Some would speculate that a Z600 or N-600 might be the rarest Honda in North America: yet we’ve seen these on the street and there are plenty of opportunities to drive them. Beat? There are at least a dozen in the country. City Turbo – we wish, although they are at least available to be seen in museums here. S800? No – and these can still be bought by collectors and are highly desirable. How about instead the new S660 – the latest sporting Honda "Kei" car. There's just one S660 in all of North America - and we’ve driven it!
The S660 is sold in Japan (read more here: www.honda.co.jp/S660/) but is known by fans worldwide - and was even hoped to be an eventual S2000 replacement.
The press in North America originally speculated that an S660 with a larger engine and safety updatess might be sold in North America. And we’ve heard of dealers here being asked about whether they thought it was viable. But that was years ago, we’ve seen zero movement, and we understand from insiders that the S660 wasn’t even designed to meet the safety requirements required in North America, without even side door beams. At the time of the S660 launch, the product manager for the S660 talked about his personal S2000 in Japanese press interviews, but not how it compares to "his" S660 or if was even intended to be a follow-on to the S2000. Perhaps at one time there was an idea of selling S660 outside of Japan to fill this gap in their product line.
There are only a very few S660s outside of Japan, and we’ve driven the only one here in North America. I had the opportunity to put about a hundred miles on an S660 on twisty back roads and hills. As I drove it, my thoughts were immediately on our own S2000, as well as on the S800 we’d driven the year before. So I’ll make comparisons below, even though the S660 is not even a spiritual successor to the S2000… instead it’s literally a successor to the Honda Beat.
First, the S660 is a Kei car, meeting Japanese Federal Government rules for maximum size and power output (.66 liters and 63 horsepower, exactly the S660 rating of this Honda EarthDreams engine). Meaning when you climb inside of it, your head appears to be *huge* from outside of the car. Although it is nearly as roomy as an S2000 and (noticeably more so than a Miata). If you’ve ever seen a Beat or an S800 go by you’ll notice the same effect… yes, it’s that tiny.
Size comparison to a well known medium size coupe.. the height is almost at the beltline!
Inside is a high-tech cabin completely unlike an S2000… you’ll remember that when the S2000 was introduced Honda told us that there was nothing inside that took away from the driving experience: even the radio was covered up, and a nav system was only offered in Japan (and even then only by necessity). The S2000 is pure… but not the S660. For example when you start the engine you can switch to a sport mode that turns the tachometer red and that also changes engine mapping. But there are also familiar elements: the start button and the seats look like they were copied from the S2000. And like the S2000 seats, these provide great support - especially under the shoulders.
The S660 starts immediately, but it doesn’t sound like an S2000 - and with 0.66 liters of turbocharged 3 cylinder it can’t. But given its extremely low curb weight, about 1,850 pounds, and with the immediate torque provided by the turbo engine (77 lb-ft peak), it is fun to drive – although much slower.
Engine compartment: transverse mid-engine triple. Notie the side air intake in the picture later in this article.
And while you’ll also see a familiar Honda shifter, it doesn’t shift like an S2000 (the best shifting car in the world… ever!) either. The linkage is long and flexible, and shifts are only as sure as you can manage in a right-hand drive car.
Now for the bad news: handling. Not S2000 or S800-like at all. In ths S660, with it's simple strut-based design, you are always aware of weight shifting over the front tires in the turns. It also has too much body roll (possibly designed for the safety of an "average" driver: the same excuse used by Mazda for the new Miata). Can this be fixed? Maybe, the S660 is a mid-engine design so at least the engine is in the right place. More work is needed here, and we’d also like to see bigger tires to provide higher limits and better feel.
Small tires and tiny brakes
Driving thru the hills, I again thought of the comparison. Monthly, we lead a group of S2000 owners on drives thru the hills and turns of our own state and the S2000 is ideal for this with great handling and plenty of power. It’s even comfortable to sit in, as is the S660. However, turns during this drive that the S2000 would have taken with confidence were instead taken with a noticeable shift of weight onto the S660’s front tires. Not good, nor confidence-inspiring.
Passing other cars at speed with this turbo engine is like passing with any other turbo engine – a press on the gas pedal and "whoosh". Still, 63 HP is not much to push 1,850 pounds (not including driver and passenger)... whereas 240 HP for a 2,800 pound S2000 is a very different proposition. A comparison of usable power bands is also a study in contrasts: S660 (1,000-5,000 RPM); S2000 (6,200 – 9,000 RPM). The S660 is more easily drivable at lower RPM thanks to the turbo, although the last 1000 RPM above 5000 is pointless. Fuel economy while driving briskly on back roads? At least the very high 30s, far better than an S2000 by 10 or more MPG.
Getting back outside of the car for a final look around, there are interesting features to note. The styling is familiar corporate Honda up front, with LED headlamps integrated with the grill similarly to most last-generation Hondas.
Corporate Honda styling - including a fake vent
However, it gets very odd out back with two giant humps over the engine compartment that are empty and have absolutely zero purpose. How unlike the Honda form-follows-function design we once knew… and, even worse, they block the rear view thru the 3 rear windows. Yes, 3 separate rear windows and the middle one goes down to assist air flow thru the cabin. I felt this design was needlessly complicated for no functional return and a blocked rear view.
3 rear windows + CHMS
There are however some very cleaver features. For example, the air intake for the engine wraps around the side of the car.
Engine air intake alongside the side window
Another is the removable canvas top rolls up and is kept in a storage bin up front - very smart. However that same storage bin takes up the entire front trunk and there the engine takes up all the room in the back. So storage space in this car is extremely limited.
The canvas top... our mistake to try to roll it on backwards!
There is no storage room whatsoever outside of the passenger car... whatever you might buy in your travels will have to go home in the passenger seat. Contrast this to the S2000 which has a very large trunk.
Front trunk with storage bin for the top and the jack and tools
I've also driven an S800... which is immediately obvious as an S2000 relative. It starts the same, sounds the same, shifts the same, and with excellent handling dynamics for its age. I felt immediately confident driving ths S800 because it was designed so well.
Will the S660 ever come to North America – or even Europe? We can’t see how… because of its size it wouldn’t compete against anything else – even the tiny Miata is much larger and more powerful than this car. Safety equipment for U.S. Federal standards would be required, weight would go up, and a larger 3 cylinder engine would be needed (which doesn’t currently exist inside Honda). But, I have to wonder about the very future of this car... as we know Honda corporate is not particularily focused on performance at the moment (remember that the impetus for the Civic Type R comes from Britain). I think instead that the future has been shown to us in the Sports EV Concept electric car, which uses new battery technology and is on a new shared platform - from which a larger 4-seat car has already been announced for production a few years from now. It's even possible the S660 will be replaced by a production car similar to the Sports EV given the fast move to electric cars in Japan over the next several years.
By the end of the drive I had mixed feelings about the S660. I started with hopes that it could be successful here in North America but I came away realizing that it could not be. On the other hand, it is fun to see a resurgence in the performance aftermarket in Japan due to this car and the Civic Type R, with all the familiar S2000 aftermarket manufacturers such as Spoon Sports providing parts for both. I’ve also enjoyed watching Hot Version test production and modified versions of the S660, and several have been tested on the Touge… it’s almost feels like the “good old days" again. Too bad Best Motoring and Gan-san aren't around anymore... as a Honda consultant he would have provided the S660 "driving impressions" and comparison tests that he was famous for!
More information on our websites:
• www.DrivingEnthusiast.net - more on the S2000
• www.pinterest.com/driventhusiast - hundreds of Pins of the S800, S2000 and S660
Thank you for joining us on our second post on DriveTribe!