CARS & BIKES ARCHIVE:
499: Environmental charge
The futuristic electric-and-gasoline hybrid Toyota Alphard aims to take
the financial strain out of owning a large van, while reducing emissions to
boot. Justin Gardiner takes one for a cruise.
497: Thrills and spills
The next two weekends feature Japan's two biggest Grand Prix races, the
Pacific Moto GP, and the final round of the Formula 1 Championship. Justin Gardiner
gets pole position.
495: Time warp
It was christened the Japanese Ferrari when it was launched way back in
1991. Justin Gardiner reckons the intended compliment still doesn't do justice
to Honda's NSX.
493: Point to point
Just how much faster is a 1,000cc superbike than a 50cc scooter in our sprawling
megalopolis? Justin Gardiner borrowed a few Aprilia bikes to find out.
491: Future classic
The Audi TT Roadster has become the archetypal convertible of the decade,
with good looks matched by great handling. Justin Gardiner gets behind the wheel.
489: Name value
Toyota's Lexus is one of the most respected brands in the West, but almost
unheard of in its home country. Justin Gardiner wonders why.
487: Revolutionary ride
Mazda proudly proclaims that its RX-8 is peerless, and for once the claim
is more than marketing hype. Justin Gardiner revs it up.
485: Thinking big
Whats behind the astonishing popularity of oversized scooters on Tokyos
roads? Justin Gardiner and three veteran motorcyclists aim to find out.
483: Off the beaten path
Hondas Element harks back to the days when a 4x4s interior could
be washed down with a hose. Justin Gardiner goes for a spin.
481: Track days
Tokyo offers amateur racers the chance to prove that theyre the next
Michael Schumacher. Justin Gardiner hits the speedways.
479: My Fairlady
The Datsun 240Z changed the fortunes of Nissan Motors back in 1969. This
year, the new 350Z heads up their international line-up for the 21st century.
Justin Gardiner reports.
477: Small is better
Justin Gardiner gets the scoop on scooters to fit every taste and budget.
475: Two for the price of one
Justin Gardiner drives two cars that can fit into a single parking space,
the Smart K and the Suzuki Twin.
473: Multiple personality
In a world of nigh-on-identical minivans, Fiats Multipla dares to
be different. Justin Gardiner drives the distinctive import.
471: Days at the races
Honda, the traditional Japanese champions of motorsports in Japan, are facing
a tough challenge on their home turf. Justin Gardiner looks forward to what
promises to be a bumper year for racing enthusiasts.
469: The ride stuff
Just in time for spring, Don Morton tells you how and where to choose the perfect
467: Most impressive
Justin Gardiner tools around in Subaru's Impreza, the automotive equivalent
of a mild-mannered bloke who turns unruly after a few pints.
465: Outside the box
Justin Gardiner mourns the passing of the Toyota HiACE, a campsite favorite
and the best of a dying breed.
463: Cyber Cypha
Justin Gardiner finds that Toyota's latest super-mini not only takes you
out to dinner, but helps you decide where to go.
461: Award magnet
Mazda's new mid-size Atenza is attracting accolades the world over. Paul
Thompson zoom-zoomed along to find out why.
459: Down the road
After a year of cute cars, 2003 promises more power, pace and raw sex appeal.
Justin Gardiner peers into his crystal ball.
453: Fleet of foot
Japan's convoy of quirky emergency vehicles includes everything from mopeds
to the country's fastest cars
451: Truck and treat
Paul Thompson tracked down the latest automotive trends from the 36th Tokyo
Small is better
Justin Gardiner gets the scoop on scooters to fit every
taste and budget.
What can you get for ¥60,000? Well, if youre a
frugal Tokyoite, how about a high-spec PC in Akihabara, a
month of budget accommodation, a flight back homeor
a brand new 50cc scooter?
Yes, anyone with a regular drivers license, Japanese
or international, can pony up six man and wave goodbye to
Tokyos convenient but crowded trains and buses. Until
recently youd need at least ¥100,000 for the privilege,
but in March Suzuki launched the Choi Nori, a back-to-basics
model that can be yours for ¥59,800. Suzukis new
brand is part of a trend that sees Tokyos favorite mode
of transportation, beloved of obasan and bosozoku alike, making
a grab for the budget-conscious, while at the same time remaining
true to its anything-goes roots.
The Choi Nori lacks extras such as an electric
starter motor, battery, light switch, fuel gauge and helmet
storage, but it has all the other essentials. Boot the kick
start, and the head- and taillights spring to life courtesy
of the all-new four-stroke engine. Blinkers are available
for those few riders who want to warn drivers of their intentions,
and a red lamp warns when the speedometer has crawled three
quarters of the way to the maximum 40km/hr.
If you want a little more power and greater convenience,
itll come at a cost, typically between ¥100,000
and ¥150,000 for a new, nondescript offering from three
of the big four domestic manufacturers: Honda, Yamaha and
SuzukiKawasaki not being interested in the 50cc market.
How anyone can choose between the nigh-on-identical Yamaha
Jog, Honda Lead and Suzuki Lets is a mystery, but vendors
report that brand loyalty is a strong trait in dyed-in-the-wool
scooterists. All of the above have electric starter motors,
reasonable storage under the seat and, possibly most important,
increased security, courtesy of locking kickstands and fancy
closable ignition key slots.
no-frills Choi Nori
While bosozoku and others are prone to doll up stolen scooters
(see sidebar), many a legitimate owner customizes their own
bike with stickers, spray paint, or in the case of one local
nightclub owner, hundreds of mirror shards. However, individuality
is also available to style-conscious riders who have less
time and patiencebut who do have deep pocketsin
the form of special-edition brands or off-road scooters. A
Ducati Course bike in racing colors will set you back ¥265,000,
while a Suzuki Street Magic II trials-style machine costs
an almost-as-cool-as-its-looks ¥224,000.
The ultimate kakoi baby scooter is, of course, the venerable
Vespa. With prices for new ones ranging from ¥235,000
to ¥345,000, the Piaggios not cheap, but what they
lack in conveniencenot even a hook for conbini bagsthey
make up in style. In the 50 years since a Vespa carried Gregory
Peck and Audrey Hepburn on their Roman holiday, Marlon Brando,
Charleton Heston, John Wayne and U2s Bono have all owned
Never embarrassed to mimic anothers success, domestic
makers have their own interpretations of the classic, all
with suitably Italian sounding names: the Giorno (Honda),
Vino (Yamaha) and Verde (Suzuki), and suspiciously similar
prices, all a smidgen under ¥200,000.
In a bit of bad news, the other classic European moped, the
Solex, will not be available for much longer on these shores.
Basically a shopping bike with a motor perched on the front
wheel, the Solex is a victim of Japans new environmental
protection standards, which outlaw two-stroke engines. Conforming
to these regulations would require the French manufacturer
to make their first major design change in over 60 yearsan
unlikely prospect. Now facing stiff competition from quieter
and smoother electrically powered bikes, and at over double
the cost of the Choi Nori, the 0.6-hp import may be a wise
investment nonetheless, as a collectors item rather
than cheap transportation.
Thanks to Marutomi Autobikes of
Yokohama for the test bikes. To arrange a test ride yourself,
call Mr Ibuki, in English at 045-481-5500.
Photos by Justin Gardiner