One of the oddest aspects of the Japanese domestic market is Kei cars, tiny inner-city shuttles limited to four occupants and engines of no more than 660cc.

Very few have ever made it off the Home Islands (The Daihatsu Copen being a notable exception) and their designs cater exclusively for Japanese tastes; the fact that some of them look as if they've escaped from an animated movie can be ascribed to the Japanese love of anime, best described as grown-up comic books.

If there is one western word to describe the typical Kei car it is 'cute', and that, we feel is the best word to describe Honda's latest entry in the segment, the N-One.

With typically Japanese idiosyncratic nomenclature, it is in fact the third in a series of new Honda Kei cars, following the N Box and N Box+


The design concept, first evolved for the N360 in 1967, is encapsulated in the acronym M/M (man maximum, machine minimum), featuring the biggest possible cabin volume with comfortable seating for four adults on two bench seats within the smallest possible body - which usually leads to something resembling a cross between a household appliance and a piece of roll-on luggage.

There's even a luxury model called the N-One Premium which, says Honda, sets new standards for the segment with such options as a smartphone-based satnav using Honda's own app, 11 plain colours and five two-tone colour options with contrasting roofs.

Motivation is provided by a twin-cam 660cc engine (with or without turbocharging) and constant-velocity CVT transmission to either front-wheel or (believe it or not!) all-wheel drive.


Honda doesn't quote any performance figures beyond saying that the naturally-aspirated, front-wheel drive uses less than 3.7 litres per 100km and that the turbo model produces the same power as a conventional 1.3-litre family car.

The list of standard kit is astonishing for such a small vehicle, including brake light assist (hit the brakes really hard and the hazard lights come on), an electronic stability programme with hill hold, and front, side and curtain airbags.

Lastly (literally!), more than 90 percent of the material that goes into the N-One is recyclable.

Prices start at ¥1 150 000 (R125 000) for the entry-level version, going up to ¥1 707 750 (R186 000) for a two-tone, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive model with the Premium Tourer L package.