Living With A Kei Car

Jek Ray Low
1 Mar 2021

Singapore should be the ideal country to implement schemes incentivising smaller vehicles. The recipe for Japan’s Kei car scheme stems from circumstances similar to what we face in the little red dot. Dense populations, and limited landmass means that, aside from getting the masses to adopt public transport, we should really be getting people into smaller vehicles to improve traffic.

Though our COE system indirectly encourages people to purchase larger vehicles. If you are going to be spending some serious coin, it might as well be a car of a substantial size.

Having said that, there is an allure with Kei Cars. Their lower running costs, and relative simplicity means that they are fantastic fun to own. The sportier ones, Copen included, can be the most affordable avenue to owning a car that is more left field.

Can We Talk About Petrol?
Regardless of how you choose to drive your Copen, it would be hard to make it drink copious amounts of fuel. I average around 16-17km/l, in a good mix of expressway and city driving. That is on RON95 – Daihatsu recommends you fill up with RON91, though I realised that fuelling up on RON92 tends to yield poorer fuel consumption.

The car has a 40-litre fuel tank, which means that a full tank will only set you back around $80 after fuel/credit card discounts.

Turbo Noises
If you think economy and fun are mutually exclusive, then I suggest you give the effervescent 660cc JB-DET engine a go. It loves to rev and is probably the only way you can get a serious dose of induction noise without breaking the speed limit.

I have been fortunate enough to be behind the wheel of another example with an aftermarket blowoff valve – your auditory experience is greatly amplified!

When in boost, the engine produces enough torque to keep up with traffic. However, pre-spool, the car is sluggish and unrefined. Thankfully, as the turbocharger is not obscenely oversized, it starts producing usable boost at the 3000rpm mark.

It’s Actually Spacious?

Hear me out here. Kei cars are made to fit within a strict set of size regulations laid down by Japanese government. Decades of optimisation means that the Japs are brilliant at creating plenty of usable space within a small footprint. I have had friends commenting on how the interior of the Copen is actually larger than that of a couple of other, grown-up, 2 door sports cars.

The boot capacity is commendable too, at an impressive 210 litres. However, the boot is wide and shallow, so you many actually struggle to fit bulky items.

Are There Actually Any Downsides?

Wax lyrical I am not. The Copen is a fun car to own, and at not too much expense too. However, there are a couple of drawbacks. In fact, some of the car’s biggest pros also happens to be its largest drawbacks.

Let us start off with its dinky dimensions. This means that the car can squeeze into ridiculously tiny gaps in traffic. But this also means that people tend to not see you in their blindspot until the very last moment.

Drivers merging to big roads from small ones tend to miss you too. On more than one occasion, I’ve had someone darting past the stop line, only to realise that there’s a car approaching and for them to stomp on the anchors.

At expressway speeds, the car tends to hover around 2,500rpm. Which is not a problem, until you encounter a slow-moving vehicle, and need to overtake. It takes some time for the engine and the gearbox to work in tandem, to build up the revs and to then create enough boost pressure for more vigorous acceleration. This means that unless you are keen on being reckless, you have to be smart about overtaking.
Also, as a convertible kei sports car, the ride can be on the firm side. Potholes can really upset your spine, especially if you are grappling with back issues.

Final Thoughts
I will be honest here – I was tempted to get rid of the car only after about a week of ownership. It was a departure from the refinement I was used to in a more modern vehicle. However, after living with it for about a month now, I have learnt to live with its imperfections.
It really is a characterful car, that never fails to bring a smile to passers-by when you stop at the lights. Flawed as it may be, but there’s one thing I’ve got to admit – if you’re measuring smiles per gallon, no other car offers this bang-for-your-buck!

Which is why if you want in on this affordable fun, consider purchasing your own kei car on the Cars For Sale secion of the Carousell app! Regardless of category, we have thousands of listing already live, and more are being added each day, so there's definitely something for everyone!

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