Which is why you need to import one right now.
As our draconian laws mean we can only import a foreign vehicle after it's 25-years old, there are many awesome cars from Japan we've never seen or driven. Many of these JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) cars are spectacular and are worth importing when they hit the 25-year mark but some are already old enough to be brought in under US law.
There are plenty of legendary standouts like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Subaru WRX STI, and Toyota Celica GT-Four which are all eligible to be imported. But these cars can be quite expensive so we wanted to propose a budget option you may not have heard of in the US. It's called the Honda Beat.
The Honda Beat is what the Japanese refer to as a Kei car or keijidosha, which means light automobile. Kei cars were invented back in 1949 to be the smallest street-legal cars in Japan due to the country's size and road constraints. All Kei cars are limited to a 660cc engine displacement and a low power output, meaning owners pay less on tax and insurance.
Most of these vehicles are small vans and trucks with underwhelming powertrains, which does not sound very interesting on the surface. But over the years, a few automakers like Honda have created quirky sports cars in the Kei car class. The Beat is one of these sports cars, featuring a mid-engine layout and a high-revving three-cylinder engine. If you love the Mazda Miata, you will thoroughly enjoy driving the Beat. Plus, seeing one in the US is a rare sight, so you are bound to attract attention at local car shows.
Since importing a car from Japan is tricky business, we recommend going through a well-respected importer. These dealerships charge a premium to handle all of the paperwork required to import a JDM car into the US but it is worth the cost to avoid doing the work yourself. Even factoring the importation costs, the Honda Beat is a simple Kei car, meaning you can still pick one up for cheap. We browsed a few importer sites and found prices ranging from around $5,000 for high-mileage examples to around $13,000 for a pristine car.
Since the Beat has to conform to Kei car regulations, power comes from a 656-cc three-cylinder engine with individual throttle bodies producing just 63 horsepower and 44 lb-ft of torque. Yes, we know those figures are minuscule but please don't click off until you've heard more about the Beat. Power goes out to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission and there was no automatic option, so there's some good news, and the engine doesn't reach peak power until 8,100 rpm.
You can basically think of the Beat as a mid-engined S2000 that happens to be a lot slower. We've had the rare opportunity to drive a Beat in the US and the experience is outrageous. The top speed is limited to just 84 mph and 0-60 mph takes around 13 seconds. This means you have to constantly drive it at full throttle, bringing the engine up to its motorcycle-like 9,000 rpm redline. The Beat may be extremely slow, but we promise driving an underpowered car like this at the ragged edge just to keep up with traffic is far more enjoyable than piloting an exotic supercar at everyday speeds.
There's not much to talk about in terms of the interior because the Beat was an economy-minded sports car built from 1991 to 1996. It has basic controls for the heater and air conditioning and buyers could opt to fill the space beneath it with a radio. The gauges are simple white dials for the speedometer and tachometer with the latter showing the ridiculous 9,000 rpm redline.
The top operates manually and Honda offered a crazy zebra print on the seats. Larger drivers might not fit in the Beat, so we highly suggest going to sit in it before you buy one. You will also be in very close proximity to your passenger, so make sure you are on at least first name terms. Since the Beat is so light on power, we also recommend going on a diet because heavier drivers will have a significant impact on the car's performance.
This is a tiny car, even by Japanese standards, meaning there isn't much room to put anything. Interior storage space is limited and the rear trunk is shared with the engine, so it tends to get quite hot back there - travel lightly. On the plus side, the tiny engine will achieve around 40 mpg, so it is pretty efficient even by modern standards.
There has never been a car quite like the Honda Beat in the US. Even the sports cars we call tiny like the Mazda Miata and Toyota MR2 look massive sitting next to it. If you're in the market for a unique sports car you won't see anywhere else on the road but want to stay on a budget, the Honda Beat should be high on your shopping list. The car is rife with flaws like a lack of power and storage space but we encourage you to see for yourself how fun it is to drive. We promise once you've driven one, you will never look back, you'll be too busy grinning on your way to 9,000 rpm.