Satoru Azumi, chief engineer of Honda S660, was ‘under great pressure’ to meet City RS expectations

I’ve wanted the Honda S660 since it came out in 2015. It’s a kei car, but it’s unlike any Japanese mini car on sale today. With the engine behind the cabin channeling drive to the rear axle, the S660 is a baby NSX and a spiritual successor to the Honda Beat of the 90s. Six-speed manual available, too. It’s the coolest kei car around, no contest.

The large project leader (LPL, Honda’s internal term for chief engineer) of the S660 was Satoru Azumi. Azumi san first joined Honda as an exterior engineering designer of the Civic series before taking on the role of project leader for the second-generation City in 2001. He later became assistant LPL for the Accord in 2008. Then came the cool and coveted S660 project.

Some might think that after taking charge of such an engineering feat – essentially miniaturising a mid-engine rear-wheel-drive sportscar while adhering to myriad limitations of the type – doing a regular three-box family sedan would be a cinch. Straightforward stuff. Definitely not. In fact, it might be even harder.

Satoru Azumi, chief engineer of Honda S660, was ‘under great pressure’ to meet City RS expectations

Consider this. A sports car appeals to a narrow crowd of car enthusiasts. These “car guys” generally have a more or less fixed view of what’s desirable and what’s not. Those coming up with a sports car – provided they have the budget and freedom from above to do so, of course – need to please this small group.

Mass market sedans on the other hand need to be nearly everything to nearly everyone. And to complicate matters, “everyone” is different according to market, but carmakers cannot possibly make a car for each market. As LPL for the Honda City RS e:HEV, Azumi san felt “great pressure” to meet the expectations of Asian customers, and we can only imagine the burden of this responsibility.

In an interview with WithDreams – Honda Malaysia’s in-house magazine that has now gone online – Azumi talks about the City RS e:HEV, the philosophies behind the model, what they tried to achieve with it, and the car’s strong points. The Q&A is below, verbatim.

Satoru Azumi, chief engineer of Honda S660, was ‘under great pressure’ to meet City RS expectations

WithDreams: What were your thoughts when you were selected as the LPL for new City RS e:HEV?

Satoru Azumi: We knew that Honda City is a very important model in the Asian market, as Asian customers have always been very enthusiastic towards the model. So, we were under great pressure to meet their expectations to build a car that would make them truly happy. It was a very rewarding experience.

What were the Honda philosophies that guided you throughout the project development phase?

The Honda philosophy includes ‘Respect for People’ and ‘Three Joys’ and these words describe exactly how the development was carried out. In the development process, we believe and respect Honda members in each country, and this creates a relationship of trust. I believe that excellent work cannot be created without trust.

When referring to the ‘Three Joys’ philosophy, the first priority is ‘The Joy of Buying’, where I imagined that customers would be happy to buy our products. Next is the ‘Joy of Selling’, which is being able to communicate directly with our customers and to sell our Honda products with confidence. Lastly, for the ‘Joy of Making’, we imagined that all Honda associates and development members in each country would be able to make Honda products with confidence to bring a smile to our customers.

Satoru Azumi, chief engineer of Honda S660, was ‘under great pressure’ to meet City RS expectations

What was the key idea behind the development of the City RS e:HEV?

We wanted to develop the Honda City as a car with a presence that customers can be proud of, even when compared to luxury sedans and SUVs. City was also created as a distinctive car with a strong exterior design and a highly comfortable space that surpasses other models in the market, offering high quality and advanced technology to our customers.

If you could describe the City RS e:HEV in three words, what would they be?

It is the very concept of ‘sense of existence’, ‘security’ and ‘intelligence’.

What are your top three favourite features of the new City RS e:HEV?

I like the exterior design, the interior quality, the handling performance and the comfortable riding experience.

Satoru Azumi, chief engineer of Honda S660, was ‘under great pressure’ to meet City RS expectations

How does the City RS e:HEV stand out from its competitors?

We are confident in its design, features, and driving performance that gives you a sense of security and agility. It is also a competitive sedan in terms of driving performance with its fuel-efficient petrol engine.

Additionally, the City RS e:HEV is equipped with the 1.5L Sports intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) system. e:HEV is Honda’s unique two-motor hybrid system that uses the motor for normal driving, and switches to direct engine drive for high-speed driving.

What is the e:HEV feature that comes with the City RS e:HEV?

The e:HEV powertrain features Honda’s unique two-motor hybrid system that combines outstanding fuel efficiency with a highly-efficient motor and agile yet powerful response with a high-output motor. It can produce a maximum torque of 253 Nm, which is the highest torque in its class. This also means that its output is equivalent to a 2.5L naturally aspirated engine.

What are some of the most distinctive and advanced features of the City RS e:HEV?

As you know, this model is equipped with Honda’s unique two-motor hybrid system powered by i-MMD, which produces highly efficient and agile driving, and Honda Sensing, which provides powerful support for safety and security.

Meanwhile, the chassis performance, which has been further improved and matured from the previous model, achieves linear yet secure handling performance. It was developed to achieve both utility for daily driving and sportiness.

On top of its impressive performance, I believe that our customers can also look forward to the overall design of the vehicle, the texture of the materials we selected for the interior, and the ample amount of space inside the new City RS e:HEV.

Satoru Azumi, chief engineer of Honda S660, was ‘under great pressure’ to meet City RS expectations

Who do you think will enjoy these new features from Honda, and how do you think they will react to them?

The grand concept behind the new Honda City RS e:HEV is ‘Ambitious Sedan’, where we believe the vehicle will definitely please customers with the desire for success by enriching their daily lives, letting them lead a fulfilling life ahead.

We have also introduced Honda Connect, which is the next step in Honda’s advanced technology. With this, we hope our customers will enjoy a richer city life with its agile and sporty driving, comfortable interior space with quietness, and excellent fuel efficiency.

Satoru Azumi, chief engineer of Honda S660, was ‘under great pressure’ to meet City RS expectations

What is Honda Connect and how can people benefit from the it in the City RS e:HEV?

Honda Connect is an intelligent technology designed to provide a seamless connection between your movement and your daily life, combining Safety, Security, and Convenience at your fingertip. By connecting to your smartphone, you can enjoy various features such as Remote Engine Start & Stop, Remote Air Conditioning Control, Security Alarm Detection, and so on.

In addition, emergency calls can be made should you come across an emergency situation, providing a convenient and safe driving experience.

We’ve already covered Honda Connect and the City RS e:HEV, the hybrid range topper of the fifth-generation City line-up – click on the links for more.

GALLERY: Honda City RS e:HEV