Business Car Trailblazer: Suzuki Whizzkid
15 November 2021
Author: Sean Keywood
A budget car that offered big fun in a small package.
|Reclining cloth seats, cigar lighter, heated rear window, push button radio, rack and pinion steering, all-round independent suspension.|
In today's highly globalised car industry, the Japanese Kei car stands out as an enduring example of more localised thinking. First introduced in 1949, but revised several times over the years, it's a category with strict limits on size and engine capacity, with the aim of offering affordable motoring to the masses. Having been designed to meet the unique demands of these regulations, Kei cars have largely remained solely for the Japanese market, but some have ventured overseas, looking to attract buyers hoping to save on both purchase cost and fuel bills.
One early arrival of this type in the UK was the funky-looking coupe seen on this page. Known officially as the SC100, here it received the rather more catchy moniker of Whizzkid. Despite being a coupe, it certainly wasn't overflowing with power, with a 970cc engine developing just 47hp. However, the placing of this engine in a body that weighed only 655kg - just over half what a typical supermini weighs today - meant two things. Firstly, it was capable of 50mpg as tested at the time, proving the fuel-saving benefits of the Kei car philosophy. And secondly, it allowed the engine to punch above its weight performance wise, with a top speed of 87mph apparently possible.
There is a caveat to that last point, which is that on taking the wheel of a Whizzkid in 2021, the first thing that grabs the attention is not the acceleration, but the braking, or rather the lack of it. Stamping hard on the pedal produces a similar effect to a light touch in a modern car and, for this reason, we never took the Whizzkid on roads with a speed limit above 30mph, since frankly the idea of using it at A-road speeds, let alone on a motorway, seems too terrifying to contemplate. However, with the car being so small and light, and sitting the driver relatively close to the ground, there's a tremendous sense of speed even at the ostensibly sedate pace we stuck to, and that combined with light steering, a (Porsche 911-style) rear-mounted engine layout, and independent all-round suspension (still a selling point for performance cars today), makes for a tremendously fun driving experience.
Lots of modern cars are claimed by their makers to have 'go-kart handling', but the Whizzkid is by far the closest we've come to actually finding that sort of feeling on the road - though maybe that's not surprising, since it does seem almost small enough to race on a kart track.
Although clearly an oddball choice, the Whizzkid did prove a cult hit in the UK. An attractive £2,400 price tag meant demand always outstripped supply, with nearly 5,000 eventually sold here between 1979 and 1982.
The model has an enduring legacy in Suzuki's range today in the form of the quirky SUV/city car Ignis, which still bears a clear family resemblance to the Whizzkid. And in a world where any chance to save money and fuel seems increasingly attractive, it's easy to see why the Kei car philosophy of keeping things small retains some lasting appeal.