So you might have seen the Suzuki Cappuccino and thought, “What are Kei cars and why do they look so girly?” Well, we’re going to take a closer look at Kei cars, the most misunderstood vehicle outside of Japan.

It’s almost taboo for men in the western world to be seen in such an offensively small car. Their sexualities are questioned. Their manhoods brought into the light. But if you think that, you’re missing not just the point but also a whole heap of fun because most surprisingly, most Kei car owners are male.

But what are the origins of the Kei car?

Firstly, “Kei” (pronounced “kay”) is short for “keijidōsha”. Which means “light automobile” in Japanese. It was a special category created by the Japanese government to encourage smaller cars to be made and bought. The tax and requirements for buying a kei car are substantially lower. For example, you didn’t need to own a parking space to buy one (old regulation) and registration (annual in May) tax for kei cars was about 5000 yen (about 8 times lower) than the next highest category.

But for me, a gaijin living outside of Japan, these tax breaks have no effect on me. Instead, it’s the fact that the Japanese built some very interesting Kei cars, with features you expect only in larger cars. Crazy turbo-charged, 660cc, sub 700 kg and in some cases RWD pieces of engineering excellence. For example, if you have seen a double wishbone suspension setup you will know that it takes up quite a bit of space. Yet somehow in some cases the engineers have managed to shrink the size of the double wishbone and given it a lot of strength, all the while maintaining some decent interior space.

Another thing is the engines, most of which are 3 cylinders and in many cases, have the astounding capability to produce a power output almost 3 times their base power level while maintaining their reliability. Sure, 120kW at the wheels may not sound like much, but in a sub 700kg car that is a serious amount of fun.

And yet another thing, they put a smile on your face like no other car can do.

So get past the small car image, put your ego aside and go out and enjoy a ride in a Kei car. It’ll be an experience you’ll never forget.

Bonus question: What are the names of the cars in this post? Leave a comment with your answer and receive a discount code for 15% on your sticker purchase.

Thanks to Hubpages.com for image


Words – Benson Lau

Images – Hubpages.com

7TUNE – The Ultimate JDM Experience Since 2005

25 thoughts on “FEATURE – WHAT ARE KEI CARS?”

  1. Pingback: What are Kei Cars? : 7Tune.com - JDM Gallery » JDM Gallery

  2. Thanks for the article Benson from a confirmed kei-car addict. To date I’ve owned:

    Subaru Sambar (4-spd. rear engined, rear wheel drift box!), Mitsubishi Minica Dangan, Daihatsu Mira Turbo TRXX (absolute pocket rocket), SJ30 Suzuki Jimny (2-cycle mud-plugger) and now a JB23 Jimny and my beloved Cappuccino – which is currently being fitted with sports suspension.
    Next purchase – probably an i-MIEV, which I suspect will be the fastest accelerating kei-car ever.  

    1. I am insanely jealous right now 🙂 – Benson, especially for the Mira Turbo TRXX, Cappuccino and the Minica. i-MIEV eh? Not entirely convinced of electric cars as practical day to day cars, however on the drag strip they should be weapons.

  3. Pingback: The automated manual terminology. - Page 5 - Smart Car of America Forums : Smart Car Forum

  4. ”It’s almost taboo for men in the western world to be seen in such an offensively small car.”

    In Brazil nobody give a f**** about it. This ”size thing” is and U.S.A issue.

  5. Some parts of world did get some kei cars. They were sold as low cost transportation or affordable base cars. Say for example the Daihatsu Mira was rebadged as the Perodua here in Malaysia as a cheap alternative or the Suzuki Alto as the Maruti 800 in India. Certain parts of the world did get a fair share of kei cars though they never received the highest specifications like the 4wd option in Japan.. i believe Kei trucks are more popular in sales outside japan..

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