For those not familiar with kei cars, the idea stemmed from Japan. These cars are regulated to 660cc, offer financial advantages from initial and insurance costs, and are exempted from certain Japanese parking regulations. Size-wise, these cars are similar to the original Mini Cooper, up to 11.2 feet in length and 4.9 feet in width. The more popular kei cars are the Honda Beat, Suzuki Cappuccino, and Autozam AZ-1. Some kei cars have turbo charging. Some have five seats.
What’s the American equivalent you may ask? Something bigger, more powerful. Some of these cars are the Fiat 500, Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Spark, and SmartForTwo.
While that’s not a complete list, to me, they fit a U.S.-kei car description. These cars are considered subcompacts in the United States, or would fit under the category of superminis in the U.K. The displacement of the engines are less than 1.8 litres. The wheelbases are less than 100 inches. They offer financial benefits of ownership. They are easy to drive, with a focus of getting from point A to point B with minimal hassle.
Why would I care about them? That’s a simple answer really. I’ve seen the city environment around my neighborhood change dramatically in a 15 year span. What used to be 98 cents per gallon of gas when I started driving in the late 90s, is now $4.00 per gallon. What used to be short 15 minute drives to a favorable restaurant is now 45 minutes depending on the time of day. The streets have added more construction, more red lights, less shortcuts, and a greater likelihood of gridlock.
Driver training could help alleviate the situation. I’m surrounded by modern cars with drivers thinking they’re in the 1950’s; lots of space between vehicles, very slow acceleration, lackadaisical attention to the lights, braking far too early or unnecessarily going from stop light to stop light. While I can’t control how other drivers drive, I do appreciate it when they make choices to occupy less space on the road. It’s that much easier to change lanes or park properly when the car is just that small. I’ve noticed, from my experience, that owners of these vehicles are purely focused on getting to point B in a quick and safe manner. This only makes me happier to see that there’s a variety of superminis available to the market.
The Mazda2 is perceived as a sporty hatchback. The Fiat 500 is perceived as something more fashionable. While that may be the case, at least there’s a Fiat 500 turbo and Abarth version for some track ready hooning. The Toyota Yaris is perceived as a value purchase, while the SmartForTwo is perceived to be the most fuel efficient of the bunch listed. They’re all great products that have attracted U.S. buyers. It shows a shift of change from other larger cars such as a Camry, Corolla, Civic Sedan, or Honda Accord. I see it as a positive sign in U.S. buyers adapting their choices to a more practical solution financially and on the road.
After all, that is the point of having a car; getting us from point A to point B as easily as possible. Sometimes we don’t want driving our cars to be an event. We just want to get groceries at the local shops, find a good parking spot at a movie theater, and parallel park easily next to a concert venue in a quiet manner.
It just helps when manufacturers make the small cars…more fun.