The Honda Beat had barely crawled out the factory in 1991 when Suzuki decided to rain on its parade by releasing the equally tiny, but arguably less cool, Cappuccino. Things were starting to heat up in Japan’s tiny sports car arena.
No prizes for guessing the power output, which like the Beat was capped by regulations at 63bhp, however, that’s where the similarities end. It would forgo the revvy naturally aspirated engine of the Beat in favour of a more torquey turbocharged 3-cylinder, which produced 63 lb-ft of the stuff, almost 50% more than the Honda. Even so, the Cappuccino was still rev-happy, with the redline at 8500 rpm, but peak power arrived at 6500rpm compared to the Beat’s peak power at 8100rpm. The engine placement was different too, with the Cappuccino’s engine sitting behind the front axels and powering the rear wheels via a slick 5-speed gearbox.
When it came to performance the Suzuki had the Honda beat (I’m very, very sorry). Jokes aside, the Cappuccino was faster, dispatching the 0-60 sprint in 11.3 seconds, compared to 13 seconds in the Honda. This was in part due to the Suzuki’s higher torque, and the fact that it was lighter – the Honda being 35kgs heavier than the 725kg Cappuccino. Its handling wasn’t bad either, a 50-50 weight distribution and a well-sorted chassis meant the little car had no issue making swift progress across a British B-road.
The Cappuccino’s real party piece, however, was its three-panel roof system. This meant the car could either have one top panel missing, a T-Bar, or fully open. The rear windscreen, which was glass and fitted with a de-mister, could also be unclipped and would fold down, transforming the car into a full roadster. Amazingly, despite the Cappuccino’s diminutive stature, the whole roof could fit in the boot. Again, like the Beat, this meant that the Cappuccino didn’t have any storage space when the roof was down.
The fancy roof came with further downsides, as in order to accommodate all those panels, Suzuki had to make the back of the Cappuccino two-Cs THICC. Where the beat looks like a Honda S2000 had a very tiny baby with a DC2 Honda Integra Type R, the Cappuccino looks like someone shrunk an NB Mazda MX-5 and placed it in a diaper. The Cappuccino’s design was far more bulbous, missing the crisp lines that adorned sides of the Beat, and as it’s engined was near the front, it didn’t have the Beat’s rad side intakes, which I’m afraid automatically loses it some points.
I’ll admit I am a little biased towards the Beat here, but there’s something about the Cappuccino’s grown-up attitude that lacks the cheekiness of the Honda. If the Beat was a pair of skinny jeans, the Cappuccino would be one of those pairs of cargo pants with the zips that can become a pair of cargo shorts; they offer versatility but at the cost of looking like a bit of a child molester. There’s a fine line between Noddy and Noncey. I’m by no means accusing the Cappuccino of being a bad car, nor should the genius of its design be ignored, but really if you want a Kei car you have to acknowledge that you’re basically setting fire to any notion of practicality.
When it comes to highway manners, the Cappuccino is much the same as the Honda in the sense that you’ll probably want to steer clear of them if you value your eardrums. That isn’t to say it’s impossible, like the Beat the Cappuccino will happily reach 85mph, and even manage 100mph if you remove the limiter, but that wouldn’t be good for the car’s reliability or your hearing, so it isn’t advisable.
If you rather fancy the styling of the Suzuki and want something a little faster than the Beat, then you might want to take a sip of the old Cappuccino ownership experience. Unfortunately, despite actually being imported and sold in the UK when new, they are still hard to come by. They also only imported the pre-’95 belt-driven cars as the later, torquier chain-driven examples were too expensive to produce for European markets, so if you want one you’ll have to find one that’s already been imported or import one yourself. At the moment there are only a few for sale on the classifieds, with prices ranging from £5k to £13k, making it difficult to gauge what a fair price would be. As always if you find one don’t be afraid to walk away if it seems dodgy!
It wouldn’t be until October 1992 before the truly crazy Autozam AZ-1 would turn up on the scene to complete the sporty Kei-car ABC, so be sure to read our next article to learn about perhaps the quirkiest of the trio!