The Suzuki method: Just add joy.

What’s Japanese for ‘Jazz-hands’ again? Suzuki.co.jp

Venturing onto Suzuki’s Japanese Domestic Market web portal is not only a journey of discovery in itself, its colourful site is quite the joy to behold. And should you find the succinctly melodious Alto not to your liking, there’s a whole host of radical, sophisticated and downright interesting models to whet those with a JDM appetite.

Our Western values place freedom, and power alongside that ole chestnut, sex appeal – not to forget the wonders of that new-fangled electricity in brand advertising. Add in easy terms at every opportunity. That’s our way – the choice is yours to accept them or not. The Japanese, to eyes unaccustomed to such a varied culture, appear to promote fun, safety and economy, alongside more subtle allusions to attracting the attention of whomever one is attracted to. Having had electrical cars since Adam was a lad, Suzuki wish to promote their wares as definitive means of mobilisation – easy terms thrown in too.

Take the Solio. Omitting the Nihingo scripture, the first English word on screen is Good! A nice start to a family oriented kei-car with a suitably inane grinning family clad in costume which resembles pyjamas – blue and white stripes. Then to five main areas of pertinence: space for a family of five, with luggage. A rear sliding door – no supermarket door prangs here. Unparalleled safety equipment.

Then a couple more surrounding the generally wonderful feeling this car exudes; the higher driving position, cubby holes of any perceived shape, size and location, not to mention the sheer ease is of living with a Solio. The dashboard perpetuates the family centric opinion inasmuch it retains exuberance with functionality – almost Citroën-like. The Solio credo: “Body to compact, Space to BIG! 

With eight colours, front or all wheel drive in connection with a CVT and frugal petrol hybrid power, Solio is a perfectly acceptable means of shifting kinfolk, chattels, et al. But should you wish to spice things up a little…

Poses other than sultry are available. suzuki.co.jp

Two attractive young people flank the main image where Solio’s edgier sibling resides. Bandit Solio (or is it Solio Bandit?) brings eleven hues including deep purple, four being two-tone (black roof), the same distinctive exterior sculpting flourish, along with heaps of charisma. The grille and lights are marginally transformed from its standard sibling. Inside, er, the same. But look how easy we’ve leapt from family runabout to seductive chariot. Same car, different niche, contrasting customer base. Good!

The car that make even dogs fly! suzuki.co.jp

Does the survey metadata place you in the outdoors brigade? Then Suzuki has just the ticket: the Hustler, J Style. With a wheel at each corner and an agreeably rounded off oblong box look to the outside, there’s more than a hint of handsome, rugged looks. External details that caught my untrained eye are the symbiotic front end – everything you need and nothing more (although options in the gazillions naturally exist) all within perfect kei-car dimensions alongside being suitably different from rivals. Another being the funkiest door handle insert yet observed, quite inimitable.

Notice too how unlike larger exponents of outdoor lifestyles, no spare tyre resides to the Hustler’s rear – you get a tin of goo. That third window and vertical C-pillar really open things up, visually and objectively, a mini masterpiece of clever design. Smoked glass has never been my thing but one hears such treatments are advantageous in hotter climes. 

Suzuki in their own way inform us of the platform that pursues weight reduction and high rigidity whilst adding such a structure “realises comfortable driving.” Is the Japanese tarmac as poor as most Western motorists suffer? Procuring the talents of Google translate, they also elicit the wisdoms of the annular skeleton providing rigidity incorporating high steering stability and ride quality.

By their own admission, this too is part of that translation; “The underbody structure smoothly connects the bent skeleton to create a rational and simple shape. Suspension parts are used as part of the skeleton, and the strong parts where the skeletons are connected are used to fix the parts. While reducing the number of reinforcing parts, both improvement in basic performance and weight reduction are achieved.” The tricky differences between sentences in diverse Japanese and English, there methinks.

Colours there are eleven. What Western company offers gun metallic roofs with main body colours in Vermilion Orange, Denim or Blisk Blue, Active Yellow or Cheerful Pink? Prefer monotone masks? All metallic, Chiffon Ivory, Off Blue, Blueish Black Pearl 3 (no less) or Cool Khaki should lighten moods.

Run, stack and play more” is the internal Hustler mantra. Add playfulness to that. Exuberance too fits here as much as anyone’s muddy boots or bike. And space, lots of space. While doubtful many yoga positions could be performed, for its intended uses, that elevated stance and myriad cubbyholes will probably mean hours spent searching for those missing laces, carabiners and phone. 

Bandit interior in saddle, exterior being Speedy Blue. Suzuki.co.jp

But just look at that dashboard! At risk of upsetting Allegro owners (oh well…) those squircles liven up matters convincingly. The left hand side version folds down as a table whilst acting as a glovebox. The centre provides all necessary information and facilities a modern motor requires with the drivers eyes looking at the speedometer. All this in combination with four vertical air vents make this platform interactive, tactile and so far removed from the sober, austere interfaces most of us occasionally gawp at, stuck in traffic. It’s another master stroke. Choosing a fancy exterior colour alters those squircles accordingly. Neatly exuberant. 

But I need cup holders and hooks to hang my designer shopping bag!’ Check: front and rear has copious devices. And should one forget the everyday shopping bag, the front passenger seat squab lifts revealing yet another storage area which also transforms into a retail therapy basket. Front seats can be heated and the deck can flatten to become a sleeping area. Suzuki sell mattresses along with colour coded pillows, perfect for camping, ready for next morning’s climb/ bike ride/ surfing session. Or, the wife’s kicked you out and the office can’t accommodate, meaning you have to get creative.

“Why are we laughing? That seagull just pinched the Spacia driver’s chips!” Suzuki.co.jp

As are Suzuki. Unwavering external dimensions require thinking outside the (same) box. The MINI-esque X-Bee (some in tri-tones!), the Spacia – available in Gear and Custom flavours, or Wagon R or sleek Stingray Wagon R hybrid turbo are pretty much the same, yet contrast through determined thought. Such efforts require discipline, planning and something the West often lacks – that all-important sense of joy.


Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

19 thoughts on “空と、風と遊ぼう”

  1. Good morning Andrew and thank you for another delicious selection. My favourite is the Hustler J Style. Does the ‘J’ stand for Jeep, I wonder? If so, that’s very cheeky, given its obvious inspiration. I’ll have mine in baby blue, please:

    One of these would make me smile every time I saw it. An EV version would be just perfect as our everyday car. What a shame we don’t have the opportunity to buy these in Europe.

    1. Thanks Andrew for this selection box of tiny treats. While I am thinking along these lines, wouldn´t a cute saloon be a pleasant addition? The last one I can think of was Ford´s O21C concept which put orange back on the map. Both the US and EU markets decidedly avoid cuteness with Fiat and Renault being the closest purveyor of this quality on one or two models.

    2. I’d like the idea of a saloon. The Ford O21C turned green later on. I’d like it in yellow or white.

    1. Good morning gentlemen – I’m with you on the Hustler, Daniel. Particularly one with the steel wheels; just can’t decide on the colour….
      SHMBO had a Wagon R a few years back – the second version which was also sold as a Vauxhall Agila. A little bland in appearance, perhaps, but an extremely practical machine of Tardis-like capacity within its tiny footprint (Issigonis would surely have approved). Ride and roadholding were far more than adequate and even long distance journeys were no chore. It is still much missed. The Japanese have shown us that environmentally friendly motor vehicles can be practical and fun – but when are we going to learn?

    2. What a lovely thing. Those steelies look great. The tail lights are a bit of an acquired taste I reckon.

    3. Bonkers-looking, non-aggressive and practical: An undeniably appealing combination (and in stark contrast to the kerbside furniture in most western markets).

    4. Tom: That´s another good one, thanks. There might be a business case for a kei-only dealer. The case against is legal, that the brands´ importers might resent someone selling products not available in the mainstream dealers.
      This might be of interest:
      Europe´s very own kei-car, the Panda Mk1 did the job quite well. The next generation lost all the appeal of the first. There is a lesson from the Jimny and 2CV that some genres live a long time and don´t need updating. Fiat might better have re-engineered the Panda but kept it in practice the same: light, simple, reliable and cheap.

    5. Thanks Richard. Kei cars used to be sold in Europe simply as small, cheap options, but cars in general, including small cars have ballooned so much that made the Kei cars look increasingly tiny (possibly not helped by being engineered for on-average smaller Japanese people). Someone posted an image of a VW Up next to a first generation Golf a while back where the Up – two market segments down – was larger than the Golf. Still, as you say, there must be a market for this kind of car.

      For a car of its era, I think the second generation Panda still has some appeal, if not the bucketloads of character of the original (or the Aygo/107/C1, which I rather like). The rather flabby (and deceptively large) third gen has very little. It seems Europe’s car manufacturers got caught up in short term thinking instead of longer term strategy, maybe prompted by rapidly evolving regulations, reckoning it would be cheaper or more effective to design a new car than to adapt an old one. Of course, some of the staying power of cars like the Citroën 2CV was simply necessity: the financial or creative drought that plagued their manufacturers. They just have it too good, these days… 😜

  2. Orange with white steelies – perfect!
    Every time I look at the choice there is in Kei cars with their colours and very different styles, I feel the urge to relocate east…Why can’t the Europeans combine simplicity with joy? Of course there are attempts like the first Cactus, but they are rather quarter- than half-hearted in comparison. All the nice colour options were deleted quite soon, and dreaming of things like 4WD was out of the question anyway.

    Regarding “J-Style”: I think it could refer back to the LJ and SJ off-roaders from the 80s (the Jimny predecessors). Hugely successful in alpine Europe, and still higly sought after twenty years later. The Hustler front actually reminded me of these. However, how these cars got their “J”, I don’t know. Maybe from “Jeep”?

    1. The first Cactus did indeed have a bit of the K-Car fun. But the non-existent colour choice kind of ruined it. It seems that for European carmakers, automotive fun can’t happen.
      I bet the fun niche would have paid off.
      I don’t expect that from the German manufacturers – Germans and fun/humour has been an oxymoron since the 40s anyway. But the fact that the British and French have missed it is a tragedy.

  3. Whilst I love these JDM specialities, Kei or otherwise, I have reservations about the miniaturisation involved. Many years ago a close relative bought a new Triumph Acclaim, which I sometimes drove. It was a lovely little car, but spoilt by too many doors, which were consequently too small. Anything smaller than a Yaris really needs to be 2-door only.

    1. I tend to agree with that. It’s very annoying when you look over your shoulder and all you see is the B-pillar. On the outside it makes the shape cleaner with less shut lines. Practicality might suffer a bit, but how much does that matter, really? Look at the occupation rate of cars. It’s around 1.3 at the moment.

  4. It is pretty much only the Koreans and Japanese that are floating my new car boat. I am still absorbing the delights of the Kia Grandeur retro (mostly focusing on the velour upholstery) and now Andrew has reminded me of Suzuki.jp and the heart warming cars on offer. It would be super if some marketing person from Suzuki Europe took another look at some of the JDM product and perhaps tried shipping a few hundred as an experiment. Is crash testing the reason these cars can´t be sold here? Subaru have a kei car in their range, the Justy which I believe was once a Swift re-badging. Honda´s N-Van is rather more sober neat: https://www.honda.co.jp/N-VAN/?from=navi_banner2_c

    1. I agree. It is unlikely to be crash-worthiness, as the recent Jimny was fine for Europe – when I looked up its score, right above it on the list was the Daihatsu Tocot mentioned in the previous article. Unless the non-kei versions of the Jimny sold in Europe had more than just the cosmetic changes.

      Is it just emissions, most of the kei bunch having evil combustion engines rather than being double the size but electric? The Jimny being such an example, as it was ICE-only. Instead they added the Across at the top of the range, which is a rebadged Toyota RAV4 plug-in hybrid. It is more expensive than the Toyota, so is maybe there for its emissions help as much as it is intended to sell. If Subaru has a kei-car, they really ought to consider it, as demand for their cars seems to be getting perilously low now.

      The nearest European equivalent, in its attitude as well as its size, is perhaps the Citroen Ami? There is an EV-kei on the way, from the RNM Alliance. Will they see the interest in the Ami and get tempted to offer that in Europe. https://www.autoblog.com/2021/09/06/mitsubishi-nissan-electric-kei-car/

      On the subject of the greater sese of fun that they seem to have with the JDM cars, the latest Honda Fit (Jazz) has a trim level in Japan called Ness….yes, “Fit Ness”. https://www.honda.co.jp/Fit/special/ness/

    2. I think the Justy is above Kei car size. Their lengths are more in the 3.50 to 3.80 m range. Earlier Justys (in the 80s and 90s) were very common in the mountains here, one of the few alternatives to a Panda 4×4 (and available with 5 doors). When they went on to sell rebadged Suzukis and Daihatsus, they didn’t seem as interesting any more.

      At some time, Subaru actually hav a Kei car below the Justy: the Vivio, which was also sold in Europe. Interestingly, if one read its name as Roman numerals*, one gets VI – VI – O, or 660 – referring to the engine capacity.

      * kind of, since strictly speaking, there is no Roman zero.

  5. The latest Justy uses a 1.0 engine, so is definitely not a kei car. Worth mentioning that it is based on a Daihatsu Thor, and is also sold as Toyota Roomy or Toyota Tank!

    Subaru’s current kei vehicles are Chiffon, Stella Pleo+ and Sambar, all of which are rebadged Daihatsu. The Caterham 7 160 fits kei dimensions

    The Caterham 7 170 was said to be kei-specification in UK reviews, and by Caterham themselves (Japanese-owned since this year) but their Japanese website suggests power of 84hp, which would not comply with the kei rules.

  6. I’m a bit conflicted about these, my last experience with this type of car was a Mira L700 (Cuore locally with a 1.0L/3sp auto) that wasn’t actually terrible to drive as an around-town car – perhaps that was the novelty factor speaking? I’d be a bit wary about the lack of safety however, especially having been the victim in an accident in a much safer car; I really wouldn’t like to have been in the Cuore for that one… Also longer journeys would test the tolerance for NVH.

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