By Design

Anyone who loves tiny sports cars, as I have for more than sixty years, can only be delighted when a new one appears, especially when it comes from a competent manufacturer so you know that hard-to-do details like the HVAC system have been worked out properly. From 1950s Siata Spiders to the 1960s ASA 1000GT “Ferrarina,” most attractive tiny sports models were Italian, with all that implies as to reliability and longevity. The happiest exception was the 1991 Honda Beat, mechanically the product of a company then at the height of its powers and graced by a lovely Ferrari Mythos-inspired Italian body design (it was a Pininfarina project, unacknowledged by Honda). I wanted it the moment I saw one at Honda’s Tochigi Proving Ground and have enjoyed mine for sixteen years now.

So I was quite excited to see this similarly tiny, equally well-proportioned roadster concept at the Tokyo show last fall. Only its motive power, and its dumb name, were deceptive. It’s not that you can actually travel very far without refueling the Beat. With its 6.3-gallon tank, it won’t go much farther than most electric cars on one fill. But if you stop every couple of hours to refill, you can actually cross the American continent in four days. I’ve done it [Automobile Magazine, August 1996]. With the pure-electric EV-ster (presumably Electric Vehicle and the “-ster” from speedster, roadster, et al.), I imagine it would take weeks to get from San Diego to Baltimore.

So although the car cries out for a brilliant Honda internal-combustion engine and would be acceptable with a hybrid powertrain like that of the original Insight, the EV-ster can’t be a candidate to replace the Beat until it has a practical solution to the range problem. I hope Honda has plans for an Insight/Prius/Volt mixed-energy-source driveline, because it’s a nice-looking little vehicle — busier than the Pininfarina design but also quite clever in its visual references. The front fender profile recalls MGs and Morgans; there is almost no rear overhang and very little in front. The science-fiction cockpit is intriguing, and although I don’t know how the steering levers are meant to work, I’m sure I could quickly acclimate to their function. The automatic gearbox indicated by the PRND markings on the central air-bag cover means there is no problem of shifting with the left hand, although that has never bothered me in all my years of driving a Beat. Even the oversize, trapezoidal Honda Design badge fits the side profile composition.

I haven’t been very far from home in my Beat for several years now. So maybe even if the EV-ster is made only as a battery-electric car I’ll overcome my reservations and try to get one. But only if they change its name.


1. After all the awful grille shapes on Acuras and Hondas recently, they’ve come up with a decent one — on a car that doesn’t need a grille. No radiator.

2. Ventilation air for the cockpit presumably enters at the inner ends of this strip of LEDs.

3. The LED headlamps fit nicely into the blue mask across the front end. In plan view the front is very rounded for aerodynamics.

4. These sharp, hard edges define a race-car-like nose and a clear fender profile very close to the outer edge of the body envelope. Surface development between them is complex but beautifully handled.

5. The upper door cutline starting at the base of the A-pillar crosses complex surfaces but is dead straight, a very subtle working of shapes involved.

6. The accent line through the mirror shroud is a nice touch, running parallel to the main linear body accent line.

7. The ubiquitous flat band around the wheel opening is much smaller than we’re used to seeing on cars in recent years — and is the better for it.

8. The highlight generated by the convex rib developed between the upper and lower hard lines, each of which has surfaces moving inward from it, is very nicely controlled. The whole body side is a kind of bas-relief sculpture in a shallow dimension. Elegant.

9. Notice that the door itself extends all the way to the wheel opening, as on a Pagani Zonda. This considerably simplifies hinging.

10. This hard, straight line leads up into a fender profile that falls away rearward in the classical clamshell fender manner, a la MG TC and many other admired sports cars.

11. Presumably these air intakes would serve to cool the brakes. Angling inward at the bottom as they do allows the pugnacious central “chin” to simulate the fuselage shape of a single-seater.


12. The headrest fairings have a soft radius on their external sides but a sharply defined line inboard. It is easy to intuit a coupe roof with long side glass filling in the shape from an almost-invisible B-pillar.

13. Similar to the leading edges of the front fenders, these hard lines simply cut off the body in a clear, neat way. They flank variously ribbed and grilled openings under the painted body.

14. The wheels are quite large and very aggressive. Put them in your oversize Cuisinart and they’d slice enough potatoes for a battalion in seconds.

15. The badge is big and at first does not seem to fit the area where it’s placed.
But let your eye connect the lower front corner to the upper rear corner, and you sense a line that follows the hard line above it.

16. The slot inboard of the fender profile is slim but allows a great deal of artful surfacing behind it, partially defined to the eye by the rear door cut. The rib highlight turns out to the swelling surface of the rear fenders.


17. The steering levers are intriguing. Do they move fore and aft, as on a Caterpillar tractor? Do they rotate from the base? Do they also control velocity, as on a motorcycle? However they
work, they’re extremely cool.

18. The satellite instruments recall the extreme solutions embraced by Citroen thirty years ago but also have some motorcycle influence, as befits Honda.

19. The air bag is perfectly placed, closer than usual to the driver and thus it can be smaller for the same protection.

20. The subtle use of yellow accents in the driver’s compartment is quite nice here, perhaps a bit less so in the upholstery.

21. The extension of the instrument cluster does not actually intersect with the door inner panel until it is quite far aft. Presumably it would provide an excellent pull handle for the driver. The passenger has a discrete handle for the purpose.

22. Notice that the seats are completely different in color but not in shape. In the Honda Beat, they’re different in width, too, with more room for the driver.


23. License-plate placement was carefully studied here but completely neglected on the front end. It was ever thus with designers, but only Italian authorities have ever been intelligent about allowing a tiny plate on the front end and a big one in back.

Buying Guide
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1997 Honda EV

MSRP $53,999 Plus Coupe


49 City / 46 Hwy

Horse Power:

66 @ 8750


203 @ 1700