Honda NBox review

I’m a big fan, so I thought it was time for a Honda NBox review.

I first saw a Honda NBox when I visited a Honda showroom in Tokyo in 2012. I was really impressed and hopefully some of the reasons for that will come across in this review.

The Honda NBox is a kei car and I’m not alone in being a fan: it has topped the kei car sales charts in Japan on many occasions. Honda have managed to pack so much into this small car.

Picture of the front left quarter view of a 2012 Honda N-Box Custom for sale



Honda know a thing or two about making small engines and it shows in the NBox.

Under the bonnet you’ll find Honda’s S07A petrol engine. It has 3 cylinders, 658 cc, and 12 valves with dual overhead camshafts. This engine has a timing chain rather than a belt.

You have a choice of normally aspirated or turbocharged engines. The turbo increases the power from 58 to 63 hp and the torque from 65 Nm to 104 Nm.

You may be interested to know that the turbocharged version is also found in the Honda S660.


All NBoxes have continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). More about that later.

They’re available in front wheel drive or 4WD. This is the same ‘real time’ 4WD system that you’ll find in many other Hondas: just the front wheels are driven when the grip is good, but when they start to spin, 4WD is engaged automatically.

How to identify 2WD vs. 4WD versions without looking underneath? Chassis numbers starting with ‘JF1’ are 2WD and ‘JF2’ indicates 4WD.

Suspension, brakes, wheels

This is the familiar McPherson strut at the front and de Dion at the rear.

The brakes are disc at the front and drum at the back. Those discs are solid, no need for vented discs in a car with 58 bhp and an unladen weight of 940 kg!

Wheels are mostly 14 inch diameter, with 155/65 R14 tyres. Steel and alloy wheels are available, with the latter being more common on Custom models (more on those later). Custom turbo models have 15 inch wheels.

Looks and equipment

Postman Pat. There you go, I’ve said it so you don’t have to! When you drive one of these or share a picture, it’s only a matter of time before someone mentions Greendale’s favourite postie. Even the reception staff at my local Honda dealership couldn’t resist the comparison.

Clearly the looks won’t be to everyone’s taste, but as well as the Postman Pat jokes, I’ve noticed a lot of admiring glances when out on the road in an NBox. People can’t stop themselves from looking…and in many cases turning round for a second look!

For me, the boxiness is softened by just the right amount of curves and rounded edges/corners.

Standard, Custom, Plus?

There is a bewildering array of options and trim levels available, so in this section of my Honda NBox review I’ll try to offer some clarification.

Broadly speaking, the NBox comes in 2 flavours when it comes to looks: the ‘standard’ NBox and the NBox Custom.

The following pictures illustrate the main difference, which is the appearance from the front. The Custom models have a more ‘sporty’ appearance, with a lower front bumper, side skirts and rear spoiler, as well as the obvious differences in lights and front grille. There are also minor differences in the appearance of the instrument cluster.

Picture showing front right quarter view of a 2012 Honda N-Box Custom
Front right quarter view showing red garnet pearl paint in sunlight - 2012 Honda NBox for sale

Having decided on the standard or custom NBox, your next decision is whether you want the ‘plus’ option. Plus models have a tailgate that goes down to the bottom of the rear bumper and a redesigned boot, giving more load space than the original configuration. The trade off is less leg room for the rear seat passengers. The plus spec also offers some ‘interesting’ roof mounted storage bins / speaker pods in the back. Both standard and custom models are available with the ‘plus’ configuration.

Our review of the plus models should also include the ‘sloper’ or wheelchair access vehicles. NBox plus models are available with a built in ramp and securing straps for transporting someone in a wheelchair.


Here are some lists of the equipment in the Honda NBox. Some of these things are optional and I’ve tried to indicate this where relevant.

Driving aids & safety

  • Electric power steering.
  • ABS.
  • Electronic stability control.
  • Driver and passenger airbags.
  • Reversing camera – not a certainty, but very common across the range.
  • Cruise control – only available on turbo models.
  • Paddle shift – fairly pointless on a CVT automatic transmission, but available on turbo models.
  • Idle stop – this was available as an option across the range. There are quite a lot of parameters to be met before it will kick in, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work all the time. NBoxes have tiny batteries!
  • Front fog lights – generally only found on Custom models, but there are some higher spec standard NBoxes with front fog lights too.

Comfort and convenience

  • Remote central locking with keyless entry and starting.
  • Electric windows all round.
  • Electric mirrors (adjustment and folding).
  • Air conditioning – standard across the range, with all but the most basic models having automatic climate control.
  • Power sliding doors – it’s very common to have a left side power sliding rear door and about 50:50 to have one on the right as well. Power doors on both sides are more common with the higher spec models, although not guaranteed.


The NBox excels at practicality. It has way more usable space than many much larger cars (I’m thinking of the vast majority of so called SUVs here – funny that a lot of them don’t really excel at the U part of their title…or the S in a lot of cases). Where was I? Aah yes, practicality.

The rear seats are the same ‘magic seats’ that you may already know about if you’ve owned other Hondas (e.g. Jazz / Fit). For the uninitiated, not only do the seats fold flat to the floor, but the seat bases can be folded upwards and locked in position, turning the rear passenger seating area into a very useful and tall load space. Honda’s original brochure showed a child standing up in this space and elsewhere a tall plant being loaded.

The rear sliding doors on both sides give really good access to this space and the low floor and sturdy grab handles also help those with limited mobility (people or dogs!) get into the NBox.

For maximum load carriage, both rear seats fold flat to the floor, creating that huge load area I mentioned at the start of this section.

The practicality section wouldn’t be complete without mention of the 90 degree opening front doors. Not unique to the NBox but thoroughly useful all the same for getting in and out. Unlike many cars, the door handle can still be reached from the driver’s seat with the door fully open.


“It’s a small car, I’m 6ft2, will I fit?” I’ve been asked this question a number of times and the answer in almost all cases is yes.

Picture of the interior of a 2012 Honda N-Box Custom with all the doors open

The first thing I noticed when taking a seat in an NBox was that it feels like a much bigger car from the inside. The seats are comfortable and not at all cramped. The large windscreen (and its distance from the driver) adds to the sense of space, as does the substantial head room.

Rear seat occupants also have plenty of space – in fact more than those in the front. They’re also well catered for with cup holders and arm rests!

Driving experience

A push of the big red start button sees the engine fire up quickly. There is much less vibration from this 3 cylinder unit compared to a lot of others with the same cylinder complement. Honda know a thing or two about making small engines: that definitely shows here.

With the foot operated parking brake released and ‘D’ selected, the NBox moves off smoothly. It could never be described as a fast car, but in my opinion it can make impressive progress for it’s (engine) size.

If you haven’t encountered CVT transmission before, you might notice the engine revs during acceleration are different to a ‘standard’ automatic transmission with gears. The electronics vary the gear ratio to get the most efficient operation of the engine by holding its revs within a set range. This means that when you’re accelerating, the engine will rev up initially but the revs will stay more or less constant until you stop accelerating. Despite the revs staying constant, the speed is increasing!

As with many other Hondas, the NBox is equipped with a green ‘ECON’ button. Switching out of ‘ECON’ mode (it’s on by default) improves acceleration by changing the transmission control to allow the engine to rev higher.

It sips fuel anyway, but the NBox has another trick up its sleeve to encourage fuel efficient driving. Parts of the speedometer illumination change colour to green when you’re driving economically.

The electronic power steering is entirely as you’d expect: light and easy with limited feedback and sense of connection.

Cornering at speed is probably the weakest area of the NBox driving experience. It does fairly well and never feels unsafe, but there is plenty of body roll and understeer if you push it. Those last 4 words are important, because enthusiastic cornering isn’t what it’s designed to do. Skinny tyres and a car taller than it is wide are never going to make for an exhilarating cornering experience. In everyday use the cornering performance is excellent.

While we’re on the subject of speed, lots of people ask if the NBox can be driven on the motorway. The answer is yes! I’ve spent many hours driving NBoxes on motorways. They will do 70 mph, but definitely feel most comfortable closer to 60 mph. Remember the speed limit on ‘motorways’ in Japan is generally 100 kph (~60 mph). In summary, these cars are fine for occasional motorway use, but if you need to do long distance motorway journeys frequently, you should probably be looking elsewhere.

Visibility is great when driving and the split view door mirrors really help too: some recalibration of road positioning can be needed if you’re not used to driving such a narrow car.

Manoeuvering is another area where the NBox excels. I’ve already mentioned the need to recalibrate road positioning: it’s likely that your sense of gaps you can fit through and space required for turning round will also need some adjustment. The turning circle is really small and the collection of extra mirrors helps optimise your use of the available space.

Extra mirrors? Oh yes, 3 of them! Well actually there are 4, but they give 3 extra ‘views:’

  • Wide angle mirror at the top of the tailgate gives a view of the rear bumper.
  • Lower part of the 2 part mirror next to the passenger side A pillar gives a forward view on the nearside. Wait…you’re looking in a mirror to look ahead? Yep…this one takes a little while to get your head round.
  • Upper part of the same 2 part mirror gives a view down to the curb on the nearside, to help with efficient parking without alloy wheel curbing.
Picture of the front interior space of a 2012 Honda N-Box Custom

Want one?

That brings me to the end of this Honda NBox review. If you’d like a Honda NBox of your own, please get in touch. I’d be happy to import one for you.

If you already own an NBox and need parts, I can help with that too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.