The Spirit of Life: Paper Review of Honda Life & Zest

When you talk about cars in Japan, you don’t talk about those featured in Fast n Furious, or the plethora of drifter cars on teh intraweb…You talk about Kei cars, the minuscule cars that makes BMW’s Mini looks like it should be named Grande instead. In Japan, exists a group of small cars which are granted by the Japanese government its own rules and regulations. Although Suzuki and Daihatsu reserves the right to be the two most selling brand of Kei cars, the distant number 3… Honda, has a duo of attractive offerings that might just wet your lips… Witty comments and what those two are after the click.

Before we introduce Honda Kei cars, let’s talk about what cars qualify as a Kei car. According to Wikipedia, Kei cars are cars that has maximum length of 3.4 Meter, maximum width of 1.48 M, maximum height of 2M and a maximum power of 64PS or roughly 63 BHP from a strictly 660cc engine… You’ll be asking why right? Because even BMW venerable Mini length is roughly 3.7 Meter, no car should be smaller than… Well… A car called Mini? Apparently there is.

Back in the aftermath of world war 2, nobody has that much money to buy even a month worth of rice, let alone to buy a car. People opted for the Dreams instead… Or Honda first bikes. So the government, who apparently have love for local automotive industry introduced tax break for people who buys cars so the industry can stay alive. Still, buying a car is harder then, and so the government steps up and set a guideline for a cheap car, thus the Kei cars regulation is born. With its small body and engine, it will be cheap to produce, thus many will be able to buy it.

Today, the title holder of the most selling Kei cars in Japan is held by Suzuki and Daihatsu according to Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Suzuki in the top spot sells 529 thousand Kei cars, followed closely by Daihatsu which sells 466 thousand units, just from January to November 2008. So how much does Honda sells? … Err… It places 3rd overall… But a very distant 3rd at just 135 thousand units sold. Well, got to credit Suzuki and Daihatsu, but do note that Suzuki sells 12 separate Kei car models and Daihatsu sells 15!… Whereas Honda only sells 5.

Honda currently has five (5) cars that fits into the Kei car category, but two of them is just a variant model, so that makes only 3 Kei car model, The basic necessity Life, the spirited Zest, and the utilitarian Vamos. Of the three models, only two stands out, the Life and Zest, as both cars complete each other in various levels.

Not much to say about both cars specification, they both adhere to the Kei cars regulation. You can see from each specification below…

Small but not too small for Asian standard

Both cars length and width are just 5 millimeters within the regulations at 3.395 Meter and 1.475 Meter. Quite cramped as this is a fully fledged 5 doors, but this is definitely not European car, this is strictly for Asian who eats raw fish with rice.

The main difference between both cars size is on the interior side. Given its boxy shape, the Zest actually have wider interior space, especially at the back. Upfront, the Life has roughly 1,1 Meter of seating space, while the Zest has roughly 1,2 Meter. The back seat width is even more pronounced with a width of 1,3 Meter for the Zest and 1,12 Meter for the Life. Now, the Zest might have the advantage of seat width but the back seat cushion depth is actually worse compared to the Life. The Life has 0,48 Meter of back seat cushion depth while the Zest only has 0,44 Meter. Well, another advantage/disadvantage battle again… Why the difference? Because the Zest feature tumble flat seat while the Life does not. The folding mechanism apparently took quite a bite of the cushion size. It does remain to be question whether or not the back seat cushion depth has any impact on long range travel.

I said earlier about Life and Zest completes each other… In what sense? Well… They are both stands on the opposite spectrum of the sexes, literally. If you can see from Honda Life main page, you’ll see… How… Feminine the designs are… From the pastel color selections, the cookies on the right hand side, the smiling women and with special edition models are named Pastel and Diva… I don’t know how it couldn’t get anymore girly.

A portion of madness from Life website

To add more girl power to that, the car design cue is to take a smile and integrate it into the front end… Hence the Smile! Life! Slogan… To go the extra mile, Honda even put a dedicated page full of many Japanese girls/women smiling… Purpose… Errrhhh… Sorry… Don’t know heck about the meaning of it. To sum the webpage design, every single person who are modeled for this car are either young woman or children, and no guys.

Life Pastel: As manly as you wanted it to be

Physically, the Life and its variants are quite distinguishable. Although the main difference are on the bumpers alone, they are strikingly different from each other. The base Life bumper just look like its smiling… Or smirking you decide, while the Pastel looks like it’s laughing and the Diva is smiling with its mouth guard on. Then again, with different colors available for each cars… This car is definitely for those who wants to be looked different (probably girls).

The many smile design

Then we have the Zest… Let’s take a look briefly on the main page of the car… No smiling girls, no colorful designs, just plain ol’ information and facts, just like we guys prefer. And what’s more, there’s a guy loading a bicycle on to the back of the car, and finally, a family! A man, a woman and a kid, or at least to be perceived that way. So definitely this is the car that goes both ways.

The Zest originally came in 2006, but for 2008, Honda gave the little car a small makeover and one giant surprise. Don’t know quite sure the reason, Honda usually gave a car a refresh after 3-4 years, but the Zest only runs for 2 years and a refresh? An effort to boost sales or Honda just realized something?

Zest and Zest Spark… Notice the edgy design on the Spark

Anyway… The Zest is refreshed and came along a slew of minor enhancements and one giant update. From the outside, you just can’t look for any updates because Honda doesn’t do anything on the outside. On the inside, new gray interior colors… Which by the way I couldn’t discern between the old and new. However, Honda gives the Zest engine an update that warrants a mention (below)… So does the engine count as the giant update? No… The Spark is…

Welcome to Zest Spark, like the Life Diva and Life Pastel, Zest Spark is actually just a dress up from the regular Zest. However, Honda separate the Zest Spark from the regular Zest with its own web page… Dunno why. What I do know is that previously, the Zest comes with the more manly type called the Zest Sport… You can see the car on the top of my blog there, the tiny purple car. So definitely, the Spark replaces the Sport as the manliest Kei car Honda has, at least manlier than the Life Pastel… For sure…

Projectors in action

The Zest Spark main difference between the base Zest is mainly cosmetic, but an expensive cosmetic that is. The main headlight now features projectors housed in a box shaped glass. The whole headlight shape seems to be the major design cue for the rest of the front fascia as the car now features more blocky designs. On the track side, Honda fits an awesome three spoke rims wheel, just to make the Spark feels more fast n furiouser…  And to round it up, the cabin now feature black on black trim with the new Fit’s steering wheel.

Funky rim job

And what about power? Power comes from a zesty 660cc engine for both cars, however, there’s slight difference between both cars rated power and fuel consumption. The Life gets two engine, a naturally aspirated i-DSI engine and turbo charged i-DSI

FWD NA i-DSI: 52PS@7100 RPM, with maximum torque of 60Nm@3600 RPM. Fuel consumption: 21.0 Km/L

FWD TC i-DSI: 64PS@6000 RPM, with maximum torque of 93Nm@4000 RPM. Fuel consumption: 19.6 Km/L

The Zest also gets two engine, same with Life, but with slightly lower RPM to achieve maximum power on its naturally aspirated version and a slight better fuel economy for the turbocharged version.

FWD NA i-DSI: 52PS@6700 RPM, with maximum torque of 61Nm@3800 RPM. Fuel consumption: 20.5 Km/L

FWD TC i-DSI: 64PS@6000 RPM, with maximum torque of 93Nm@4000 RPM. Fuel consumption: 20.0 Km/L

The differences between powers are unknown as there is no specific mention of hardware change, but the new turbo on Zest seems to be more efficient than the one on Life. This is taken into account that the Zest weighs more than the Life. For comparison, the base Life is 810 Kg while the Zest weighs 890 Kg. So why the new Life doesn’t have the same engine? Meh… Probably on its refresh cycle.

Top mounted intercooler and miniature engine goodness

Channeling all that burly power to the wheels is the sole job of an all new automatic transmission, a fixed gear 4AT… Which is strange because last generation Life features CVT for better fuel economy… Or at least expected to be. Why the change to conventional automatic? Well, if I may guess… Better performance, because fixed gear ratio transmission offers better “feel” when accelerating compared to the CVT buzzing feel and the delivery of power through fixed ratio gear is less parasitic compared with CVT… So better acceleration time. The automatic transmission also has Honda own Grade Logic Control under the name of PROSMATEC or Progressive Shift Schedule Management Technology… This operates like GLC, holding gears under ascending or descending tracks to not lose power.

Utility wise, both cars offer the same utility as it might be derived from the same platform, at least it is safe to assume so because it has the same wheelbase length and track width and the same suspension, McPherson Strut front and H-Shaped Torsion Beam back. However, there’s this peculiar basic difference for both cars. We know Honda utility that is so useful, especially on the Fit with its fold flat 2nd row seat. The Zest has this feature where you tumble forward 2nd row seat twice to get full flat cargo space. However, the Life doesn’t have this feature, the 2nd row back seat just folds towards, leaving a nasty hump on top of the 2nd row seat.

Zest’s fold flat tumble seat

Hideous hump… Definitely a grocer car

That is the price to pay I think because the Life is cheaper than the Zest. Starting at a cool 945 thousand Yen, the Life tops at 1.55 million Yen compared to the Zest which starts at 1.17 million Yen and topping off at 1.51 million Yen. Whereas the most expensive Life Diva Turbo have everything the Zest Spark has, including 14″ alloy wheels, HIDs, spoilers, body kit, turbo and kitchen sinks, it still doesn’t have fold flat cargo bay, so it’s still Zest 1 Life 0 in practicality.

Zest Spark cockpit, black on black with Fit’s steering wheel

Honda Life Interior: Simple and chic

I reckon that the Life is the car for anybody who seeks individuality. With three types of different body kits, plethora of colors for each body type, there’s something for everybody. Still though, I’d take the Zest Spark any day.


2 thoughts on “The Spirit of Life: Paper Review of Honda Life & Zest

  1. Do you know what other cars available on Honda Keii car roster? These two cars are good enough, but isn’t there any sportier model?

    • Unlike Daihatsu and Suzuki, Honda doesn’t have a sporty Keii car. They basically have only 3 cars with 2 variants, totaling to 5, which are: The Life, Zest (and Spark), and Vamos (and Hobio). There was a sporty Keii car though, and it was called the Beat.

      The Beat was through and through a mini version of Honda NSX. Complete with high strung engine and midship engine placement, with only a fraction the price of the NSX. There are news of a spiritual successor, but it can still be considered as gossip.

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