Updated: Jan 27
Camping, the great escape from your presumably very urban lifestyle and daily onslaught of work. You pack up the family, all your gear and head out into the wilderness to enjoy a more serene way of life - campfire cooked meals, cold beverages and a vast view of nature while enjoying a sense of do-nothing'ness. It's wonderful and exciting, but what will you drive?
For me in Japan, it's a kei! Now, if you're outside of Japan you may be wondering what a kei is. Well, it's a special classification of light car here in Japan. Back when they were released in the late 1940's, the kei class was restricted to an engine size of just 150cc max! Luckily for us today, that's not the case and my super fun Suzuki Alto Works AWD Turbo comes with a massive 660cc engine. While the new limit is a bundle over the original max engine size, it's still quite modest and the restrictions don't stop there. The modern kei maxes out at a restricted horsepower of 64 and has dimensional restrictions of 3.4 meters long, 1.48 meters wide and 2 meters tall - also a kei can't seat more than 4, so... why am I so excited for it?
Aside from surprising performance aspects that I'll touch on later, there's a sense of accomplishment when you pack a family of 4 and all the needed camping gear that comes with them into a kei car; it's like a master course in Tetris. Camping with a kei forces you to be minimalistic with what you bring to a modest extent and I like that since whatever you pile into the car eventually has to come back out when you arrive home.
(An Aevum Track Tech on the wrist with tire tread strap, naturally!)
Depending on what kei you decide to drive you might also be pleasantly surprised with the overall driving experience, too! Turbo sport model kei cars are peppy despite only having 63 horsepower stock due to their low overall weight and they handle like go karts, also due to said low weight. Models like my Alto Works or the Honda N-One RS feel very responsive on twisty mountain roads - you can get into sportier models like Honda's N660 mid-rear runabout or Toyota's rebadged Daihatsu Copen GR convertible with the Recaro seat package, but you'll need to put your camp-packing Tetris skills into God mode with those two-seaters.
Popular kei cars often have a ton of aftermarket components as well to spice up the drive and all at very reasonable prices. My Alto Works currently has a carbon fiber Monster Sport intake, Monster Sport 32 way adjustable coilover suspension, HKS exhaust, plugs and ECU tune - it's also got a set of Enkei PF05 wheels; all this for the price of a nice set of tires and wheels for a 'normal sized' car. Another interesting tuning point for this model of Alto Works is I have the HKS tuner out of personal preference but there's a ton of other aftermarket ECU replacements or cookie-cutter tunes available! No shortage of options for the HA36S model, that's for sure.
I've driven a lot of cars from AMG's to STi's but I have to say, I love this little kei and taking it camping is something I always look forward to doing. If you haven't driven a Japanese light car before, I highly recommend it, but be warned, they are easy to get addicted to!
For those interested, here's some additional photos and info~ The campsite is Ichirimatsu in Nose (sounds like "no-say") in Osaka prefecture and you camp in little raised cabins by a small river. Here's the website: http://www.ichirimatsu.com/
View of the little river that runs through the middle of the campsite.
Some nice camping yakitori.
The Alto Works peeking out from the parking lot.