Travel restrictions mean quite a bit of time has passed since we’ve driven some of the automotive oddities not sold in America. The 2021 Honda N-One RS kei car certainly qualifies as one of those strange cars. This tiny five-door hatchback is a member of the sub-sub-compact class of cars that exists in Japan as the least-taxed way to get around on four wheels.
This two-tone Sunset Orange II/Black example is in the United States thanks to Spoon Sports, a company that sells performance parts for Hondas worldwide. Spoon Sports’ Japanese division sent this 2021 Honda N-One RS to Go Tuning Unlimited, a business that serves as Spoon’s U.S. distributor. The example we sampled will be hacked by Hondata, an outfit that offers tuning support for customers who want to pull more power from their Hondas. Go Tuning and Spoon Sports plan to transform the N-One RS into a race car and to run it in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill at the end of 2021. Spoon Sports founder Tatsuru Ichishima is slated to be one of the drivers during the endurance race.
However, Go Tuning Unlimited allowed us to take the kei car for a spin before the tuners pull it apart. The 2021 Honda N-One RS is powered by a turbocharged 660-cc three-cylinder mated to a six-speed manual gearbox; regular versions of the N-One make do with a naturally aspirated engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The car we sampled made 63 hp and 77 lb-ft of torque, which proved entirely ample given the hatchback’s 1,852-pound curb weight.
How Does it Drive?
The N-One RS’ steering feels a lot like the steering found in Honda’s U.S.-market cars. It offers decent heft and reasonable feedback, making it enjoyable to use. Likewise, clutch engagement is light but easy to modulate, especially because there isn’t a ton of power to consider when setting off from a stop. The throttle is eager and blipping the pedal to build revs for a quick downshift is a cinch.
We didn’t get a chance to take the 2021 Honda N-One RS onto twisty roads, instead, we got a proper around-the-town drive that reminded us how this micromachine is purpose-built for handling narrow streets, flipping tight U-turns, and fitting into tight parking spots. And all those abilities come with almost no tradeoff as it was able to accelerate up to speed on wider boulevards and keep up with fast-moving traffic without straining.
The N-One RS deals with the hustle and bustle of Southern California city streets just as well as most subcompacts that are actually sold in our market. The car is so light that it scoots along in traffic without any need for triple-digit horsepower or torque; not once did the little orange hatchback get a disdainful honk from another irritated motorist. If Americans didn’t demand such massive cars, this would be more than adequate as a means of transportation for single folks, couples without kids, or childless pet owners.
Is It Roomy Inside?
Honda designed the N-One RS interior to maximize comfort and space for the driver and passengers, despite the small area it had to work with. The seats are supportive and feature a fair amount of bolstering since Honda markets this version as the sportiest variant of the more pedestrian N-Box. The interior has some racy red accents and microsuede that make the cockpit feel more like a Civic Type R hot hatch than a run-of-the-mill commuter. Oddly, there’s a spot for an infotainment screen but the car we drove didn’t have one; instead, there was dead space. There was, however, a tiny screen in the dash with some information, and a friendly voice that communicated to us about the chip Japanese drivers use to pay tolls.
Go Tuning Unlimited’s Aaron Wang said that if everything goes to plan, this 2021 Honda N-One RS will complete its race car transformation by December. “Even if we don’t race this year, we can always push it next year so at least we’ll be ready,” he said. “That was the reason why we imported the car. We have some R&D and racing ambitions with it.”
Beyond the classic Spoon livery, Go Tuning Unlimited plans to add external bumpers for safety given the car’s minuscule footprint; it measures just 133.7 inches long and 58.1 inches wide. By comparison, a Honda Fit is 161.4 inches long and 67 inches wide. With the upgrades Spoon Sports can develop by cracking the car’s ECU, plus the usual mods that go into making a race car, it’s a safe bet that watching the N-One RS lap a track will be a sight to behold.
Buyers in Japan can purchase a Honda N-One RS for ¥1,999,800 or just a smidge more than $18,000 at current conversion rates. If sold on our shores, that would place the little Honda among our list of the cheapest cars you can buy today, though it would be outgunned in that regard by all on that list save for the Mitsubishi Mirage.
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