Honda N Box Custom
The eponymous Kei car. I initially didn’t see the appeal of these tiny, boxy cars. They’re a size and power restricted category in Japan (Max dimensions of length (3.4m), width (1.48m) and height (2m). Engine size is also limited to a dimunitive of 660cc and 63 horses). They’re also everywhere here. Before I encountered them more intensely, I assumed, oh well, they must built to the cost of a shoebox and designed on the back of a napkin to make them cheap and cheerful to be economic white goods. Like a bar of soap, I thought: with different smells and packaging. Oh, how wrong I was.
It started with my test driving a new Suzuki Wagon R a few years ago. My hope were not high. But it turned out to be a proper Japanese-built one rather than the Indian built and specced one. I was intrigued once I saw the sleek and funky new one and even more whence I stepped in to the cavern of an interior. It was honestly one of the most pleasantly surprising car tests of recent times for me. So well thought out, it had rear space that could match an S Class and lovely details such as an umbrella holder in the rear door and reservoir to drain the water out. Dang. This was a new set of things that defined car appeal for me. Then, a friend required advice on a comfy but affordable city car that could fit two car seats and gear. Upon our quest, we stumbled on the super boxy-funky Honda N Box we test here. And my goodness, this was even better.
Necessity is mummy to creativity they say. And here’s pretty good example when it comes to the styling stakes. Constrained as you are by those external dimensions, the Japanese design boffins have challenged themselves on how you can make maximum box (for space), maximum appealing and different from the next guy’s design for a box on wheels. No bones about it, this 2nd generation N Box Custom design is the automotive equivalent of Marmite. Just like that gooey brown paste, I love it. My wife hates it, as do most of that smarter sex.
But, just look at it. I love the fact that the designers have looked at it and thought, you know what? We have a maximum box, let's own it. It's ridiculously boxy: no attempts at teardrop shapes, they've just gone all out rectangle on all aspects, save for the tiniest of front bonnet areas. Even the windscreen is barely raked. They make up for it with the details.
That front face is just funky futuristic. They've gone full LED complex with the headlamps and provided a bold interpretation of Honda's new design language and hexagonal grill. There's a huge chrome bar across the lamps and grill and instead of looking garish, it really bring everything together. It's remarkable how different this model looks from the rather more conservative standard N Box.
The Custom model gets deeper front and rear bumpers and side skirts and rear roof spoiler. If there's a less successful detail, it's the over-detailed white out rear lamps. The chrome bar across them also isn't as successful. The standard car's red lamps and smaller bar are more successful. Overall, it's quirky, funky and successfully distinct from its competitors.
Mech & Tech
Honda pushes the tiny 656cc S07A Turbo Earth Dreams engine to the max Kei limit of 63 horsepower with the aid of a turbo and no doubt curated ECU. This engine can bet tuned to 100+ hp if required. Whilst you may go “pah!” at this nowadays miniscule power figure, it has to be tempered by the quite light weight 930kg weight it needs to push around. The transmission is a CVT 'box which kind of moves around supposedly 8 ratios, as far as we can understand. The kerb weight is a little porky at 930kg, (A Suzuki Alto Turbo RS, also with 63bhp nips under 700kg!), but the N Box bas got plenty of practical features and electronics that add the fat, so understandable.
Tech? Well, that's where the Honda again impresses. It's got big car tech, from camera guided lane tracking, city brake stop, multiple airbags all round, climate control, multiple USB Ports, an electric sliding door, etc. It's also the little details. There's a little display to show your front wheel angle when parking to make sure you don't park at an angle like a dings. There's also the low tech but clever. For example, there's a multi mirrors combo on the inside passenger side A pillar that uses a mirror on the outside mirror housing to show you both the rear kerb and front left wing to aid parking and manoeuvring.
Smooth and super easy is how you'd term it. You get in and after you're initially surprised by the spacious volume inside, you gel with car and get on with it. Its very being stemmed laser focused on providing a great city driving experience and in that, it does pretty well. The ride is well sorted and bumps are well controlled thanks to a healthy 2.2m wheel base and 15" wheels on 165/55 tyres.
The steering is super light and visibility all round is excellent. Thanks to the volume provided by the high ceiling, you never feel as if you're in a tiny box of a car and the relatively upright and high driving position, confidence in manoeuvring the car comes easily. Also, in front of you, you never see the bonnet, so with a tall glass house that seeks to eliminate blind spots (the staggered A pillar is another clever touch) you almost feel as if you're driving around in a well-protected bubble. Well, a very boxy bubble, if that's possible.
Outright speed with pedal-to-the-metal? Nah not really. Yes it’s turbocharged but it’s still packing only 63 horses and has a very boxy (read: un-aerodynamic) body to move at that! Would be amusing to check out the drag coefficient, for a laugh. Maybe an ECU tune to the requisite levels as discussed in the Mech & Tech section may give more thrust, but don’t expect to outrun anything with 100+bhp in it at this state of tune…it’s not meant for the traffic lights drag race after all!
Living with the N-Box
Step in and all your possible pretensions of that SpongeBob shaped exterior will start to melt away and you start to get it.
That 5 foot 10 inch roof adds a fantastic sense of space to the otherwise compact dimensions. Abe Lincoln could probably drive this with his massive top hat on. The low entry height is also part of the Zen this interior emanates, making it super easy to get in and out of. Speaking of ease of entry, there's also a driver's side electric sliding rear door, presumably to make life easier for moms with young kids. Ergonomically, things are great, the gear lever's easily at hand on the top of the centre console, the climate control is easily to read and the touch screen strep is mounted high up and easy to access to.
Against the Zen, there's a plethora of buttons all around you from the centre console, to the steering wheel mounted controls, to the panel next to your right knee. However everything is brilliant marked with easy to understand symbols that allow you to get comfortable with what's what very easily, even if this is a Japan only model with hardly any English instructions.
Then we come to those seats. Ah them lovely origami max seats. They fold forward, backward, up and flat, creating a remarkably versatile interior that puts so called useful SUVs and Station Wagons to shame. The rear seats are particularly well engineered to slide forward or back depending on the boot space you need. Even in normal driving position for a Six plus footer like me, I've got more leg room at the back than in most medium to large sedan cars. If you really want to stun your non believing mates, slide the rear seats to the max and you have long wheel base limousine level legroom and more headroom. Of course this position does mean you have to probably fold your luggage into origami too. The seats also fold completely flat or can transform into a bed by folding the front seats all the way back.
Other nice touches includes a ridiculous amount of storage bins in the front fascia, on the clever doors handles, a fold out curry hook in the passenger well and enough USB points to power your Phone, iPad and driving camera, et al. Remarkable. Why aren't bigger cars copying these enough? If you thought Japan had lost its creative Mojo, step inside one of these and you can see you're been so wrong.
Excellent safety for one so cheap and diminutive. 8 airbags, all the usual ABS and other aides, plus lane tracking and a city brake device to stop you crashing into fools without brake lights in front of you, as you do. The Japanese really do throw the kitchen sink at it here.
Fuel Econ & Price
Fuel economy will get you a minimum of 10.5km/l in town with 14-15 km/l probably achievable with light footed driving, we reckon, plus planning to avoid the most busy peak traffic times. Venture outstation and onto the expressways and you should easily see in the twenties, however pushing that boxy body through the air will take its toll and efficiency will be lower than more slippery-shaped Keis.
Prices will from range from LKR 3.8 - 4.0mn for a new N-Box, based on options. That puts it at a slightly higher premium than Suzuki's Wagon R or more comparable Spacia, but hey, it's a Honda with a slightly higher quality perception.
My favourite Boxy Kei car at the moment. Fantastically clever, spacious, versatile and looks like a mini-cubed Darth Vader. The quirky styling may irk some, but the tricks it has to show inside with that multipurpose origami like interior can surely win over the harshest critic over time. If you spend 90% of your time in the city, have kids, shopping, the occasional coffin or similar to lug around, this should be at the top of your shortlist.
63bhp @ 6,000rpm
104Nm @ 2,600rpm
Front wheel drive
Front Vent. Disc
Wheels & Tyres
0-100km/h in 15s
Top Speed 140km/h
Kerb Weight 930kg
Fuel Tank 27L
The Honda N Box is a brilliant car. Initially I was a bit averse to its pug–like look but once you sit inside there is no turning back. From its roomy interiors to fantastic views – the N Box is like the short kid in school who has so much going for him. With a family of young children it is perfect for getting kids in and out of the car. The awkward sideways hoist that you do in a normal car to get your child into their car seat is SO much more comfortable in the N Box. Partially because the sliding doors don’t restrict standing/elbow space and also because there is so much leg room you can even get in to strap your child into their car seat. The back area in general has been used by my children to change clothes (thank you retractable blinds), play during power cuts and even sleep! The front seats can be made into a flatbed using the back seat.
I love that the boot size can be made bigger or smaller as needed. When we have lots of groceries to take home from the supermarket the back seats are pushed in. On all other days the back seats are pushed right back so that the kids can step into the car and walk (without crouching) unobstructed, to their seat.
One of my favourite features is the button press opening of one of the rear doors. This can be done via key remote or switch near the steering wheel. Again, it is so handy when carrying young children to just have to press the button on the remote (which is tiny so easy to carry around) and open the door.
The back windows only go down half way too which initially seemed weird but now seems absolutely essential to prevent toys and other objects from flying out of hot-little-toddler hands!
Overall it is a brilliant car and I think it is perfect for families of young children or ailing parents. It is such a low car so it is really easy to get into. This makes it not so speed-bump or pot-hole friendly, but it is a worthwhile compromise for the comfort it offers.
The Owner is a young working Mom with three kids aged 6, 3 and 1 ½