The Truth About Cars » Koelling The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 03 Oct 2015 15:30:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Koelling Review From The Backseat: 2013 Toyota 86 GT Limited (aka GT86, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ), JDM Spec, In Japan Mon, 03 Dec 2012 14:00:41 +0000 No car in recent history must have been so relentlessly covered at TTAC as the Toyota 86 and its dizzying assemblage of names and numbers. I don’t think there is an editor at TTAC who hasn’t reviewed the car at least three times. All except me. I only reviewed it twice. Something had to be […]

The post Review From The Backseat: 2013 Toyota 86 GT Limited (aka GT86, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ), JDM Spec, In Japan appeared first on The Truth About Cars.


No car in recent history must have been so relentlessly covered at TTAC as the Toyota 86 and its dizzying assemblage of names and numbers. I don’t think there is an editor at TTAC who hasn’t reviewed the car at least three times. All except me. I only reviewed it twice. Something had to be done …

Dear reader, be warned: This review of a sports car with a multiple persona syndrome concentrates mostly on seating arrangements and extraneous observations in the field of bears, bodies, far-eastern religions, man-machine romance, and sex. You may miss some of the driving impressions commonly supplied. If you are interested in those, they are provided hereand hereand here. And especially here. You are welcome. Some of the more than 30 pictures may gross you out.

My inspiration: Diorama of hachi-roku at Japanese mountain pass

Originally, I had planned a hachi-roku review to end all hachi-roku reviews. The plan was to go back to the car’s birthplace, to Japan. Whip the hachi-roku around narrow, windy roads in Japan’s mountains, the car covered in mud and sweat just like Toyota had shown us on Hachi-Roku Thursday at Makuhari Messe. Then, contrast the machine’s raw power with the serene beauty of the golden-leafy Indian Summer, or whatever they call that in Japan. Fill a following Alphard with skinny lovelies screaming “sugoi desu neeee”, and take steamy NFSW photos in an outdoor onsen hot spring bath. Everything lit by a Mt. Fuji sunset. Something like that.

Then, Michael Karesh did beat me to the idea. He took the Scion FR-S to the Monongahela National Forest, during Native American Summer time. His choice of venue (the wrong side of the tracks in Roadkill, WV) was not at all as classy as my idea, but Michael was first. Damn.

But there is one format that cannot be taken away from me, and that is Bertel’s signature road-test, the Review From The Backseat. Yes, the back seat.

When I explained my new plan to my driver Martin, his first reaction was “Rücksitzbank? Ja bist du denn bescheuert?” Which meant that he was questioning my sanity. See, when Martin does not drive me around, he moonlights as Martin Koelling, Tokyo correspondent of Germany’s Handelsblatt. He writes and thinks in German. With Umlauts. Actually, his real name is Kölling.

Granted, the hachi-roku would not be a top-of-the-mind candidate for a regular From The Backseat review. The 2013 Lexus GS 350 we tested together BEGGED for being reviewed from the comfort of the rear. Even the well-appointed kei-car, the Honda NBOX, provided a pleasant back seat experience. But the back seat in a hachi-roku? Who wants to go there? Only the carpet-covered luggage shelf in the Porsche Carrera RS must have been more austere than the hachi-roku’s second row. “Dein Problem, nicht mein Problem” (your problem, not mine) said Martin with a raised eyebrow and a down-the-nose look at my 5 ft 11 and slightly debu-debu (that’s Japanese for “fat”) body. “Let’s go and get the car!”

Martin (he is persuasive and multilingual, ladies like that) had talked Toyota HQ out of a Toyota 86 GT Limited Edition. Don’t worry if you have never heard the name. At home in Japan, the little sports car is simply and zen-like called “86”.  In the rest of the world, the car changes its name more often than Richard Kimble did. In North America, it is a Scion FR-S. In Europe, it goes by Toyota GT86. I may have missed some.

Then, there is its Doppelgänger at Subaru, the company that actually produces the car, and which calls theirs – don’t say it with your mouth full – the BRZ. No wonder they wear those facemasks. At TTAC, we early on called the car “hachi-roku” (Japanese for 86), and the name stuck.

When Martin said, “Let’s go and get the car”, he meant it. We walked. If this would be America, a provocatively dressed lady with my name on an iPad would meet me at the airport, or in the lobby of a (“just sign the bill”) 5star, with my steed-for-the-day idling outside in a don’t-you-ever-park-here zone, and a guy would ask: “Any bags?” But this is Japan. In Tokyo, we go to Kudanshita station. There, not far from the Emperor’s Palace, Toyota dispenses its cars to properly credentialed members of the fourth estate.

The GT Limited is the top trim level in Japan. The “GT” buys you 17 inch wheels, a few aero doo-dads, and assorted useful gear such as aluminum pedals, more gauges, and a dual exhaust pipe. “Limited” adds heated Alcantara leather seats that were most likely hand stitched by certified Japanese virgins. If you’d buy this car in Japan, it would set you back some 3 million yen, or $36,000. Don’t do it, it will be cheaper in America, and it will have the steering wheel om the right left side. For full specs, go here.

Even if you never heard of the 86 GT Limited, you may have seen our car a few times in finer international publications. There is an orange and a black hachi-roku in Toyota’s Tokyo test fleet. Today, we have the black one. Before the car is handed over, it is carefully inspected by an attendant.

After the attendant marks the end of the inspection on his clipboard, the attendant’s boss inspects the inspection.

You may think this exercise is meant to assure that the reviewer receives a pristine car, but you will be disappointed. It is to document any nicks or scuffs present before the car is handed over. Any additional nicks or scuffs would go on our account, and they probably mean that quite literally. In our inspection process, the boss notes a tiny dent the size of an eraser tip in the roof, probably caused by a wayward acorn. The dentlet is documented in triplicate, and the car is ours with the understanding that there would be hell to pay if we return the car with more than one acorn-sized dent in the roof. It is unthinkable to return it covered in mud and rocks as in that picture we saw. Oh, by the way, the car must be returned washed and with a full tank. Hai, wakarimashita!

Dozo. Driver Martin opens the door for me. Note that he opens the left hand door of the right hand drive car. We are in Japan, in case you missed it. (Don’t worry, I miss it all the time. Even after years in Japan, my windshield wipers engage when I want to make a left turn…)

I see that a smirking Martin has the back of the passenger seat flipped forward. I eye the rear seat for a second, decide to break protocol, and to ride shotgun until we are somewhere with a little more privacy.

Getting into the front seat is challenging enough. This definitely is a car for young people with sexy bodies. Or for Japanese who love sitting on the floor. This is Yoga on wheels. Speaking of sex, once you are in the seat, it feels good. Turned on, it would even feel hot. Being among boys, we don’t test the heated seat feature.

I pull my legs inside, and we go.

“The suspension is tight,” says driver Martin as we thread our way out of Tokyo and into the hills. ”The suspension feels more European than Japanese. You feel the road, but bumps won’t kill you.”

We head towards Nikko, a mountain town north of Tokyo, famous for its Three Wise Monkeys (hear, speak, see no evil). That meme thrived for hundreds or years. Recently, it was killed by bloggers.

Wikipedia calls Nikko a “popular tourist destination” in Japan, and they aren’t kidding us today. We and what looks like half of Tokyo have the same idea: “Honey, how does afternoon tea in Nikko sound?”

The hachi-roku hates being in traffic jams, especially going uphill behind unending rows of Prii. That car likes to be revved.

Boxed-in by Prii destined for Lake Chuzenji or bust, we stab fingers into the on-board navigation system. Those guys kvetching about complicated systems are pansies – they should try one in Japanese! A road sign with “122” on it offers relief. We hang a hidari (left) on a really small and really winding road. The mood of both hachi-roku and Martin brightens instantly.

“This car seems to be happiest above 5000 rpm,” declares Martin as he (rrrrrrrm, brrmmmmm) downshifts into 4th. The manual has 6 gears, and Martin happily stirs the shifter as if there would be whipped cream for desert.

Martin has a crush on the clutch:

“The clutch is not as brutally hard as on some, shifting is pleasant.” It must be. He shifts a lot.

Skirting a few kei cars, we head into the hills. Martin shows off that he had done prior research:

“The low center of gravity really comes to life when going through the turns,” Martin announces to the tune of squealing tires singing “threshold range” in squeaky Japanese voices. “The seats hold you nicely in place. Look, no sliding.” Easy for him to say. He can hold on to wheel and stick, I must hold on for dear life.

Even in nasty hairpins, the car runs like on the proverbial rails. “Good hachi-roku” I say and pat its center console. The hachi-roku purrs back. Now I understand what Akio Toyoda meant when he said that he likes talking to cars while he drives them. The hachi-roku definitely is a car to have intimate conversations with. Other cars? Send a memo.

Going into a short piece of straightaway, Martin shifts down to make those little boxer pistons go crazy, and he is on his favorite topic:

“This car doesn’t have the brutal acceleration as some other sports cars, but it is fun to drive.“ One day I must ask him which car gave him nightmares.

A few twists and turns later, Martin finds the switch that cuts off the Electronic Stability Control. The tires greet this discovery with a rousing hymn. I should have brought Valium.

The road is getting narrower, the curves twistier, the ledges steeper, my breaths shorter. Fallen rocks on the road remind me of the man near Kudanshita station, his clipboard, and the dentlet. I declare a technical stop. The clean mountain air tastes of pines, sage and the sweet aroma of clutch lining. I pull myself together, and we are on the road again.

It is getting really remote now. But even in the remotest parts of Japan, someone looks out for your welfare: Signs by the road warn that bears may not be as friendly as they look. And they are not just any bears. They are “Crescent Moon Bears,” black with a white bib, ready to have us for dinner. With chopsticks. Oishii.

All by ourselves with a hachi-roku and bewildered bears, it is time to prepare body and spirit for the big Why We Are Here. We are here to test the hachi-roku from where no one has gone before, from the back seat. When Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer of the hachi-roku, showed me the car last year, he quipped that the rear seats are “great for taking spare tires to the race track.” Sure, two of them, max. The hachi-roku is perfect for racing, and for a young couple in love: No back-seated parents or in-laws will ever disturb the romance.

After these meditative thoughts, I still don’t feel prepared to hit the rack in the rear. So we stop by the wayside to ask for divine inspiration at the Shinto shrine of Sarutahiko Okami. During Martin’s driving, I often felt like praying anyway. Driving a hachi-roku is regularly likened to a spiritual experience, and hachi-roku otaku can be driven by religious fervor. So, let’s talk roadside religion in Japan.

What, ladies and gentlemen, can be wrong with a religion where the world was saved from eternal darkness and probable damnation – by a stripper? Not a stripper car, an exotic dancer. A religion where the stripper then gets married to a top dog god, and instead of “you can take the girl out of a bar, but you can’t take the bar out of a girl”, the two become pillars of the community of Japanese gods, and are revered in more than 2,000 shrines, such as this one, all over Japan? Try a stripper in another religion and see where that gets you. This is a religion that is even more efficient that the Toyota Way: I throw 100 yen in the box, ring the bell to get the deity’s attention, I clap my hands in case he overheard coin and bell, and I am done. Not even a hint of muda. Faster than a hachi-roku can go from zero to sixty, I receive the spiritual equivalent of a 90 minute High Mass of my Catholic youth. This is the pagan religion your padre warned you about, and now you know why.

Having received the proper divine inspiration, I am ready for anything, even if this means the back seat of the hachi-roku.

Gong. Fail. Klaxon.

My attack on the back seat is repulsed before it even gets going. It’s not the car’s fault. It’s mine. Whoever fed me in the past did not consider that there would be a low slung sports car in my future, designed by skinny engineers who live on a diet of raw fish and wasabi. The hachi-roku is not for fat people, at least not in the second row. In the front, I sat (once I sat) comfortably with my,  Frau Schmitto-san’s energetic attempts on my paunch notwithstanding, still overweight 5 ft 11 frame. In the back? Forgetaboutit.

While I try to free myself, Martin stands outside and pontificates:

 “For the driver, his car is great. However, one must be quick on ones feet to help the passenger from the car. This is a very low slung car. As a driver, you have to run quickly around the car, open the door, pull your passenger by the arm, and pull the poor person from the car.”

And then he does it. He grabs me, and pulls me out. By the legs. This is no car for backseat drivers.

There still is a little bit left of that divine inspiration, and I recall from last year’s hachi-roku indoctrination that the rear seatback can be flipped forward, opening a cavernous space “with enough room for all four tires when going to the racetrack” as Tada-san had said with a smile.

That is much better.

In a pinch, that car sleeps two (if you are really in love) in the comforts of a capsule hotel.

It’s downhill from here.

“This car really grows on you. It is getting more fun once you get the hang of it,” Martin says over his shoulder as I loll and laze in hachi-roku’s rear. The position is also good on the nerves: I can’t see outside.

Martin, having more space up front, gets effusive:

“I like it. It’s nice in the turns, feels quite sporting, especially on side roads, and it won’t kill you financially, because the cost of gas remains within civil bounds.”

We drive by abandoned (or still working?) copper mines, and finally hit civilization, represented by the remains of a white convertible that would look grossly out-of-place anywhere in Japan, and certainly does up here in the mountains.

I wonder how it got here. Did a G.I. and a car full of screaming Tokyo Roses, “Leader of the Pack” blaring from the eight-track, find their watchout, watchout death in a turn taken too drunk and too fast? Or are we looking at the traces of an abortive attempt on bringing the Hard Rock Cafe to Azumachōgōdo, Midori-shi, Gunma-ken 376-0304, Japan?

(Murilee Martin tells me later that “it looks like a 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible that was once a lowrider project. There’s a big lowrider scene in Japan. The ’64 Impala is the ultimate lowrider, but this one is close. This is sort of like finding an old Skyline GT on blocks in the US.”

Last I heard, Murilee was on a flight to Tokyo. He just called me and asked whether he can borrow my wrench, they took his at the airport.)

At a rustic restaurant, we eat soba noodles, cold, as they should be eaten, and tempura, cold, as it really should not be eaten at all. As the only restaurant within a 30 mile radius, I guess you make the rules.

“When backing up, the view is a little limited. But the camera helps,” says Martin while we exit the parking lot. It’s good to have the top level trim.

Finally! REAL civilization! Our first roadside convenience store for 100 miles! We load up on strange drinks in small bottles, and chips with fish taste, and my favorite: Tiny fishes, dried in a bag. Oishii!

While we are at it, we take the opportunity of debunking two myths, namely that all Japanese cars are white, and that large cars don’t fit on Japanese roads.

After the sun sets, we meet again with our old buddies from in the morning: Half of Tokyo is done with Indian Summer (or whatever they call it in Japan), is calling it a day and is driving crawling back to town. The hachi-roku that had entertained us all day with raunchy revs and twittering tires suddenly becomes very quiet.

Martin also becomes introspective. I think he is in love. Me, too. Will this be a problem?

Be sure to tune in for the next episode of – Review from the Backseat!

Epilogue: In the morning after, a glistening hachi-roku was returned to its (well…) maker. The car had been washed, it had a full tank of gas. Before we gave it back. The car was checked whether there were any new blemishes in addition to the acorn-sized dentlet. None were found, we were good to go. Later, I asked a Toyota executive what would happen in the – strictly hypothetical, of course – case of us, god forbid, seriously damaging the car. His answer: “That would be most unfortunate and sad for all involved, and we want to avoid this.”

Disclaimer: Toyota provided the car. Martin Koelling paid for gas and car-wash. 

Bertel paid for cold noodles, cold tempura and sundry junk food.

Hear speak see no evil - Picture courtesy Wikipedia 1Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 2 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 3 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 4 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 5 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 6 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 7 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 8 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 12 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 13 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 14 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 15 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt `16 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 17 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 18 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 19 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 20 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 21 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 22 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 24 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 25 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 26 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 27 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 30 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 31 Toyota 86 GT - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 32 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 33 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 34 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 35 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 36 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 37 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 38 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 39 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Picture courtesy Google -




The post Review From The Backseat: 2013 Toyota 86 GT Limited (aka GT86, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ), JDM Spec, In Japan appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]> 30
Review From The Backseat: King Of The Kei Cars, The Honda NBOX (Japanese Spec) Mon, 02 Jul 2012 01:30:00 +0000 About one third of all cars sold in Japan are an oddity: Cars for midgets. Kei cars. Limited in size (11.2 by 4.9 ft), displacement (40 cid), and power (63hp). “Americans won’t buy them,” says our contact at Honda who meets us in the basement garage of Honda’s headquarters in Tokyo. “Americans want big.” We […]

The post Review From The Backseat: King Of The Kei Cars, The Honda NBOX (Japanese Spec) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.


About one third of all cars sold in Japan are an oddity: Cars for midgets. Kei cars. Limited in size (11.2 by 4.9 ft), displacement (40 cid), and power (63hp). “Americans won’t buy them,” says our contact at Honda who meets us in the basement garage of Honda’s headquarters in Tokyo. “Americans want big.” We are here to test whether a Kei car can be pressed into duty as the epitome of big, as a chauffeured limousine.

“We,” that is Martin Koelling, East Asia correspondent of  Germany’s Handelsblatt, and I. Martin already excelled as a very capable driver at our from-the-backseat test of the Lexus GS 350 F Sport. That was in the serene setting of Kagoshima. Today, we are in the 13 million metropolis of Tokyo.

I have been around many cars in my life. My favorite part is the backseat, and my favorite drive is to be driven. I quickly learned that “driver, why don’t you raise the partition” signals the most fun one can have in a car.  But how much fun can you have in a Kei, a car that is normally not associated with party space, except among anchovies?

Our car is Honda’s NBOX, Japan’s bestselling Kei car. 19,354 NBOXes were sold in May, Toyota’s Prius (20,789 units) and Aqua (20,091) are only a few hundreds ahead of the third-placed NBOX.

When Honda heard of our backseats plans, they switched the car for a top-of-the-line NBOX Custom G Turbo, to conform with the intended mission profile of a swank limousine. Would we buy instead of just borrow it, the car would set us back by 1.66 million yen with tax. It sounds like a lot. Converted to dollars, it is $20,000. Two years ago, it would have been $17,500, not because the NBOX was cheaper, the yen was. Also, this is the fully loaded, tricked-out with cherry on top version. For a little less luxury, the NBOX G would be 1.24 million yen ($15,500).

On paper, the G Turbo version increases the car’s 58 hp to an exhilarating 64 horses. The torque climbs from 65 Nm (48 lb ft) to 104 Nm (77 lb ft). Not quite pavement-ripping, but as we shall soon see, nonetheless noticeable.

Before we even get close to the car, it shows off an amazing feature: A remote-controlled door. Not just a keyless entry. A remote-controlled door. Push a button on the remote, the door unlocks, a motor slides the door back. Enter, have a seat. At another push of a button, the door will close as if it’s moved by a benign ghost.

I have experienced this degree of hands free luxury only in true chauffeured cars. In Japanese taxis, usually Crowns, the driver operates the doors without having to get up. In the olden days, this was done via a series of levers. Now, servos serve the purpose. There are thousands of perplexed and sometimes screaming cabbies in Manhattan and other world metropolises, where Japanese tourists exit the cab and leave the door wide open. Back home, the benign ghost will take care of it. It does it taxis, limos, and in our nifty NBOX.

While the ghost closes the doors, driver Martin pushes the start button (keyless, of course), the engine happily reports for duty. Martin adjusts the steering wheel, performs a credible Martin Winterkorn “da scheppert nix” persiflage,  and off we go into Tokyo’s city traffic.

We do this while submitting the NBOX to a brutal torture test: Will the car start with the door open? Will the ghosts close the door with the car in motion? Or will an underhanded under-hood nanny chew us out?

Nothing of that happens. The car emits small electronic yelps, but it obeys Martin’s orders to start. With the car in motion, the NBOX dutifully closes my rear door when Martin up front says so. That’s how we like our cars. Good car. Yoiko.

Time to assess my backseat environment. It is amazingly roomy. Legroom is better than in some business class seats. I could easily put another person on my lap, and if she is not too fat (unlikely in Japan), we would not even impact the front seat while communicating.

“Move your seat all the way back,” I order my driver.

“I have,” answers driver Martin from the front.

Amazing. Behind a completely retracted driver’s seat, a solid foot of empty space separates my knees from the front chaise. I did not have that kind of space since back when I was rich, had an expense account, and a stretch would take me from 1020 Park to JFK. Or the Meatpacking District.

Before you ask the question that is now on your mind (I know, Japan is inhabited by pigmies…) driver Martin sends a comment to the rear:

“I could wear a top hat, and there would be room to spare. This is a coach in its true meaning. Will you buy me a top hat?”

I take note of the first and ignore the last. That Kei car made me stingy.

A Kei car is a TCO (total cost of ownership) wet dream. In Japan, a Kei saves you sales tax (3 percent instead of 5 percent for a normal car.) The annual federal tax of the NBOX is about one fifth of the tax for a Honda  Fit. The weight tax is a third of that for the Fit. The insurance is lower. You get a break at the dreaded Shaken inspection. Even the parking space certification costs only a fifth of the normal fee in Tokyo. In rural parts, you can buy a Kei without proof of a parking space. Don’t try buying a regular car without proof of a parking space in Japan, you won’t get it registered.

This is why the American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC), which represents Ford, Chrysler, and GM, hates, despises, loathes Kei cars as another trick by the insidious Japanese to keep the poor persecuted American cars out of Japan.

“Japan’s ‘Kei’ super-mini car segment has consistently represented over 30 percent of the auto market, but no longer has a clear policy rationale to be provided preferential treatment,” the AAPC wrote in an opinion paper sent to the U.S. Trade Representative with the intent to trigger compassion for Detroit’s plight. Imagine the uproar it would cause if the Japan Automotive Manufacturers Association JAMA would call American politicians “irrational” and would demand an end to the double CAFE standard that keeps the American pick-up alive.

While my mind wanders to DC, driver Martin steers the NBOX in the direction of the Togu Palace, which Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, Masako, Crown Princess of Japan and their daughter Princess Toshi call home. We are not heading there for tea, but for the famous oval in the park, where we intend to kick the Kei as much as Tokyo’s Finest allow.

“That little mill has oomph,” Martin mumbles as he clicks through the paddle shifters. “Plenty for the city and such a small car.”

Martin races a Honda Civic. The Civic demures, whether in awe of the sheer power of the NBOX, or that of Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police, I don’t know. Yes, the car has a CVT and paddle shifters. Back at Honda, I was told it is for the entertainment of the driver.

We run out of other cars to subjugate with the might of our 64 horses. Driver Martin embarks on his favorite topic:

“Look at those mirrors.”

Our NBOX is a veritable mirror castle. On both sides and in the rear are trick mirrors that allow Martin to keep a look at his tires while sitting behind the wheel. Undoubtedly employing technologies refined in the periscopes of submarines, these mirrors perform acts thought anatomically impossible.

Other carmakers would use an array of video cameras to perform similar visual contortions. Just in case, the pre-installed navigation system of the NBOX comes with a rear camera for people who like to watch.

Meanwhile upfront, Martin fondles the car with a loving touch that I would reserve for the fairer sex.

“Love those details,” Martin says and squeezes the armrest like I would squeeze other parts. “Soft and yet firm.” His hands wander over plastic that Martin likens to “Japanese nurimono,” a deep dark lustrous lacquerware that centuries ago looked a little bit like today’s, well, plastic. Martin is in love with the indentations in the inner door panels that give more elbow room, Martin even rhapsodizes about the toolkit in the back.

Say what you want about Honda, but the inside of this car is made with love, dedication, and ingenuity. The longer I am in Japan, the more I notice that people ignore the outside of their houses, they run ugly pipes and wires up and down the walls. The inside of the house surprises. It is usually well thought out, nicely proportioned, with a lot of built-ins and an amazing economy of space. The NBOX is like a Japanese house. From the outside, it has the charm of a shipping box. Sit inside, and you don’t want to leave.

“Look at those legs!” says Martin.

That gets my interest immediately, but I see nothing except a motorcycle messenger who is about to pass us on the left. It’s his legs that attracted Martin’s attention. Actually, it’s those trick mirrors again. The side rearview mirror is curved, not in the usual horizontal, but in the vertical axis, eliminating blind spots from dog level all the way to heaven.

“It also makes legs of motor cycle riders look short and funny,” Martin opines as he deftly directs the NBOX away from the imperial palace and into Tokyo’s rush-hour.  Should the NBOX ever be federalized, then only with a decal saying “The legs in your mirror may be longer than they appear.”

Speaking of legs, anatomical differences of the Japanese race give the otherwise gushing Martin cause for criticism:

“You know, they do have shorter legs. This car is made to measure, but I am beginning to have problems.”  In a Porsche or BMW, one reclines. In an NBOX, one sits upright. With his longer legs, Martin wishes for a height-adjustable seat, which he is not provided with, or does not find. The top hat worthy headroom would accommodate much larger examples of the Aryan race, if only that darned seat could be raised.  I’m sure Honda engineers could solve that in seconds. I still suspect they may already have. My back seats are a treasure-trove of versatility; they fold more ways than an origami.

“This is the perfect car for the city chauffeur,” pronounces Martin, waves an impressive looking pass in front of a bowing guard and drives into the basement garage of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan while rendering his final verdict:

“It handles well, it is pleasant for the passenger. As a driver, I can’t complain. Here, I don’t have to get up to open the door for the boss, I just push a button.”

We glide up the elevator. On the 20th floor, we are greeted with applause and champagne. Driver Martin has been re-elected as the storied club’s vice president, and we are having a victory party.

It is also a victory for the little big NBOX. It just received TTAC’s “Foremost Backseat Driver’s Choice” challenge trophy.  Who will challenge it next?

Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Armani. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Armani open. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Basement 2. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Basement. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Dash detail. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Door. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Doors. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Driver 2. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Driver. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Fold seats. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Me. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Mirror 2. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Mirror. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Open. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Proud. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Sit 2. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Sit. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Stop. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tools. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Versatile. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Engine. Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Honda NBOX. Picture courtesy  Bertel Schmitt Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

The post Review From The Backseat: King Of The Kei Cars, The Honda NBOX (Japanese Spec) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]> 48