Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (2022)

Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (1)

The Suzuki Alto is designed to fit a very specific set of standards, otherwise known as Japanese “kei” car standards. While many countries see these cars as undersized, sometimes even cartoonish (we prefer “cute”), they fit in perfectly with the way that the Japanese see transportation, a means to an end, that is, inexpensive and reliable transportation. It seems that others are catching on, but just what is so good about kei cars?

Contents

The Suzuki Alto vs. the Traditional Kei Car

How does the Suzuki Alto measure up in the world of kei cars? Let’s take a look at its engine performance, fuel economy, and key features to see where it stands.

Suzuki AltoStandard Kei Car
Engine Performance28-64 hp64 max hp
Fuel Consumption19.0 km/l -

24.0 km/l

12.7 -

30.0 km/l

Key FeaturesA/C

Power Windows

Keyless Entry

(Video) Japan's UGLY BOX Cars: EXPLAINED

Varies
Capacity4-5 Passengers4-5 Passengers
BE FORWARD Price$1,311 -$7,700Varies

What are Kei Cars?

Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (2)

Click for Low Cost Suzuki Alto Models

As much as a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks are an essential staple on the tables of Japanese families, the Japanese “kei car” is just shy of being a staple in their stables, that is, the garages and parking lots of Japanese families across the country. Originally, Japanese kei cars were built to encourage people to buy cars, mostly by making them easier to own due to:

– A light weight makes them easier to insure.
– Small engine sizes put them in a low tax bracket.
– Small footprint means owners don’t need to provide proof of parking space.
– They’re also exceptionally inexpensive to buy.

In Japanese, “keijidōsha” literally translates as “light automobiles” and, in order to meet Japanese kei car standards, a kei car can be no more than 11.5 ft long, 4.9 ft wide, and 6.6 ft tall, at least since March 1990. When the standards were first enacted, the maximum size was 9.2 ft long and just 3.3 ft wide! Also, engine size was regulated, 1990-and-up cars with a 660 cc maximum displacement and 63 maximum horsepower.
Interestingly, before 1990, engine sizes were limited, depending on year, from just 100 cc to 550 cc, with no limits on horsepower, which led to some interesting innovations with regards to power output, such as the addition of turbochargers and superchargers.

The Impact of Kei Cars in Japan

While big vehicles have reigned supreme for decades in other lands, Japanese kei cars have formed the backbone of local and national transportation on Japan’s 1.2 million kilometers of roadways. In America, for example, the Ford F-Series pickup truck has been the best-selling vehicle for over thirty years! With its tiny footprint, most Japanese kei cars can fit in the bed of a Ford F-150, though you’d have to leave the tailgate down!

The popularity of the Japanese kei car is so widespread, in fact, that it is estimated that about 50% of the country drives one, ranging from as little as 11% in Tokyo, to as much as 98% in Tottori Prefecture. Since 2003, the best-selling kei car, in Japan, has been the Suzuki Wagon R.

(Video) Suzuki Alto Works RSX Review (JDM Kei Car Review) Bonus! We street race a Miata in it!

Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (4)

Above: Interior of a used 2004 Suzuki Alto

Its smaller relative, relatively speaking, the Suzuki Alto, was originally introduced back in 1979 and was also known as the Suzuki Fronte, FX, Hatch, and even the Maruti 800, which went on to be India’s best-selling car from 1983 through 2004. In fact, the Indian variant continues to sell there, making it the country’s longest-selling automobile, as well!

Suzuki Alto: Revisited and Revamped

Suzuki first entered the kei car field with the 1979 Suzuki Alto, a converted three-door “commercial” version of the Suzuki Fronte sedan. Because it had a folding rear seat, ostensibly for carrying cargo, the regular automotive emissions and safety standards didn’t quite apply, so Suzuki could undersell many other kei cars of the period by eliminating “features” such as rear doors and catalytic converters.

Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (5)

Above: Side view of a used 2017 Suzuki Alto

Even the rear windows were optional, standard fitted with opaque fiberglass, as befitting a “commercial” vehicle. At a time when the cheapest American Ford Pinto cost $5,000, the Suzuki Alto was practically a steal at under $2,000, though air conditioning was an optional feature for a small premium.

One of the first changes that came along was in the powertrain department. Former small-displacement engines in the Suzuki Alto generated a maximum of just 27.6 hp and 30 lb•ft of torque from its 543 cc engine. “Acceleration” and “power” were inappropriate buzzwords to use when describing the first-generation Alto, which was far better in the “fuel economy” department than anything.

(Video) Japan Kei Car Facts JDM

Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (6)

Above: Front of a used 2017 Suzuki Alto

The second-generation changed that, a similar 543 cc engine, this one featuring a multi-valve intake and exhaust system and a turbocharger, boasting power output of 63 hp. Incidentally, five years later, 63 hp became the legal limit for vehicles qualifying as “Kei” cars.
Over the years, safety enhancements have been added, such as crush zones, side impact protection, and anti-lock braking systems, not to mention power locks and windows, air conditioning, even engine start-stop systems, but the goal has always been essentially the same, to provide reliable and economical transportation.

Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (7)

Above: Boot of a used 2005 Suzuki Alto

Of course, here we are nearly forty years later, and the Suzuki Alto is still with us, albeit with some changes and facelifts along the way, but still just as cute and fun as it has ever been.

Features of Kei Cars

While all Japanese kei cars are small and inexpensive, they aren’t necessarily lacking in features. With the introduction of the 2015 Suzuki Alto, marking the eighth generation of this popular Japanese kei car, Suzuki at once heralds the future of economical transportation while paying homage to its past. Outside, the new Suzuki Alto features retro styling, taking cues from the first-generation Japanese Alto, as well as styling cues drawn from small European cars.

Interestingly, this is the biggest Suzuki Alto ever, all 11.48 ft long and 1,962 lb of it, four doors and a hatchback, as well as room for up to four passengers. Front electric windows and power locks are standard, as is a fuel-economy-boosting engine start-stop system.

(Video) 5 Reasons Why You Should Buy A Kei Car

Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (8)

Above: Engine of a used 2006 Suzuki Alto

At the same time, it also weighs in some 160 lb less than the outgoing seventh-generation Alto, which gives it a fuel economy and performance advantage, better able to make use of all 658 cc displacement in three cylinders. Able to accelerate from zero to sixty miles per hour in just over 11 seconds and reach a top speed of 96 mph, its small size makes it surprisingly fun to drive, yet is quite stable at highway speeds.

At the same time, the company affirms the Suzuki Alto features fuel economy in the mid-80 mpg range. For even more fun, although it probably won’t qualify for kei car tax breaks, there is a Turbo RS version in the works, featuring up to 58 lb•ft of torque, an unspecified horsepower rating, sport-tuned suspension and brakes, and a sporty design scheme.

Kei Cars Explained: A Look at the Suzuki Alto (9)

Above: Drivers seat of a used 2009 Suzuki Alto

Still, it should deliver around 60 mpg fuel economy.The new Suzuki Alto may not be the fastest thing on the road, but it just goes to show that you don’t need to spend lot of money to get a fun and reliable ride.

Find a Low Cost, Reliable Suzuki Alto with the Help of BE FORWARD

In the world of kei cars, it’s no wonder the Suzuki Alto ranks so high in the popularity scale. Want to know more about kei cars and the Alto? Check out our similar articles below and see the great low cost models BE FORWARD has in stock below!

(Video) Things you never knew about Kei Cars — The Carmudgeon Show with Cammisa and Derek from ISSIMI Ep. 65

Click for Low Cost Suzuki Alto Models

FAQs

Is Suzuki Alto a kei car? ›

The Suzuki Alto (Japanese: スズキ・アルト, Hepburn: Suzuki Aruto) is a kei car produced by Suzuki since 1979. The model, currently in its ninth generation, was first introduced in 1979 and has been built in many countries worldwide.

What defines a kei car? ›

Kei car (or keijidōsha, kanji: 軽自動車, "light automobile", pronounced [keːdʑidoːɕa]), known variously outside Japan as Japanese city car, ultramini, or Japanese microcar, is the Japanese vehicle category for the smallest highway-legal passenger cars with restricted dimensions and engine capacity.

What was the first kei car? ›

Suzuki Suzulight (1955)

Suzuki started out as a motorbike manufacturer, but in 1955 it moved into making cars and small trucks with the Suzulight brand – the first ever kei car.

Why do Japanese love Kei cars? ›

Kei cars are very popular in Japan because they are inexpensive – about half the price of a Prius, they get the same fuel economy as a Prius, they are very practical and roomy, they are easy to park in crowded Japan, and they have lower taxes and licensing costs.

What type of car is Alto? ›

Maruti Alto is a 4 seater Hatchback available in a price range of ₹ 3.39 - 5.02 Lakh. It is available in 5 variants, 796 cc engine option and 1 transmission option : Manual. Other key specifications of the Alto include a Ground Clearance of 160 mm, Kerb Weight of 732 kg and Bootspace of 177 litres.

Is Suzuki Alto a good car? ›

Alto is a cheap and reliable little car. Low maintenance and cheap to run. No creature comforts but what you get is an excellent little machine. Buying a more luxurious car would mean better build and ride quality, however, you compromise on breakdowns and unreliability.

How long do kei cars last? ›

In 2021, the average lifespan of light motor passenger cars (kei cars) permanently returned in Japan was 15.57 years, increasing from 13.2 years a decade earlier. The average lifespan of regular passenger cars had increased as well over the last ten years.

How much does a kei car cost? ›

Most kei cars are priced at a little over one million yen. It sounds like that's a lot of money, but when converted to American dollars, you're looking at somewhere around $10,000.

Are kei cars reliable? ›

Kei cars are cheap to maintain

Their engines are small and relatively uncomplicated, which makes them easy to work on. That means that Kei car owners can save a lot of money on spares and repairs over the life of their vehicle. In addition, Kei cars are very reliable and tend to have a long lifespan.

What is the smallest Japanese car? ›

For those not very conversant with JDM, as in the Japanese Domestic Market, Kei cars are the smallest of Japanese cars, carrying the tiniest of engines. Think of them as microcars, road-legal in their smallest possible avatar.

Why are Kei cars so popular? ›

Kei cars are perfect for those who live in Japan because they're economical and cheap to buy, operate, and maintain due to their small size. The fuel consumption is not too bad when compared with larger vehicles, which means they come out cheaper on the pocket.

How many cylinders does a kei car have? ›

Kei cars started mostly with 2 cylinders ( except for Honda, they started with 4 ), making about 15hp ( except for Honda, their T360 made 30hp ), which is utterly slow to our current standards, but apparently was enough for people back then. The funny thing is, well, most manufacturers have their own ways.

Why are kei cars so small? ›

Tax incentives

Another reason most of the cars in Japan are micro-sized is because of tax incentives. Standard Japanese vehicles have a tax rate of 3% whereas Kei car tax is 2%. That means you would pay 2 or 3 percent of the purchase price of the car as tax.

Does Japan still make Kei cars? ›

Kei cars are probably the coolest niche car segment in the entire industry. Kei cars have become a culture unto its own, and that's been the case for the better part of 70 years.
...
Honda S660.
Engine:656 cc three-cylinder turbocharged engine
Top Speed:87 mph
3 more rows
30 Oct 2020

What is a yellow plate in Japan? ›

Japanese License Plate Types

Hanging a yellow license plate is reserved for private cars with an engine displacement of 0.66 liters. A black license plate is relatively rare, used for public transport cars or the light automatic car. The main purpose is to carry goods, not passengers.

Which is the best Alto? ›

Maruti Alto 800 is the preferred choice for new car buyers looking for a cheap upgrade from public transport and two-wheelers. In spite of tough competition from Renault Kwid, Datsun Redi-go and Maruti S-Presso, the Maruti Alto 800 has consistently topped the sales charts in numbers.

Which is the best car in Alto? ›

The Alto 800 has two iconic hatchback monikers and both are winners. The 796 cc motor is known not only for its peppy nature, but also its high fuel efficiency. The optional CNG variant makes the hatchback even more lucrative for the price-conscious buyer.

Is Alto good for long drive? ›

1 Answers: Yes, you can go for a long drive in Alto 800, although there is no problem with its 800cc engine but as per user reviews it tends to get uncomfortable when you hit broken or uneven surfaces at even moderately high speeds and it doesn't feel stable beyond the speed of 80-85 kmph.

Is Suzuki Alto fuel efficient? ›

With a highly responsive engine delivering fuel efficiency of 22.05 km/l* in petrol and 31.59* km/kg in CNG, driving the Alto brings along a sense of immense pride.

Is Alto a safe car? ›

The only car below 5 lacks in India which passes the euro safety test with good results is Tata Tiago. Indias own company knows value of indian life.

Are Suzuki Altos safe? ›

There was no escaping the fact that the Suzuki Alto came up short for safety. Even when it was on sale, a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating was so common that a car receiving just four stars was enough to raise eyebrows. So that means it's particularly disappointing that the Alto only managed to score three stars.

Can Kei cars drive on the highway? ›

Kei vehicles must follow the rules of the road and cannot be driven on limited-access highways or roads with a speed limit that is greater than 55 miles per hour.

Can Kei cars go on the highway? ›

If they're older than 25 years old, they can be driven on the highway in the USA because they're exempt from EPA and crash safety standards. That said, I've driven one 10k miles mostly highway and I would not recommend it.

How fast is a Suzuki Carry? ›

The four-speed manual transmission allows for a top speed of 120 km/h (75 mph).

How do you pronounce kei car? ›

How to Pronounce Kei? (CORRECTLY) - YouTube

How fast is a Suzuki Cappuccino? ›

Performance and specs
Engine657cc inline three-cylinder
TransmissionFive-speed manual
0-62mph8.0sec (claimed)
Top speed85mph
Insurance group13
3 more rows

Why are there no Kei cars in the US? ›

The US automakers don't sell the diminutive Kei cars here due to our current regulations and buying habits, but they make up about 40 percent of the market in Japan.

How fast is a 660cc engine? ›

The Honda S Dream Streamliner has recently set the world record for the fastest Honda car yet, achieving a speed of almost 262mph.

Are kei cars street legal in America? ›

Now, as you might already know, the United States forbids the importation and registration of any non-federalized, foreign-market vehicle that isn't at least 25 years old; a rule that applies to kei cars and most desirable JDM models as a whole.

Why are Kei trucks so popular? ›

Japanese mini trucks are typically quieter than your regular pickup vehicles or minivans. Even when blazing at full revs, the engine sound is still quiet. This relatively quiet sound is why Kei trucks are favored amongst hunters.

Why are cars in Japan so square? ›

In an attempt to make automobiles accessible and affordable, Japan introduced “Kei cars.” These were small boxy cars that added affordability and comfort to people across Japan. The reason behind the increasing love for the boxy cars points out at the low tax and insurance liabilities that it offers.

Is Honda Fit a kei car? ›

Basically, the thread title, the Fit seems to fulfill many of the criteria for a Kei class car (at least in Honda's lineup, I'm sure the Toyota Yaris Hatch/Mazda 2 is a little closer to Kei-ness…

What does JDM stand for? ›

Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) refers to Japan's home market for vehicles and vehicle parts.

Is the Smart car a kei car? ›

Japan. First generation Smart models equipped with engine sizes smaller than 660 cubic centimetres (40 cu in) fit into the Kei car category of cars in Japan, and are eligible for a range of lower taxes.

What are Japanese cars called? ›

Japan is home to many of the world's well-known car brands such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Datsun, Hino, Daihatsu, Isuzu and Subaru.

Is the Jimny a kei car? ›

Originally belonging to the kei class, Japan's light automobile tax/legal class, the company continues to market a kei-compliant version for the Japanese and global markets as the Jimny, as well as versions that exceed kei-class limitations.

Is Nissan Cube a kei car? ›

Kei cars are not just small commuters. Some of these 660-cc powered vehicles are little boxes on wheels—we've seen larger versions of them in the U.S., vehicles like the Scion xB and Nissan Cube.

Are Kei cars legal in Canada? ›

Thousands of kei class mini trucks have been imported from Japan to Canada by registered importers and individuals alike. Canadian law states that mini trucks must be at least 15 years old to be legally imported and street legal. The process involves some paperwork, but anyone can do it.

What is the best kei car gt7? ›

Gran Turismo 7 best Kei car choice

Our favourite Kei car is the Honda S660. It can be bought from Brand Central for 19,800 so it's a bargain. At stock numbers, it only has a PP of 342.01 and 63 horsepower.

Is a Miata a kei car? ›

No – despite what you might have heard or been told, the Miata/MX-5 is definitely not a kei car. It never has been, and never will be. Rules from 1990 limit a kei car to a 660cc engine and 64hp; both of which even the base model of the NA Miata exceed (with a 1600CC and ~115hp engine).

Are cars popular in Japan? ›

The automotive industry in Japan is one of the most prominent and largest industries in the world. Japan has been in the top three of the countries with most cars manufactured since the 1960s, surpassing Germany.

Do they still make Kei trucks? ›

However, modern Kei trucks cannot be sold in the United States or Canada due to the current regulations. Although, throughout the world, there are many variations of these trucks. From its history, import status to the United States, to its current love and uses, Kei trucks are becoming more popular every day.

Is the Suzuki Cappuccino legal in California? ›

In the case of your Suzuki Cappuccino, yes it will need to receive a CARB Laboratory Test and Referee Center smog inspection. Once these certifications are obtained, registering the vehicle in California would be the same as if having brought the vehicle in from out-of-state.

What is a kei gt7? ›

A kei car, (also called k-car, or "kei jidōsha" in Japanese, is the governmental category for the smallest highway-legal motor vehicles, including passenger cars, microvans, and trucks.

What does Y plate mean? ›

Vehicles owned by personnel with the United States military in Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) have a "Y" on white plates, or an "A" on yellow plates, where the hiragana character is normally displayed.

What does a green license plate mean in Japan? ›

Private vehicles has green sign on white background, commercial vehicles- white signs on green background. Private vehicle. Commercial vehicle. – Two groups of two digit number. Biggest numbers on the plate, it's a serial number .

Why do Japanese plates have a red line? ›

Temporary It is typical for car dealers and mechanics to use these red-striped plates for as yet unregistered cars. They are issued by local government offices. There was a time when these plates were being increasingly used to get (un-registerable) cars to car shows.

Why are K-cars called K-cars? ›

The K-cars offered practical, comfortable transportation with no pretenses of being anything else. On the trunk lid of both models, the letter “K” reflected the use of the company's model code as a marketing tool. Motor Trend named Aries and Reliant its 1981 Cars of the Year.

Is a mini a kei car? ›

Mini cars (kei-jidousya) in Japan are vehicles defined by amongst others being shorter than 3.4 m with a maximum height of 2 m and a maximum width of 1.48 m. The engine capacity is restricted to 0.66 l measured by the Japanese standard.

What does the K stand for in K-Car? ›

POSTED 2019.06.11. Ahhhh… the Japanese K-car (also known as Kei Cars) is such a fascinating creature. They are just regular sized car just like a BMW Mini but at the same time different. But unlike the Mini, they are a common sight in Japan.

Is a Miata a kei car? ›

No – despite what you might have heard or been told, the Miata/MX-5 is definitely not a kei car. It never has been, and never will be. Rules from 1990 limit a kei car to a 660cc engine and 64hp; both of which even the base model of the NA Miata exceed (with a 1600CC and ~115hp engine).

How many K-cars are left? ›

Only around 30,000 cars are on the road now, with only a few late models used as daily drivers. Half the survivors are convertibles.

What was the last K Car? ›

1991–92 Dodge Spirit R/T

The Spirit and its mate, the Plymouth Acclaim, were the final K-car derivatives and lasted until 1995.

Why was the K car so popular? ›

WHAT MADE THE K CAR SUCCESSFUL? The Chrysler K car was an advanced car for MOPAR by the standard of the times. It popularized front-wheel drive in domestic vehicles, and was one of the first mass-market American turbo cars. The platform itself underpinned everything from convertibles to the original minivan.

What is the smallest Japanese car? ›

For those not very conversant with JDM, as in the Japanese Domestic Market, Kei cars are the smallest of Japanese cars, carrying the tiniest of engines. Think of them as microcars, road-legal in their smallest possible avatar.

How many cylinders does a kei car have? ›

Kei cars started mostly with 2 cylinders ( except for Honda, they started with 4 ), making about 15hp ( except for Honda, their T360 made 30hp ), which is utterly slow to our current standards, but apparently was enough for people back then. The funny thing is, well, most manufacturers have their own ways.

Is the Honda Fit a kei car? ›

Basically, the thread title, the Fit seems to fulfill many of the criteria for a Kei class car (at least in Honda's lineup, I'm sure the Toyota Yaris Hatch/Mazda 2 is a little closer to Kei-ness…

What are K-car models? ›

The K-cars (Dodge Aries, Plymouth Reliant, Chrysler LeBaron, Dodge 400, and, in Mexico, Dodge Dart) sold over 2 million vehicles from 1981 to 1988, and around 100,000 in their final year, 1989.

What year did the K-car come out? ›

So, in 1981, the first generation of K-cars entered the market - with the Plymouth Reliant and the Dodge Aries offering improvements over previous models.

Was the Omni a K-Car? ›

Contrary to popular belief, the the Omni was not a K-car design, it was an L-body (the K-cars wouldn't be introduced until 1981, 3 years after the Omni). It also was the first mass-produced domestic car with a transverse-mounted engine.

What does rx7 stand for? ›

RX-7
AcronymDefinition
RX-7Rotary Experiment #7 (Mazda)

What does JDM stand for? ›

Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) refers to Japan's home market for vehicles and vehicle parts.

What does Miata mean in Japan? ›

Miata is not a Japanese word either. So, what does Miata mean? Miata comes from the Old German 'miete' for reward. It is believed that the name Miata is therefore meant to represent the “reward” that comes from driving one.

Videos

1. The Suzuki Alto Works RSR is the Best 90s Kei Car
(Texas ToastR)
2. Doing dumb things with kei cars
(LOKISX)
3. 🇯🇵USED KEI CARS | DAIHATSU
(MaLindz OZAWA)
4. Development of the Alto | Suzuki History
(Suzuki Global)
5. Kei Cars are Japan’s SUVs — Autozam AZ-1, Honda Beat, Suzuki Cappuccino — Cammisa Revelations Ep 26
(Hagerty)
6. What Driving in Japan is REALLY Like...
(Seanathin DLC)

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