In America, we simply do not understand small cars, in our world of big V8 muscle cars and three-row SUVs tiny automobiles never caught on. Other parts of the world, love small cars and found their small size and low curb weight made them great performance platforms. One extreme example is the performances Kei cars of Japan that took tiny performance cars to whole new level. Today you can buy a Suzuki Alto Works on Bring a Trailer and experience the tiny performance cars we never got.
In a country where it rains GTRs and EVOs, it’s hard to remember Japan has other facets of car culture. Some Japanese car shoppers require a cheap to run car that also fits in the crowded city streets of this tiny island. Kei cars were born in post-war Japan as a way to guarantee more room on city streets and offer cheap efficient transportation. These tiny cars needed to fit into strict government regulations that controlled the exterior dimensions, engine displacement, and engine output to receive the discounted taxes and insurance.
In 1990 when the Suzuki Alto Works was built Kei cars had to be 10.8 ft L x 4.6 ft W x 6.6 ft H, with a max displacement of 660cc. The performance Kei car movement started to gain momentum in 1990 when the government increased legal power limits to a massive 63 horsepower. The Suzuki Alto Works is powered by a turbocharged 3-cylinder engine putting out the maximum horsepower allowed by law. This high revving turbocharged engine was more than enough to move this 1433lb hatchback through the crowded city streets of Japan making it easy to reach the 8,000rpm redline. Cars like this have a top speed of only 87mph but they are made for short bursts of speed between lights rather than all out drag races.
The beauty of a car like the Alto Works lies in its brutal simplicity. These featherweight hot hatches exemplify the “Simplify, then add lightness” strategy by obeying the laws of Kei cars. These diminutive cars fit in better at a go-kart track rather than a road with the bloated masses we call cars. Every aspect of these cars is better because there is less car to move. If we were honest with ourselves this is all the car you would need on a daily commute to work yet it’s still fun to drive and can carry 4 in a pinch.
The Suzuki Alto Works started life just like every other hot hatch we hold near and dear. Designers saw an opportunity to take an appliance built to haul 4 people as cheaply as possible, turned up the boost, added a body kit and built the micro hot hatch of your dreams. These tiny Kei cars that were built out of necessity created a performance car culture that is all too often overlooked. There’s something about driving a car the size of a refrigerator with a hood scoop that sounds far too fun to pass up. This car will offer all the JDM weirdness the R32 GTR has lost as those flood our borders and Cars and Coffee events. Kei cars like the Alto Works are a glimpse into the diverse global car culture that we can finally participate in and now’s your chance to own of the few examples already in America.