Sunday, 27 October 2013

Winter is here. Thank God for Honda and its new small sports car

IT’S that time of year again – the bit where I’m dreading more motoring misery and driving home in the dark.

A flotsam of leaves have fallen from the trees onto an increasingly wet and windy north west landscape, the clocks have been wound back, and the predictable slew of automotive experts have been rolled out to tell us how we’re all going to have to concentrate extra hard to make sure we don’t crash in the dark.

The perfect time, then, to talk about small, open top sports cars.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time poking my nose around old MG Midgets and Triumph Spitfires this summer, but I’ve been keeping an eye on the more recent al-fresco offerings and haven’t exactly been bowled over. The Jaguar F-type, for instance, toyed with us for years with its promises of being a Boxster basher that’d make every Brit proud, but while it looks fabulous its £58,000 starting price isn’t exactly in tune with a nation worried about paying its next gas bill.

Toyota’s open-top version of the excellent GT-86, it’s now being widely rumoured, has been axed, while the problem with the rest of the small sports cars you can actually afford is that there simply aren’t any. The MG TF, Fiat Barchetta, Daihatsu Copen and Toyota MR-2 are all gone. Mazda and Alfa Romeo have teamed up to create two MX-5 based roadsters, but the finished product still seems a long way off. That is the only ray of faint sunshine in a winter utterly devoid of fun cars.

Or at least it was until Honda and Caterham got in on the act.

I smiled the smile of a chocoholic let loose at Cadbury World when I found out Caterham – who, don’t forget, have been a bit busy running F1 teams lately – have got back to basics and made a cheaper version of the Seven which goes back to its roots. The end result might not be the quickest thing the company’s ever created, but it costs the same as a low-spec Ford Focus and has skinny little tyres, a motorbike engine and next to no weight or creature comforts whatsoever. In other words, big fun.

But even that pales into comparision with what Honda’s been up to, on the other side of the world. While all the eyes at next month’s Tokyo Motor Show will be on the new NSX supercar, the boffins have also found time to create the S660, which is a tiny, mid-engined, open-top sports car.

Forget the technology and the snazzy styling – it’s the new Healey Sprite. Get making it, Honda!

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