedrock that is allowing the company’s more forward-thinking plans now.

It sits on a bespoke platform, the investment in which goes some way to explaining Honda’s ambitious plans to spin-off more kei car products in the near future, including a roadster successor to the iconic but slow-selling Honda Beat.

The N Box is available in front and four-wheel drive (Which adds 60kg and seems unnecessary given the car's urban credentials), with three trim levels on offer. We tested a mid-spec GL version with a CVT box. 

As well as the Honda N Box, buyers can choose the Honda N Box Plus, which is built for additional practicality, and has features including a rear ramp, and the Honda N Box Custom, which allows buyers to customise the colours and trims of their vehicles.

What is it like?

From the outside, it looks – as you’d imagine – like it has been built to a set of tight dimensional rules. The end result is odd, quirky, charming or a combination of the three. Whatever your opinion, you can’t argue at the veracity of the name, as it’s certainly boxy.

Unsurprisingly, Honda has tried to make the most of the kei car dimension regulations. The N Box is 3395mm long, 1475mm wide and and 1770mm high. The engine and ancillaries are contained under a tightly packed bonnet, ensuring the cabin is as long as possible.

Inside, the cabin is decent, but clearly built to a price. The dash and its layout are intuitive and suitably modern, but the hard plastics are unremitting. The seats, however, are comfortable and supportive.

The rear is surprisingly spacious, thanks to the flat floor and a rear bench that slides. At its most spacious setting the rear cabin space rivals that available in many luxury cars, although this inevitably limits boot space. Practicality has also been given a priority, with the rear doors sliding open and shut at the touch of a button, and the cabin majoring on storage cubbies.

Biggest surprise, though, is the performance available. The 57bhp 658cc engine may only deliver peak torque of 48lb ft, and then only from 3500rpm, but it is enough to get the 930kg N Box around town with more than enough verve to keep up with the flow. Inevitably, it becomes strained and noisy up the rev range, but there are very few occasions when you actually need to stretch the car in an urban environment, meaning you are usually accompanied by nothing more than a slight and appealing thrum. 

Fuel economy and emissions are decent, despite the obvious aero drawbacks and the standard CVT gearshift. On the Japanese official cycle the car records 68.2mpg and 95g/km, with stop-start helping keep the figures on the right side of impressive.

While the steering is never anything but remote, the N Box does ride and handle with a suppleness that suits its urban brief. Even the worst potholes are well damped. The turning circle is almost noteworthy. Although Honda couldn't provide a specific figure, suffice to say that it puts you in mind of a Black Cab.

Should I buy one?

You can’t, unless you live in Japan, in which case you are probably already among the throng trying to get hold of one.

However, it’s easy to imagine the Honda N Box could quickly acquire a cult following if it was sold here, and it is comfortably more practical and appealing than the Nissan Cube, which made a shortlived and little loved attempt at European sales a few years ago.

For now, exchange rates preclude any export plans, but we live in hope that the kei car doesn’t remain the preserve of Japan, especially with the prospect of a rear-drive roadster in the works.

Honda N Box GL

Price £11,800 (in Japan); 0-62mph n/a; Top speed n/a; Economy 68.2mpg; CO2 95g/km; Kerb weight 930kg; Engine 3 cyls, 658cccc, petrol; Power 57bhp at 7300rpm; Torque 48lb ft at 3500rpm; Gearbox CVT

 

Join the debate

Comments
13

K_A

It is indeed...

1 year 37 weeks ago

[quote] The N Box is available in front and four-wheel drive (Which adds 60kg and seems unnecessary given the car's urban credentials) (...) [quote]

Four-wheel-drive passenger cars are vital for sales in Northern Japan due to the weather, especially snow during the Winter.

Kei-cars are usually bought by young women, around 30 years old, who use the vehicle as a second car.

Kei cars

1 year 37 weeks ago

Best Kei Car ever: Suzuki Cappucino.  Had a silver one, loved it, immense fun on little roads, great noise, with little risk to the licence.   Downsides: speed limiter on motorways, fiddly 4 part roof, sold it for a Barchetta, but still think of getting another from time to time.  Fine example, as per the GT86, of less = more.   .

I would love to read about

1 year 37 weeks ago

I would love to read about the other things that Japan gets which we dont. I know the exchange rate makes it almost impossible to export from Japan right now, but it is one of the few places that designs and makes Right Hand Drive so there is always potential for them to come here in the future.

Four Wheel Drive

1 year 37 weeks ago

To add to K_A's comments about the four wheel drive, if Honda are intending spin off several vehicles from this cars base structure then may be one will be a small SUV style vehicle?  

Honda couldn't have failed to notice the accolades given to the VW Up SUV spin off in Brazil, so it would make good business sense for them.

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

Best Kei car ever...?

1 year 37 weeks ago

Autozam AZ-1. God, I want one.

Awesome!

1 year 37 weeks ago

What a great looking and practical little car.  Want.

Fantastic

1 year 37 weeks ago

I love these Kei cars. Great imaginative use of space with lots of interior innovations. They really do make a lot fo the Euro stuff look very old-fashioned.

Unfortunately I think our overly image-conscious market would laugh at these cars, rather than enjoy their strengths. Our loss.

Honda Kei Cars are GREAT!

1 year 37 weeks ago

michael knight wrote:

I love these Kei cars. Great imaginative use of space with lots of interior innovations. They really do make a lot fo the Euro stuff look very old-fashioned.

Unfortunately I think our overly image-conscious market would laugh at these cars, rather than enjoy their strengths. Our loss.

Totally right! The new Honda N-One, which is far better looking to the N-Box reminds me of the old bullnose classic cars you see at many shows... http://www.honda.co.jp/N-ONE/

benjamino wrote: Best Kei

1 year 37 weeks ago

benjamino wrote:

Best Kei Car ever: Suzuki Cappucino.  Had a silver one, loved it, immense fun on little roads, great noise, with little risk to the licence.   Downsides: speed limiter on motorways, fiddly 4 part roof, sold it for a Barchetta, but still think of getting another from time to time.  Fine example, as per the GT86, of less = more.   .

I had a silver one of them as well! Cracking little car. Shame it nearly disolved in the lovely scottish weather! Here's mine just before I sold it in 2009

-----

10 years of Smart ownership over, sensible car mode activated

artill wrote:I would love

1 year 36 weeks ago

artill wrote:

I would love to read about the other things that Japan gets which we dont. I know the exchange rate makes it almost impossible to export from Japan right now, but it is one of the few places that designs and makes Right Hand Drive so there is always potential for them to come here in the future.

 

I spend a considerable amount of time travelling eastern Europe Russia - Belarus - Kazak etc, and I see thousands of RHD Japan "only" cars daily on those trips. I checked the websites and there are many for bringing 2nd hand cars into Russia through Vladivostok (ferry charge is only abt 50 bucks!!!) and you can find some really good cars that never ever come over to Europe. Despite E Block being LHD, no one seems to mind having a decent RHD car - and they really are very very affordable. So Imaginge yourself buying one and picking it up and driving all the way from Vladivostok to Surrey - now that would give you some serious pub chat talk for years to come!! ( and would outdo some sad journo's trips/jaunts to boot)

what's life without imagination

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