Honda N One: Quick Drive Page 2

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Honda's N-One retro minicar - image: Honda Motor Co

Honda's N-One retro minicar - image: Honda Motor Co

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Way out of its element at 70 mph

Americans tend to do a lot of driving on the Interstate at speeds of 60-70 mph (or in some places, considerably higher), and this is where the N One's practicality for Stateside (or even European use) starts to fall apart. Its rather quick-ratio steering, while on the light side, feels well-weighted, but by the time we reached 120 km/h (75 mph) it felt somewhat darty on center, there was a faint shimmy from the front end, and engine noise became a serious issue (we couldn't imagine cruising for even 10 miles this way). That said, it could accelerate from 50 to 70 mph with unexpected ease and confidence, and this little car felt frisky and eager at city speeds.

Driving the N One felt perfectly normal, except for the narrow cabin. The seating position in front wasn't nearly as mushed-forward and van-like as we expected, and a middle beltline along the dash houses all the important controls for climate and audio.

While a number of small-car enthusiasts have already rallied for the N One here in the U.S., we can't imagine the automaker ever bringing it to the U.S. in its current form—in part, because of its narrowness, but also because of safety. While the N One might be a very safe vehicle in Japan, when we asked an engineer point-blank if this model passes U.S. regulations, he shook his head without hesitation and pointed to the side pillars and roof.

Barriers for U.S. sale: safety and fuel-efficiency

An American Honda representative put it this way: Honda generally aims for no-compromises top safety ratings in every category for cars it sells in the U.S. And since it wasn't originally engineered for the U.S., the N family (including the N Box) might pass regulations for Stateside sales but wouldn't meet those company expectations.

The other issue would be fuel-efficiency. While kei cars might get quite good gas mileage at low speeds, they tend to suck fuel at surprisingly fast rates at American highway speeds—so a car like the N One might not prove to be much more efficient than a Fit on U.S. roads.

Meanwhile, the Japanese auto industry is having trouble making money from kei cars. The combination of shrinking auto sales, and decreasing interest from the younger generation in kei cars (they want larger cars, or not at all) is putting a pinch on a market that once flourished.

Next time? We think a retro-Civic design along the lines of the N One—a little wider and longer, and perhaps a little less boxy—would be an American small-car bullseye.

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Comments (5)
  1. That would still be a cool little car for Honda to send over to the states as a stripped down city runabout. Beats the living hell out of the current Smart ICE.

  2. And if it ever did come to the US, I would only buy it with a manual. That would make for a fun little city car.

  3. You are, unfortunately, 40 years too late. The N600 that sold in California for ~$1400 with 600cc, 2 cylinder twin and 4 speed manual, was indeed, the fun experience you envision. The new N One is a Luxo-barge by comparison, with Air conditioning, power options, and turbo charging.

    On the safety issue, it is wrong to compare the Kei class with their A-Segment competitors sold in the US. Like the Tata Nano in India, the Kei was designed to be a safer "motorcycle-alternative" for families, as much as a smaller automobile. By that comparison, it is a veritable safety coup.

  4. As a former AN/AZ600 owner and economy enthusiast, I would buy one of these in a heart-beat, if only given the change (likewise, a Fiat 500 TwinAir Hybrid)!

  5. "given the CHANCE" (apologies for the typo)!

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