Readers not wishing to indulge our predilection for all things diminutive, Japanese and fluffy might perhaps wish to look away now.
How predictably Driven To Write, you might suggest, for us to fawn over some cute and unobtainable Japanese Kei car. After all, it’s not as if Suzuki doesn’t also offer a multitude of the SUV and crossover things we’re so frequently critical about on these pages.
Fair point, and I have no intention of singling out Suzuki as a bastion of elevated values. But with the proviso that other, perhaps equally endearing Kei cars are available (in Japan), Suzuki have nevertheless gone to the trouble to produce the Lapin. Which incidentally suggests that there is a market (in Japan) for cars like these. But not elsewhere, it would seem. What is the matter with us?
Surely there must be thousands of both men and women who would be more than happy, nay, delighted to perambulate about their adopted urban setting in something as bright, cheerful and downright joyous as this? It even has a bunny-rabbit badge, for heaven’s sake.
By way of recap, the Lapin is based on the popular Alto hatchback and like it, is powered by a three cylinder petrol engine of 660cc, driving the front wheels via a Constantly Variable Transmission. Undoubtedly it offers a thoroughly unremarkable driving experience – certainly not the sort of machine one might ideally choose to give the Nordschleife a good spanking – although it would be highly amusing to try.
For 2019, Suzuki have added a number of safety-related driver-aids, partly aimed at the fact that these cars are predominantly urban dwellers and also to cater to an older age group who it seems tend to favour these models, owing it would seem to more stringent laws in Japan relating to insurance and age-related eligibility to drive.
There are also new colours and trim packages and that’s before we get to the options. And what options! Can anyone recall other car (this side of some bespoke plutocratic conveyance anyway) which offers a dashboard-mounted, felt-lined pull-out jewellery drawer? I don’t own any jewellery at the present time, but were I in possession of a Lapin thus equipped, I think I might feel the need to obtain or otherwise purloin some.
Doesn’t it say something about Japanese culture that it is mature enough to appreciate a vehicle whose semiotics are centred around non-aggression and a slightly naïve, if nonetheless, knowing charm? Surely I’m not alone in coveting a Lapin of my own – perhaps in some recess of our collective consciousness, we all harbour a hitherto unspoken and illicit desire to Kai-Car our lives.
18 thoughts on “Lapin Daze”
What a lovely, joyful thing! I just cannot imagine the Lapin being driven aggressively or selfishly. Even the interior design and colours are cheerful and calming, nicely complementing the friendly exterior. It’s a very neat design. I love the symmetry between front and rear that the circular head and tail lights achieve.
If only cars like this were generally available In Europe and adopted widely by urban drivers, our city streets would feel more pleasant and less threatening. Would European males be happy to drive such a car? I would, but I suspect it might be perceived as too “girly” by many. Perhaps the very smart looking new Honda E might be an acceptable compromise to the latter?
Eóin, Thanks for cheering up my Sunday morning by featuring the Lapin.
With the exception of the tall-body type versions embodied by the Wagon R and the excess weight of some of the more recent Kei class cars, Japan’s Kei Cars would have paired well with Europe’s trend towards downsized sub-1000cc engines though would probably uprate the former from 660cc to around 750-900cc with power output being increased from 63 hp to around 80 hp (e.g. Caterham Seven 160) up to 90+ hp (e.g. Renault Twingo 0.9 TCE).
In essence am after the latter day equivalents of the Suzuki Alto Works (2nd-3rd gen – with light weight of 8th gen model and derestricted engine) or the Daihatsu Cuore Avanzato (with derestricted engine or 993cc Turbo from 2nd/3rd gen Charade), featuring Warm to Hot-ish Hatch performance with emphasis on acceleration (with even more mundane versions being more than capable of keeping up with traffic) as opposed to top speed (which would probably be limited anyway).
Suzuki sees your “girly” and raises it by several litres of brown paint.
Or, how about a Lapin “Woody” Shooting Brake:
Has anyone tried doing a Renault 4 conversion of the newer Suzuki Lapin as was previously done on one of the older models?
The Lapin is indeed rather lovely. You could also keep the disciplined geometry and merely change the colours if its a bit too feminine. Imagine it in bordeaux metallic with a charcoal cloth interior.
There are so many lovely non-aggressive Kei cars in Japan—crash safety laws aside, it really is so sad they’re rarely destined for anywhere other than the domestic market. We do get the odd Kei in the Uk – Ignis, Move, WagonR, Cuore though so it surely must be possible. But demand is not there – too many people want their cars too look like a fist in your rear view mirror. But I think some of this is part of the problem of focus-grouping designs, and if all we had were cute cars, I very much doubt no-one would buy them.
Japan does such lovely functional light and inviting iteriors – from the Cube , Daihatsu Naked and original Pike cars (Figaro, Pao, Be-1, S-Cargo) to this – I feel like europe is missing a trick on having more home-inspired Muji / Ikea type interiors in ight tactile fabrics and engineered light woods like ash and maple.
Some of my faves:
Daihatsu Mira Cocoa – Very similar thing going on with this.
Mira Gino – nailing what BMW missed about the Mini
There’s actually a company that makes ‘smile’ bumpers for a Suzuki Kei. Imagine this on a Mk1 Ka
What is the matter with us? The realization that having a collision with a large shrub in a Kei reinforced cardboard box with inch thick doors and 10 inches of crush space might be painful for the occupants! Swap in tin for the cardboard and things don’t improve much; the cars don’t meet international crash standards or barely do if they have every electronic nanny to help avoid an actual collision.
In Canada, it is permissible to import 15 year old cars as antiques or something (25 years in the US), so the hairshirt brigade have been hard at work bringing Kei cars and trucks in. Besides being even tinier than they look in pictures, looking more like a jumbo Dinky toy in the flesh, I remember how a Harley demolished my friend’s 1965 Vauxhall Viva back in university days – the motorcyclist’s fault driving after dark with no headlight. My friend was in hospital for a week, while the Harley rider was out of action for six months as he went on a long air trip with a hard landing. This wasn’t even a 40 mph crash and on university property. Those square Vivas were a bit tinny if any reader remembers them, about what Kei cars are like, I think.
Not for me, those Kei cars, no matter how enticing the designs, and the fact they are for the more narrow-shouldered humans among us. Decent width is a luxury.
Bill, the contrarian view is that ever larger cars and, especially, SUVs with advanced safety features foster a false sense of invulnerability that encourages users to drive aggressively and take dangerous risks. Kei cars, driven at less than 30mph in a stop-start urban streets are probably no more unsafe in that environment than regular vehicles on fast 60mph single and 70mph dual-carriageways.
Yes, Kei cars are probably too small for typical European and American users, but the principle underlying them is sound. I would be surprised if the Honda E doesn’t achieve a four or five-star NCAP rating, notwithstanding its modest size.
Bob, sure these might look ridiculous in your native Canada, but the North American market is the outlier here. Even in South America (a continent with terrain that is at least as varied, and big distances to cover) you see many small hatchbacks.
The variations of Kei cars just shows that working to a strict set of rules can stimulate creativity.
Cars like Suzuki Cappuccino, Honda Beat or Honda Z coupé show what can be done.
As far as I can remember Honda was the only manufacturer trying to sell Ks in Europe big time with the N360 of the Sixties which wasn’t overly successful even in non-K compliant N600 form.
The Honda really recalls in my opinion the fiat 127. A World with more key cars and less SUVs in the cities would be a better world!
Given the extreme (and some would say, excessive) cuteness of many a kei car one would have thought they’d be a popular import, but no. Even during the height of the Japanese import business in the 90s and 00s nary a one (except for the odd Beat and Cappucino and they didn’t stay around long due to tinworm infestations) arrived. Too small, too slow. I can’t speak for other markets but in Ireland you’ll never do well offering a car smaller than about a Fiesta, as Ford have learned trying to sell a car smaller than a Fiesta.
Also, other drivers mentally blank you out and try to drive into you, as I’ve discovered while driving a car only very slightly over Kei dimensions.
There have been many negative comments to the effect that the Honda e has gone way too cutesy, especially in relation to the more aggressive and masculine Urban EV concept. This saddens and annoys me greatly as, in my view, the e has many merits in its own right and, if it was a bit cheaper and possessed of longer range, I would give one of my organs to be in possession of one. Hence, much as I adore the Lapin and it’s ilk (I also loved the Beat and Cappuccino), I think DP is correct, these things don’t seem to translate into decent sales outside of Japan and a few other markets.
In fact, as a general rule, cutesy doesn’t seem to sell that well. Yes, I know FIAT 500, but I’d argue that the Cinq is a bit different, and I wonder is it’s the width to length ratio (call it ‘stance’) which renders the 500 a bit more butch and thus acceptable to western tastes? That’s a horrible generalisation, but I am just grasping for reasons why.
I think Kei cars are one of the most convincing answers to a car’s most basic design brief: use a minimum of resources (including space) to realize a maximum of utility.
Safety is the main aspect that speaks against Kei cars – of course even more so thanks to the SUV-arms race in which everybody feels the need to drive bigger cars because everybody else started driving bigger cars too.
I know from (Kei car) experience that traffic in Japan is much slower and feels a lot safer than in Western Europe. One would expect this to show in the traffic related deaths statistics. But not so. Traffic related deaths / capita in Japan are slightly above or at par with most Western European countries. (Source: Wikipedia) I suppose this is due to the Kei car which in a serious crash I am sure offers far smaller chances of survival than any recent Golf.
This being said, smallness and safety don’t need to be mutually exclusive, as Smart has demonstrated. Strangely it doesn’t appear to be a priority in Japan, see crash test results of the new Suzuki Jimny.
To me the perfect (almost-) Kei car then would be a (non compliant) Kia Ray with a proper safety structure. I wish somebody would import them to Europe. As opposed to the Japanese cars, they do have the steering wheel on the left (hence the right) side and just look like sugar: https://www.kia.com/kr/vehicles/ray/features.html (Since I don’t know with what which craft to post photos, maybe somebody else will?)
Happy to oblige, Max:
Thank you, Daniel. Isn’t it cute?
It certainly is, Max, but not as cute as this:
A Subaru Sambar modified to look like a VW Type 2 bus. Supercharged and AWD too!