Kei Trucks or Mini Vehicles – Which is better

Kei Trucks or Mini Vehicles can both be considered when looking for a small economical car. Both vehicles are similar in their aesthetic. But does this mean that both are the same? They are not. Fundamental differences between the two affect the drivability and functionality of the car or truck chosen. Before you purchase your small automobile, it is important that you know some of the key differences between the two. If you are considering purchasing a Kei Truck or Mini Vehicle, read on.

Kei Trucks or Mini Vehicles which is best? Orange Kei truck shown.

Where is the power?

The first thing to consider when looking at your next vehicle is the power source. Specifically, know where the engine is placed within the vehicle. On Mini Vehicles, meaning the small vehicles which are on the market domestically, the engine is always in the front. Small vehicles adhere to the layout of full-size vehicles. You have the engine in the center front and the battery against the framework.

Kei trucks are different with the engine placement. Depending upon the generation that you choose and the brand that you consider, the engine could be in various places. Most common is in the front, under the driver’s seat. Access to the engine is conducted by lifting the seat in which it is under.

Some models have the engine in the rear. Other vehicles, mainly the newer generations, have the engine at the front. It is important that you know where the engine is on the Kei truck, as this will save you from frustrations when trying to find the battery. The battery is always within proximity of the engine against the framework.

Power options

Once you have located the engine, the next consideration between the Kei Trucks of Mini Vehicles is the power that the engine produces. Small vehicles have more power, providing about 134 to 189hp. This allows for higher speeds when on the road. The Kei trucks do not produce the same amount of power. Again, depending on the generation and the model, the power will fluctuate.

The small engines of the Kei are primarily a 668cc to 698cc engine. This allows for speeds of up to 89mph. But if you choose an older model, you will have lower power options. For example, first-generation models have a 356cc engine which only allows speeds of up to 45mph. Choose the Kei truck, which best suits your needs. If you are looking for a more modern engine with substantial power, a Suzuki Carry or the Subaru Sambar may be the best option for you, as both have upgraded their engines recently.


There is a big difference in the Kei Trucks or Mini Vehicles when it comes to the transmission options. Most of the mini trucks and cars on the market have an automatic transmission. This allows you to have various options, usually 6 speeds. Manual may be offered, but there is no loss of the transmission options, meaning you get a 5 or 6-speed manual shift transmission.

Kei vehicles have variables between the manual and the automatic transmission. For the manual transmission, the speeds are usually 4 to 5-speed. Automatic transmissions are 3 to 4 speed on most of the models available.

Kei Trucks or Mini Vehicles? Kei trucks have less seating options like this white Kei Truck.

Seating differences of the Kei Truck and Mini Vehicles

While both vehicles look similar, there are differences in how they drive and the comfort of the drive. For the mini-vehicle, the seating is usually 2 to 4 persons. Some of the larger mini vehicles have storage in the back. Access to this storage is typically through a hatchback door. Where it may be labeled as a mini-vehicle, the size of the cars and trucks tends to be larger than the Kei, being labeled mini only because they are smaller than their full-size counterparts.

Kei trucks, and vans are small for a reason. They are specifically designed for the functionality of getting from point A to point B. All the extra stuff that you find in larger vehicles has been cut out. The seating in a Kei is 2 person, unless the vehicle has been converted to a van or camper. Where the vehicle has been converted, you may seat up to 6 people. Kei trucks do not have storage space because the trucks have a bed that can be used for such. If the vehicle has been converted to a van or camper, the same hatchback access as the small vehicle comes into play.

Drivability differences

Mini vehicles are designed for the street and city. As stated earlier, they are the smaller counterpart of the larger vehicles in their class. Therefore, you can expect the performance of the drive to be like that of the full-size option. Most of the vehicles are not designed for off-road use, making it hard to navigate in smaller spaces or on terrain. And while there is an ability to handle some hills, you may find that there is a bit of strain when you come to steep inclines when operating a mini vehicle.

Kei trucks are different in their drivability. Because of their small design and how the vehicle’s weight is distributed, the Kei truck is suitable for off-road and in-city use. The small design makes it great for navigating alleyways and small streets. But the design also allows for terrain navigation. Most Kei trucks can handle inclines of up to 20ᵒ.

Which is better Kei Trucks or Mini Vehicles?

It depends on what you need. If you need to have a fast vehicle for the highways and byways of the city, then a mini vehicle is the best option for you. However, if you wish to have a cheaper vehicle (usually a few thousand dollars cheaper) that is great for in the city and off-road use, the Kei truck may be the best option for you.

Check with the local taxation and importation authority to find out more about any state ordinances for Kei trucks before purchasing.