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2018 Honda N-One RS: Unmitigated street-smart adorableness

Honda's home-market retro hatchback has miles of style and shocking utility. Plus, it's fun to drive.

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Chris Paukert
2018 Honda N-One RS
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Done up in Sunset Orange and black trim, the 2018 Honda N-One RS looks a bit like a cuddly jack-o-lantern.

2018 Honda N-One RS
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How best to maximize interior space? Zero overhangs and tall cabin height.

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Kei-class cars, also known as K-cars, are commonplace in Japan thanks to their low operating costs and handy size.

2018 Honda N-One RS
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Given Tokyo's motor pool is scaled very differently than that of North America, I never felt slow or vulnerable driving the N-One. Traffic in Japan is chock-a-block with tiny boxes just like this Honda, and full-size vehicles are comparatively rare.

2018 Honda N-One RS
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The N-One's friendly styling is an homage to Honda's original minicar, the 1967 N360.

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The N-One's cabin is narrow, yet surprisingly spacious. 

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The N-One fits full-size-sedan-like cabin room in a tiny footprint much smaller than the Fiat 500 or Honda's own Fit hatchback.

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The N-One's characterful round headlamps are a defining feature, but could benefit from an LED update.

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Honda will let you customize the color of your grille and headlamp trim. This sport-minded RS trim comes with gloss-black accents.

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The N-One's cool font almost looks like it belongs on a video game console.

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RS is one of the more costly N-One trims, starting at the equivalent of around $15,700.

2018 Honda N-One RS
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The RS rides on 165/55R15 Bridgestone B250 rubber. The narrow footprint helps keep turning circles extra tight. Note the almost complete absence of overhang.

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Four-bolt wheels are a relative rarity on modern cars.

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Narrow tires ultimately aren't great for handling, but at city speeds, a tighter turning circle and room for components and interior space is more important.

They're also good for fuel efficiency and lower running costs.

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Yep, it's a Honda alright.

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Fog lamps come on the RS trim.

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Much of the N-One's grille is actually blocked off for superior aero.

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The RS receives a relatively large liftgate spoiler.

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A 2017 update included special glass that rejects infrared and ultraviolet light, so regardless of which interior you select, your furnishings won't wilt as quickly in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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Note how the rear hatchback has a wide, very low opening for easy loading.

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You'll need to make the most of these mirrors in the city, especially with no blind-spot monitoring available.

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You're looking at 660 cc of turbocharged fury.

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Packaging is ultratight, but then you expected that, didn't you?

Remarkably, Honda can even package the N-One with all-wheel drive, though this RS sends power exclusively to its front wheels.

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The Earth Dreams engine provides just 55 horsepower and 77 pound-feet of torque. Remarkably, it's sufficient.

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Everything in its right place -- even the high-mounted shifter is intuitive. Note the right-side dash-mounted cupholder.

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These rounded cruise-control buttons may be familiar to owners of certain US Honda models.

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The N-One comes standard with a CVT. This RS-trim tester is also furnished with paddle shifters that access seven preselected ratios. 

No manual transmission is available.

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Keeping the CVT's shift lever off the floor helps maximize interior space.

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Overlapping analog gauges are clear and basic, if somewhat dated in appearance.

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The pedal box is surprisingly roomy, and despite being a right-hand-drive car, the N-One's foot-operated parking brake still sits on the left side of the well.

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Graphics from the double-DIN navigation system look somewhat dated.

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You can't see it here, but the Gathers navigation screen will even let you watch TV (when you're parked, please).

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The single-zone HVAC system boasts Plasmacluster ionizing tech to curb odors.

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With only 55 hp on offer, you might want to think twice about thumbing that Econ button.

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Take storage where you can find it.

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RS models feature silver-look door trim, but the dealer has lots of custom finishes and graphics if you'd prefer something different.

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Plenty of headroom for two full-size adults in back.

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Just check out that massive rear-seat legroom. That's with the front seats in their proper place for a 5-foot, 9-inch driver.

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There's not a ton of room with the rear seats up, but you could get a small suitcase and a duffel back here, or some grocery bags.

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Notice the ultralow liftover height.

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The rear seats fold dead flat and lock in place.

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I've seen smaller Japanese studio apartments.

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Fold up the rear seats' bottom cushions to tote bikes, big-screen TVs and over-the-top ikebana arrangements.

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Bet you could fit a big dog back here. Maybe two.

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Now, with humans for scale.

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The N-One starts at around $10,850 at today's exchange rates. RS models like my tester work out to $15,700 before options -- less than the base price of a Fiat 500.

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