The Honda Beat is a cross between a Honda NSX and go kart, and the most beloved JDM minicar ever produced.
Now that first-generation Honda Beats have reached their 25th birthday, Americans can finally discover what they’ve been missing all these years by importing Honda Beats from Japan under the 25-year rule.
The Beat was designed by Pininfarina and developed by a particularly young and passionate team of Honda engineers. It was also the last automobile Soichiro Honda the founder of Honda ever approved for production.
When released in 1991, the Beat stole the hearts of millions and sold like hotcakes in the Japanese market until a major recession took its toll. After producing two domestic models and selling fewer than 34,000 units in 6 years, Honda sold the design to MG (which used it to produce the MG F) and ended production of the Beat in 1996.
Despite boundless enthusiasm from an ever-hopeful fan base, Honda never released another Beat. However, Honda did launch its spiritual successor, the S660, in 2015. Both cars are tax-friendly minicars from Japan’s domestic “kei” car category that limits specifications to a maximum 3.4m length, 1.5m width, 660cc engine displacement, 63hp output and 87mph vehicle speed.
When these specifications were released in 1990 together with tax and insurance incentives for driving kei cars, Japanese car makers launched numerous models with performance-enhancing features like turbos, superchargers, 4-wheel drive and 4-wheel steering. But Honda matched their performance without resorting to such technologies.
The Beat’s naturally aspirated 656cc E07A engine with 3 inline cylinders, 12 valves and a single overhead camshaft is basically borrowed from a JDM Honda Today. However, it features an 8,500 redline, 10:1 compression ratio and drive-by-wire MTREC (Multi Throttle Responsive Engine Control) with one throttle valve per cylinder for smoother intake, sharper throttle response and more linear power delivery.
The engine revs high like a motorcycle’s with an exciting 3-cylinder rumble that combines with the low riding height and wind flowing through your hair to make driving feel fast and exciting. This is partially an illusion, since the maximum 63hp (47kW) at 8100 rpm actually takes anywhere from 9 to 13 seconds to propel the Beat from 0 to 60 mph. But the adrenaline rush is real.
While top speed is electronically limited to 84 mph (135 km/h), you can remove the limiter and enjoy freeway driving at over 100 mph. Torque is 44 lbft (60Nm, 6.1kgm) at 7000 rpm.
Honda mounted the engine transversely just above the rear axle and slightly to the left to make room for a right-mounted 24-liter fuel tank. While the tank is small, the highly fuel-efficient Beat delivers anywhere from 40 to 60mpg (17.0 to 27.0 km/liter) depending on how gently you rev the engine.
The monocoque body, the world’s first in a midship convertible, is extremely lightweight (around 750kg / 1,650 lbs) yet extraordinarily stiff thanks to a box style floor tunnel and dual-structure side sills.
Its classic lines strike an attractive balance of simplicity and sportiness, with headlights that sweep back into the sides; a soft top that folds like an accordion and buckles down with a handsome cover; sporty door lines that merge in a subtle intake vent; 13-inch front and 14-inch rear wheels in standard steel or optional alloy; and a simple rounded tail with engine vents and a low spoiler that barely interrupts the body’s smooth lines.
There is also a small “Beat” logo on the side of the vehicle with the words “Midship Amusement” expressing the fun-to-drive concept, a quirky reminder that the Beat was built for the Japanese market.
Storage is limited to a small area under the hood shared with the spare tire and wiper fluid, a small area in the trunk shared with the battery and midship engine, a tiny glove box in the dashboard, a magazine rack behind the seats and very little more. But Honda reserved spacious dimensions for the driver and passenger.
Even taller than average men drive so comfortably in the supportive bucket seats that the white tiger upholstery starts looking attractive after a few drives. The standalone instrument cluster, seemingly straight from a superbike, features a sporty speedometer and tachometer with red lettering on white backgrounds as well as a redline extending from 8,500 to 10,000 revolutions! The five-on-the-floor stick shift on the slim center console features such tight throws that you can practically shift with a flick of your fingers. The engine is noisy, but it makes you feel like you’re driving a racing car.
Handling is simply fantastic. Every turn is a pleasure because the Beat handles like a go kart with very tight steering, a low center of gravity, midship-enhanced balance, a front stabilizer and MacPerson struts at all four wheels. Not only can you slip into smaller parking spaces along busy roads, but you can do it effortlessly.
Despite the deceptively frugal design, Honda didn’t skimp on standard amenities, which include air conditioning, power windows, 3-point seatbelts and an excellent audio system with CD player. The driver’s side airbag is optional.
The “MTREC” message on the doorstep and “Open Air Motoring” message on the floor mats are further JDM reminders that you’re driving something very special never intended for foreign markets.
This fun little Honda Beat in Honda racing red is in outstanding condition with all original parts and no modifications. The owner gave it regular maintenance and extra care to minimize wear and tear. Considering the great driving pleasure Honda Beats can bring, you may be surprised at how affordably they can be imported directly from Japan.
At Japan Car Direct, we can help you find the best deals in Japan through our vast network of connections with specialist dealers, private sellers and auctions. We can also arrange a trustworthy inspection and have your vehicle exported to your nearest port — anywhere in the world.
Whether you’re an American taking advantage of the 25-year rule to purchase a Honda Beat, an enthusiast in the UK seeking a high-performance JDM drift car, or an Australian looking for a German luxury car with left or right hand drive, JCD can help you realize your dream affordably and with ease.
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