51 years after Soichiro Honda launched his first production car in 1964, the Honda S600 roadster, Honda's all-new Honda S660 is a tiny little car that packs supercar level innovation.
The S660 is one of the most anticipated cars to be launched in Japan in this year and here's why - balanced lightweight construction with 45:55 front:rear weight distribution, 'fun-sized' minicar dimensions for go-kart-like response, mid-ship engine, rear wheel drive, peppy little turbocharged 660cc DOHC engine, 6-speed manual transmission, priced lower than a Mazda MX-5.
There's also a variant equipped with a CVT with paddle shifters to work the automatic transmission's seven virtual ratios.
In Japan, the S660 is starts at 1.98 million Yen, just slightly higher than a HR-V Hybrid in Japan (where it is known as the Vezel). The larger 1.5-litre Mazda MX-5 sells 2.7 million Yen in Japan.
Positioned right behind the driver is a transverse mounted S07A in-line 3-cylinder DOHC turbocharged engine that produces 64 PS at 6,000 rpm and 104 Nm at 2,600 rpm. Doesn't sound like much but the car weighs just 830 kg. The little engine only redlines at 7,600 rpm.
The appeal of the S660 is not top-line speed but its go-kart-like handling. Honda's own internal data shows that the S660 pulls up to 0.8G on the skidpad, just slightly less than the Honda S2000's 0.88G. There's even a G-meter mounted on the dashboard, just like in proper high performance cars like the Nissan GT-R and Renault Megane RS.
Like any top-class Ferrari or a Porsche, the S660 has most of its mass concentrated within its wheelbase.
Both the front and rear disc brake calipers, which are a big contributor to the suspension structure's mass, are mounted facing the centre of the vehicle, just like a Ferrari 458 Italia.
Behind the doors is a pair of NACA ducts feeding air into the turbocharged engine, just like a Ferrari F40.
The car's 12V battery is mounted very low, behind the dashboard, to keep the concentration of masses within the car's wheelbase. Similarly, the car's 25-litre fuel tank is installed on the floor, just behind the front passengers.
Further aiding the S660's handling is an Agile Handing Assist system, which uses the brakes to provide torque vectoring as the car pitches and yaws around a car, helping the driver to maintain an optimum driving line.
In a CVT equipped model, there's a Sports mode button which sharpens throttle response.
Three cylinder engines typically don't sound very pleasing but Honda says drivers of the S660 will be able to experience the sensation of sports car's engine thanks to some intelligent sound tuning techniques employed (no artificial sound generation used) - the turbo's blowoff valve sound for example, is piped back into the air box to amplify it.
The S660's compact dimensions rules out fitting a conventional folding roof, be it a fabric top or a metal top. A typical solution used by other car makers involves inconveniencing the driver with a set of metal braces that must be fitted one by one before a fabric cover can be fastened over it.
Honda's solution is an easy-to-use 'roll top' which already comes with the metal braces integrated within. All that a driver needs to do is to simply roll the soft top across the vehicle's sides, step into the cabin and turn one latch on each side to fasten it. The solution is so practical to use that a larger built driver or passenger can simply unlatch one side of the roof, lift it up slightly to allow them to enter the car easier.
Although small, occupants of the S660 are decently protected and Honda says the open-top structure is designed with great consideration for USA's strict regulations for rollover protection, and basing its own internal G-CON standards on these.
Front and side airbags are standard, with the latter featuring a world's first "internal pressure holding airbag system, " which Honda says can hold internal pressure for a longer period of time compare to a conventional airbag system, enabling further improved occupant protection performance.
Other standard features include Vehicle Stability Assist and Hill Start Assist as well as the Emergency Stop Signal system, while City-Brake Active System is available as an option on some models.
While the Honda S660 is a relatively affordable roadster in Japan, high import and excise duties will rule out the car's availability in Malaysia.
Considering the car's tiny 660cc engine and its niche appeal, it's hard to imagine if Honda Malaysia is able to make a strong business case for the S660. For now, there are no firm plans by Honda Malaysia to introduce this model locally but a small number might make it here two years later (Open APs are limited to used cars aged two years or older) via grey importers.