Ever since Jason Torchinsky wrote up his piece on the N Box Slash (N/), I've been dying to drive one. Then I noticed that one of the dealerships nearby had one on display inside their dealership, and I knew I just had to give it a spin. Welcome to the very first Jalopnik East review, where I drive shit Torchy can't have.
As Torchy himself said, there are definitely elements (mostly front and back) which are just average kei box forms. I find nothing particularly interesting about the front or the back of the N/, and if I had any ability to make exterior changes through accessorizing, I would definitely like to have that option. However, when it comes the profile of the N/, well, son, now we're talking.
I'll compare this a lot to the Mitsubishi EK Wagon I drove through the entirety of 2012, because it was about as base kei box as you can get. It serves as a good example of the entire demographic, no matter what Japanese car brand you want to go with. Boxy, basic, bland, boring bullshit. It was just as boxy and boring and bland on the sides as it was in the front. Not so the N/, which has strong swooping curves and plenty of extra details.
The silver on black on silver wheels, with their retro steelie look add to the N/'s perception of square business on the front and the back, but curvaceous party time on the sides. The one fun aspect you can see from the front is the colored mirror covers, both side and rearview. It gives the impression of little stubby red light up wings, which, I have to say, I find positively adorable.
I was really, really impressed with the interior of the N/, given its $14-$16K price tag. The dark plastic was smooth and the texture was almost soft. It was considerably higher quality than almost every vehicle I have ever owned or driven, with the exceptions of a Mercedes coupe I once test drove, and the BMW 3-series sedan and the X3 mini-SUV I drove around the U.S. before moving to Japan.
It is far superior to my GA, superior to my 2000 EK Civic, better than the 2002 Camry I drove briefly in graduate school, and so far beyond the interior of any kei car I've ever driven as to be in a completely different universe of materials and construction. The heated leather wrapped steering wheel, the heated seats, the arm rests on the door panels all felt really nice.
My one small complaint is pretty specific to me: I hated the position of the shifter. I can't even tell you how much. As someone who has switched between driving automatic and manual off and on, I have a habit of periodically resting my hand on the shifter at times when, in a manual car, I would need to downshift or upshift. I've never bothered disabusing myself of this habit, since I plan to eventually drive a manual car again. In the N/, this habit was completely impractical, and indeed downright uncomfortable with the position of the shifter next to the steering column. I spent half the drive constantly wondering what the hell to do with my left hand when it wasn't on the wheel. It freaked me out.
In a normal review this is where we'd get to the part about acceleration, but this is a kei car, which means it has 660cc putting out 64HP. It's not a speed demon, it's not supposed to be, and if you'd actually be in the market for one of these, then speed is not going to be a factor in your decision making process.
That said, the N/ has none of the "wait for it, wait for it, wait for it, GO" stagger that I am used to from many of its similarly shaped competitors. Most notably the Mitsubishi EK Wagon I drove last year. There was no lag between my putting the pedal down and acceleration from the N/. It surprised me a little, because I am not used to that in kei boxes. I didn't feel much of a change at all between gears on this automatic, so I didn't bother to review the gearbox. That'll do, pig, that'll do.
Oh, I'm sorry, did you want a leg level cup holder, or maybe some more storage space? TOO BAD, HERE'S A SUBWOOFER. The N/ I test drove was the "Hot Sounds" configuration and features eight speakers, including the pictured subwoofer. I listened to some Hide on the sound system, and while I was focused on the drive itself, and not so much on the music, it sounded pretty amazing to me.
My largest complaint with the N/ is its braking system. Oh, the vehicle stopped all right. It was responsive. However, it felt mushy. There was not anywhere near enough resistance or feedback to my foot to make me feel like I was connected with the vehicle. This was in stark contrast to the use of the gas pedal for acceleration. I had more than one moment where I braced for the possibility that the vehicle wasn't going to respond because I couldn't feel the braking, but it did indeed brake.
For some seeking a smooth ride at the expense of feeling where the rubber is dragging on the road, this might be okay. For me, it made me feel distinctly uneasy, even unsafe, and it made me notice just how strong of a connection I have to my GA3's ABS, and how secure that feedback connection makes me feel. Maybe I would eventually get used to it, but I am not sure I want to do so.
Forget "hueg liek xbawks," I now demand we call it "hueg liek nslash" because... uh... this car is huge on the inside. Especially for the rear passengers. I've been in airplane first class cabins with less leg room. I'm 5' 11", and I could probably sleep in this thing, easily. This is also not something I am used to when it comes to kei cars. It seems considerably bigger than the EK Wagon. How many trips would it take me to move apartments with this? Two. Maybe three, but then, if so, the third trip would be less than half full.
In a market full of boxes how do you make your vehicle distinct? Options.
Let's just get this out of the way: You can do just about anything you could think of to this vehicle, if you're willing to spend the money. If you want to Mugen your new N/ out, yeah, we got an entire brochure for that. There's absolutely nothing you can't add to this car when it comes to toys. The vehicle I drove had an MSRP of about $16K and is considered a top configuration, specifically the entertainment system.
What can you get for electronics? Oh, boy, what can't you get? A 12 volt plug built right in it next to a USB plug which automatically detects iOS devices, then there's the GPS, and you can use CDs or DVDs, watch some TV, play music files, make bluetooth calls, sync up to Pandora... hell, you can even get it to play files OFF AN SD CARD. There's a slot for that. Or, you know, maybe you just want the screen to play a slideshow of the photographs you just took on said SD card. Yeah, you can do that, too. Paging Gizmodo!
Yo dawg, we heard you like toys, so we put toys in your new toy. Yeah, you can get a barbie themed N/, if you really want to. I mean, I like pink, and I'm a girl, but... No. Just no. However, this is still better than the She's, because it's an option. I got a lot of pushback on my teardown of the marketing strategy behind the She's. Oh well. Zero fucks given.
My issue was always that it was an entire trim level of the Fit marketed at women as a whole and not add on accessories which could be targeted at the specific section of women who might enjoy its specific trim level. With the N/, Honda got it right. Offer pink and frilly options, sure. Go for it. Even recognize that these options are more likely to be purchased by women than men, but also recognize that many, probably most, women are not going to walk in and say, "take me to the Barbie Box!"
At the back of the Barbie car brochure was an introduction of Honda's new women-oriented service. Like Nissan, Honda is trying to target women with an increase in women-oriented services and a greater number of female sales people. This made me realize that in every trip to the dealership (and this was the same dealership I had previously been to for work on my GA), I've been met with at least one female sales person, even if I was also dealing with a male sales person or a male tech, and I had previously worked with the lady who saw me today. This time, she brought me some hot cocoa and we had a bit of small talk.
I have never felt condescended to, nor pushed, nor at all disrespected as a woman at the dealership, and the sales people really listened to my tastes as I drove around the N/. They gave me the copy of the Barbie brochure out of completeness's sake, but with something of a chuckle, they admitted they didn't think it was my style and they didn't expect me to buy anything Barbie related. Mugen on the other hand...
Oh, and then they gave me an actual toy, because Japan. It's a key chain with actual LED headlights, and it really does drive. Pull it back and let 'er rip:
If you want a kei box, and you want to buy it brand new, this is probably your kei box...
Unless you're Jason Torchinsky.
Images via Kat Callahan/Jalopnik.