Why the Honda S660 is better than the Mazda MX-5
I’ve always wanted to try out the Honda S660, it’s a car that many have praised but few have driven. Primarily because they’re only sold in Japan in limited numbers. However, the chance has come and I finally got my hands on one.
It was a Friday night when I picked it up in an underground carpark in the city centre of Hong Kong. I sat in it for the first time, and the inevitable ‘Arrrr’ came out of my mouth. Because the sitting position is so low that I can only assume my bottom is two inches away from the cat's eye stone.
Then I put the foot on the brake pedal, pushed the big red start button, started it for the first time. The mid-mounted 0.66L three-cylinder turbocharged engine rumbled into life. Yes, it did rumble into life but nothing was heard. All I can feel was the inherent shaking that all three-cylinder motors suffer from. And because it’s mid-engined, all that was shaking was the bit behind your back, so at least your back pain would be dealt with.
I pulled out of said carpark and into the busy traffic of Hong Kong. The small width and wheelbase made it a doddle to navigate through the city. What’s perhaps surprising is how people reacted to me driving this thing. Other road users tend to forget that you’re here and simply cut you off rudely, that feeling is not desirable at all. At least you get to stare at their brake lights all the time as the roof is so low that your eye level is almost level with the brake lights in front. And as you step on the brakes to modulate the pedal to come to a halt, the start-stop system engages and shuts the whole car down as if it’s broken, which can’t be switched off unless you put it in Sport mode.
The ride, too, was not tolerable at all. When you go over speed humps, there was no rebound. That just tells you how hard the suspension is. I suspect it’s because the car itself is short height-wise, so the springs and the shocks themselves don’t have much working room to take up the bumps.
However, all was forgotten when I got to some of the best mountain roads in Hong Kong. Because the Honda S660 is one of the best cars, if not the best cars, for back road hooning.
Let’s start with the chassis and suspension. Honda claims that the S660 has better structural rigidity than the S2000, and the S2000 isn’t what you call...loose. That combined with an independent MacPherson setup that is stiff as hell and some sticky Advan Neova AD08R tyres all-round, makes you feel like a superman round the bends.
Honestly, you just pin the throttle wherever you fancy, turn it without braking, and the car would point towards the apex without the back moving one bit. It's magical. And when you go over 0.5G according to the onboard G-meter on the screen, the car would beep which makes for an awesome little game to play when you’re on the switchbacks.
All you do on fun Touges is slam the throttle, because the one thing that this three banger lacks is power. With 64 hp, it’s not what you call...enough. That said, what it makes is a great hissing sound when the turbos are busy sucking in air from the atmosphere, and because the intake is right next to your left ear, you can hear the induction sound from the engine as you put your foot down. What emits out of the tailpipes is much like the straight-six from the BMWs in the early noughties. Intoxicating is the word. What’s perhaps surprising is that after all that noise, all that wonderful sound, all you’re doing is 30mph, so you’re well within the speed limit even when you you feel like you're driving the socks off it.
What’s perhaps less magical is the CVT transmission. There is a lack of...drama as you go for it on the mountain roads. Even if you've popped it into Sport mode, even if you've pressed hard on the throttle, it'll still do the CVT thing and hold it at around 3000rpm. If you really want to explore the higher rev range in all its glory, you really have to use the simulated 6 gear ratios in the system, by which you have to utilise the paddles behind the steering wheel. A manual gearbox would suit the car much more but if you really have to buy an automatic, the CVT isn't at all bad in the city for a CVT, it just doesn't do the car justice.
Speaking of quality, the interior is not a well-built place to be in. The cup holder near the passenger’s foot feels like it’s going to fall off anytime, so is the screen up on top. The screws holding the door cards in place are clearly visible to the naked eye and the Targa roof rattles even if you’ve done up everything by the book. Oh, and if you’re taller than 5 ft 4, your head will bang against the roll hoop behind you, so you have to sit at an angle to get some creature comfort.
And you know what, I’d still prefer it to the MX-5. Yes the roof on the MX-5 is much sturdier than the Honda, and the engine pulls harder, and the wheelbase is longer so you don’t have to chop your feet in half to get in. And to some, it looks better too.
But, what the S660 offers, is unlike anything I’ve driven: absolute loyalty. You turn in, the front will stick; you stomp on the throttle well before the apex, the rear-end will not budge one bit. This is what I call absolute loyalty.
The MX-5 is great and all, but the body does move around with that limp-like suspension setup, it rolls and pitches rather unnecessarily. Yes it makes for a dramatic ride, but you have a feeling that Mazda's set the car up deliberately to make you go slower.
The S660 is a car you can trust wholly, without worrying it will step out at one point. Because with the ever-so-stiff suspension, the sticky Advans and the not-so-powerful engine, all you’re doing is exploring half of its potential even when you’re full throttling the whole way. It makes you feel fast, without breaking the speed limit, what’s not to like?
And the consequence of driving that enthusiastically is you'd end up sweating like a pig, and having back pain trying to climb out of the thing.
That’s good. Because to avoid back pain from climbing out of the car, you ought to get back out and never get out of it.