Blog : Honda Beat – a future MG ahead of its time

Keith Adams

Honda Beat - built in 1991, but totally relevant today.
Honda Beat – built in 1991, but totally relevant today.

The 1991 Honda Beat might have been built to comply with Japan’s Kei Car regulations, but it’s a clear case of future relevance coming into play long after it shuffled off this mortal coil.

Here’s a quick history lesson for anyone who might not know what a Beat is. It was a mid-engined two-seat roadster was powered by a 660cc triple that, in true Honda fashion, was normally aspirated and pushed out very nearly 100bhp/litre at 8100rpm. It was – and is – a fun little thing, and proved that it was possible to have a great deal of fun without breaking the bank. Considering it was so small, the engine was far from economical, but compared with your typical small European sports car, it was an economical wonder.

The idea and rationale behind the Beat was simple – to offer genuine fun within the confining package that the Kei-Class  taxation regulations imposed. In 1990, the regulations were eased up slightly, meaning that to qualify for low tax and a yellow number plate, the car needed to have less than 660cc, 64bhp and be under 3.30m in length, and 1.40m in width. This was the envelope that the Beat fitted into.

When it arrived on the marketplace, the Beat was something of a revelation. The press loved it, and buyers – at least for the first year it was on sale – clamoured for it. But sales quickly tailed off and, between 1991 and 1996, a mere 33,600 were built. Although there were no official UK imports, many made it here being privately shipped over – and that number has increased somewhat on the back of the grey import boom of the past ten years. Technically, the mid-mounted engine was cutting edge, featuring the MTREC (Multi Throttle Responsive Engine Control) system, with individual throttle bodies for each of the three cylinders. Top speed was limited to 84mph, but that was easily lifted, if need be.

In 1995, quite a lot was made about the conceptual similarities between the Beat and the MGF and it’s clear that if you look at both cars in plan view, there are many similarities. However, whilst the Beat was a bespoke car, freshly-engineered from the ground up, the MGF was a clever remix of Metro running gear and Rover 200 componentry. The styling of the Beat was by Pininfarina, while the Italian design house’s input on the British car was limited to its neat hood.

The arrival of the ‘F and its notional similarity with the Honda did raise the poignant ‘what-if’ of how this car would have fared as an MG – the truth is that it would have probably done very well indeed wearing the Midget badge. We’re not sure that this car was US-compliant, but the chances are that it would have been an easy conversion if not, and that being the case, the 1990s MG Midget would have probably sold in bucket-loads.

But more frustratingly, doesn’t a car like this have so much relevance in today’s world? The Beat’s lack of commercial success was not down to its lack of overall appeal, but that it was born into the wrong time. Who, after all, needs a car (in Europe and the USA anyway) that’s been designed to save fuel, during boom times? But now, it’s the car that so many enthusiasts are crying out for, offering wind in the hair motoring without the pain of high tax and fuel bills.

Rather like the conceptually brilliant Audi A2 and Mini Spiritual, the Honda Beat is a car for today, built years ahead of it time. We need a new Beat… and we need it with an MG badge on its bonnet, please.






Keith Adams


  1. Out of interest, could you get them with a stereo?? Doesn’t look like there is much room for one!

  2. Such a cool little car – I wish that car makers today would make and market such a sparse little thing – it would be like a breath of fresh air – I suppose the only thing that came close recently was the Smart Roadster.

  3. Interesting little car but i do feel that the Smart Roadster would have made a better Midget. Incidenty i remember reading at one time that the mart was to be assembled in the UK (Wales) and sold as an AC. Does anyone else remember this and do they know why it did’nt go ahead as the AC or under another revived badge – funding issues i assume.

  4. @paul mcfarlane

    The AC/Smart story ran in AutoExpress a few years ago, with their reputation for “accurate” reporting you can draw your own conclusions! I think there was preliminary discussions but it came to naught and then AE reported it as a forgone conclusion. 🙂

  5. MG EXE preceeded them both.. imagine all three as a sports car line up to be envied.

    We had the Suzuki Cappacino, the main rival to the little honda.. It was a fantastically fun and a poper sports car with double wishbones all round, alloy body panels etc.. shows less is certainly more.

    Damn’d stupid roof system and lack of any rust protection were major issues we had with it

  6. Nissan also had a small retro-styled convertible, the Figaro, of which there are a few examples surviving and usually in a pastel colour.

    In my ‘what-if’ world of a continued Honda-Rover tie up, Honda Beat would make an MG Midget, MGF as is (but with VTEC engines), and the S2000 as a new MGB (possibly even gaining a hard top/coupe variant).

    The NSX could have been the basis for a full blown MG supercar years before the XPower SV venture!

  7. Rover had a Beat around 1992/3 – also yellow from memory. It seemed a bit plasticky inside but the guys developing MGF/PR3 surely had a close look at it….

  8. I was with Honda UK in the’90s and I can confirm that we asked for the Beat to be an official import.

    However, as built the car did not pass European crash regulations (N-CAP) and to do so it would have needed to be rebodied to make bigger crumple zones and have more SRS systems added. This would then have needed a bigger engine and suddenly it is a new car that would be much more expensive.

    Costs were prohibitive but it certainly was investigated.

    Pretty though!

  9. We did the small cute roadster thing before ANY of the Jap ones – and indeed before the Midget. Frogeye Sprite anyone?

    Cars like this are more about the thrill of a winding B road than out-and-out top speed. In these days of the £6.20 gallon and safety-inspired speed limits, what we need is another Frogeye.

    Keith’s right, bring back the Midget name on something like the Beat.

  10. @Ian Wilson that’s interesting about the NCAP, I was thinking of buying one back in 1997, a grey import. Drove it and really liked it but then I noticed there was inches between my feet and a brick wall if I happened to drive into one so bought a Eunos Roadster instead. Going rate for a 5 year old Honda Beat back in 1997 was about £8000 if I remember right.

    Then again, I totally ignored safety thing a few years later by getting a FIAT 126 but since it only had 28BHP I thought the chances of going fast enough to hurt myself in a crash was quite slim.

  11. Cars can’t be small and scarce enough, but shouldn’t really be Japanese. I don’t know about the Beat, but the Copen seemed to be made of paper and the finish was eh… well… not. The folded roof opened up all kind of gaps.
    English or Italian for me please.

  12. Yes, the MGF’s back end was derived from the EX-E, as was the Honda Legend coupe’s back end, I reckon! Then there’s the CRV, cearly cribbed from the Freelander – it even has the L-R “hips”… and of course, Hondas started to sprout chrome grilles in the 90s…

  13. #19 – CRV “clearly cribbed from the Freelander” – the same CRV that was launched a year earlier than the Freelander?

    The CRV is just a tall Civic-based estate car with four wheel drive. Honda was building those as far back as the late 80s.

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