Have you ever heard of Japanese city cars or microcars? These are called kei cars, a type of light automobile which you’ll find in cities in Japan. They’re incredibly successful, and are the smallest highway-legal passenger cars.
They’re known for having restrictions placed upon their dimensions and the capacity for their engines.
While these cars haven’t necessarily taken off, they’re a common sight in Japan. These cars were created in 1949, and they have certain regulations. Their speed is restricted, their engines have less power, and they can’t be larger than a certain size.
If you don’t drive much, then kei cars are perfect. They don’t cost a lot to maintain due to their small size. Roads in Japan tend to be busier, and the parking spaces tend to be tighter, so it makes sense for kei cars to be such a regular sight.
Due to speed restrictions, they don’t use as much fuel, and they have a lower retail price. Many big-name manufacturers in Japan make their own kei cars, so you may recognize some of these cars.
What Are Kei Car Regulations?
Kei cars need to have a specific height, length, and width, with the measurements changing over the years.
Currently, the maximum length of a kei car is 11.2 ft or 134.4 inches, the max width is 4.9 ft or 58.8 inches, and the maximum height is 6.6 ft or 79.2 inches.
One way you know that you’re looking at a kei car is by looking at their yellow license plates, which is why they are known as yellow-plate cards.
The Japanese government has limits on the engine displacement and power, with the max displacement for an engine being 660cc, and the max power of 47 kilowatts.
1. Honda N-One
The Honda N-One has been in production since November 2012, and is a retro-style kei car that is incredibly popular in the Japanese market.
It’s a part of the N lineup of kei cars, and is known to have a three-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission. It is 133.7 inches long, 58.1 inches wide, and ranges in height from 60.4 to 64.2 inches.
In 2020, the second generation of N-One was introduced, and they became a little shorter in height, with the highest being at 61.8 inches instead.
What makes the Honda N-One so popular is that it was described as an upmarket vehicle, and has standard features that are otherwise unusual for its class.
It is a 5-door hatchback with the engine in the front and four-wheel drive included. Also in the N lineup is the N-Box, N-WGN, and the N-Van.
2. Nissan Dayz
The Nissan Dayz began its life as the third generation of the Mitsubishi eK, which was one of the fastest selling kei cars ever produced.
Nissan Dayz was first released from June 2013, and the fourth generation was released in March 2019.
The third generation was 133.7 inches long, 58.1 inches wide, and had a height of 63.8 inches. The fourth generation was a little bit higher, with the height fluctuating between 64.6 inches and 65.4 inches.
The Nissan Dayz is a 5-door hatchback which has a front engine, and a four-wheel-drive.
There is also another variant of the Nissan Dayz known as the Nissan Dayz Roox which is a kei minivan variant. These began circulation in February 2014, with the next generation released in March 2020.
3. Toyota Pixis
These selection of Toyota kei cars are all actually manufactured by Daihatsu and sold by Toyota, as Daihatsu is also owned by Toyota.
All of the Toyota Pixis variants are rebadged versions of Daihatsu kei cars, with the first being the Toyota Pixis Epoch.
The Pixis Epoch is a rebadged version of the Daihatsu Mira e:S. It has been sold as the Pixis Epoch since 2012, but as the Mirae :S it has been sold since 2011.
It’s a 5-door hatchback with a front-engine and four-wheel-drive. You may even find it sold as the Subaru Pleo Plus.
What makes the Toyota Pixis Epoch special is that it was designed with eco-friendly technology in mind. Its fuel efficiency was improved by 40%, and the engine has improved combustion efficiency.
The first generation was released in September 2011, and was 133.7 inches long, 58.1 inches wide, and had a height of 59.1 inches.
The second generation was sold in May 2017, and the height rose slightly so it was between 59.1 and 59.4 inches tall.
4. Mazda Carol
The Mazda Carol is one of the oldest kei cars on the market and was originally manufactured from 1962 until 1970. It was originally a 2/4-door sedan with a rear-engine and rear-wheel drive.
However, it would return to the market in 1989 as a 3-door hatchback with front-engine, front-wheel-drive and four-wheel drive.
The engine layout and the drive have continued into the present day, but since 1998, its body style was changed to that of a 5-door hatchback. The first generation was 117.7 inches long, 51 inches wide and 52 inches tall.
The most recent eighth generation was released in 2021, and was based on the ninth-generation Suzuki Alto.
At present, the Mazda Carol is a rebadged model which Suzuki has manufactured for Mazda, which is why the Mazda Carol has been based on it so much.
5. Suzuki Spacia
The first generation of the Suzuki Spacia was released in 2013 to replace the discontinued Suzuki Palette. It’s a 5-door hatchback with a front-engine and front-wheel-drive.
It has a length of 133.7 inches and a width of 58.1 inches. It has a better fuel sufficiency, and you may also find it being sold under the Mazda Flair Wagon. The first generation has a height that falls between 68.3 and 68.5 inches.
Suzuki Spacia’s second generation has been in circulation since 2017, and has a height that falls between 70.3 and 70.9 inches.
It also has a custom edition which has different turbo grade levels, and both the Spacia and the Custom have a hybrid powertrain.
6. Daihatsu Tanto
The Daihatsu Tanto is also known as the Subaru Chiffon as of 2016, and originally began production in 2003.
It is a 5-door hatchback/minivan combination with both a front engine and four-wheel drive. The first generation is 133.7 inches long, 58.1 inches wide, and 67.9 inches tall.
The second generation is a little taller at 68.9 inches, with the third generation staying at a similar height until being made taller again in the fourth generation at 69.1 to 69.9 inches.
The most recent version of the Tanto started production in 2019 and actually sold three times of its monthly sales target within a month of launching.
As of 2022, it had a facelift, and a crossover-styled variant was also released known as the Tanto FunCross.
7. Suzuki Wagon R
The Suzuki Wagon R has been produced since 1993, and is also sold under the Mazda Flair name since 2012. It is a close relative of the Suzuki Spacia, and it is a hatchback with either 4 or 5 doors.
It has a front engine and four-wheel drive. The first generation was produced from September 1993 to 1998. They were originally 129.7 inches long, 54.9 inches wide, and varied from 64.6 to 66.7 inches in height.
The second generation was in production from 1998 to 2003, and was somewhat larger than its predecessor.
It had a length of 133.7 inches, width of 58.1 inches, and a height between 64.6 and 66.3 inches. The third generation was a little bit taller at a range of 64.4 and 65.2 inches.
In 2021, a retro edition of the Wagon R was born under the name of Wagon R Smile, and it even included sliding doors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Smallest Car Category?
The smallest type of car are microcars and kei cars which are the Japanese equivalent. They are often regulated separately from normal cars and have more relaxed requirements for registration.
While microcars are popular in Europe following World War 2, kei cars have been around Japan since 1949.
Can You Buy A Kei Car In The US?
There isn’t as large a market for kei cars in America as they’re often too small for most Americans, and aren’t as safe. Japanese roads are different from American roads, so many Japanese kei cars aren’t able to drive on American roads.
As you can see, there are many small cars in Japan, but the smallest types are kei cars. These compact cars are perfect as they don’t take up as much space in the city.
However, they aren’t as successful outside of Japan. If you’re traveling to Japan, you should see how many kei cars you can find, as they’re incredibly popular.