Daihatsu Charade (2003) | CARkeys

26 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Daihatsu Charade (2003) | CARkeys
Daihatsu Charade

Daihatsu Charade


On sale here from late May, the Charade is, according to maker Daihatsu, set to re-write the city car rulebook. A fine piece of PR spin if ever there was one, but it might just be true.

The Charade certainly looks good on paper. It’s cheap, it’s well-equipped, the performance is impressive for a car with a one-litre engine, and the economy and CO2 figures are so good you’d swear you were reading the spec sheet for a diesel version (though you’re not – there is no diesel engine in the range).

In real life, the Charade is a little metal box. Daihatsu has tried to make the car stylish, and in fact has managed to achieve a decent aerodynamic drag figure of 0.31, but there’s a limit to how attractive you can make a car of this size and still keep a reasonable level of practicality.

Not that style is too important in this sector. The more significant thing about the Charade is that it has a truly astonishing amount of passenger room. It will accommodate four six-footers with ease, thanks partly to the fact that the two in the rear can park their feet under the front seats. Luggage space is far more confined, to the extent that the Charade will not carry much in the way of shopping in the normal boot area.

The rear seat folds down in two sections to create extra volume, but that leaves a very high load space and I suspect the more efficient method would be to carry luggage on the unfolded seat itself.

The 989cc three-cylinder engine is a sturdy little unit and gives the Charade a fine turn of speed for a car of this type, certainly in conjunction with the five-speed manual gearbox. It won’t quite reach 100mph (not that anyone is likely to ask it to) but the 0-62mph time of 12.2 seconds gives some idea of how good the performance is. You don’t feel you’re having to hammer the car on motorways to keep up with the rest of the traffic.

You can also choose a four-speed automatic transmission, which blunts the performance and also sends the CO2 reading up from 114g/km to 140. I drove an automatic immediately after trying out a manual, a very unfair test which actually worked out rather well. The automatic is a good, smooth-changing box, and it doesn’t transform the Charade into a slowcoach.

Because the Charade is very light, it can be usefully quick without using much fuel. Economy is particularly impressive in the manual – the extra-urban and combined figures are 68.9mpg and 58.9mpg respectively, while the automatic lags behind at 55.4 and 47.6.

Manoeuvring in town is very easy thanks to light steering, the short overall length and an incredibly small turning circle – I wanted to see how the Charade would manage a three-point turn and it took me some time to find a road between whose pavements the car wouldn’t zip in one go.

Daihatsu Charade

When pressed, the engine thunders along with that characteristic three-cylinder sound, but in more gentle driving it’s remarkably quiet considering it’s made of so little noise-absorbing stuff. Along with a very smooth ride and composed handling, this makes the Charade seem quite refined most of the time (Daihatsu quotes the much larger Renault Clio as its benchmark in this respect), though you only have to open the doors or the tailgate to realise that it’s actually fairly flimsy.

There’s a lot of safety equipment, all the same. ABS, EBD, side impact beams and front airbags are standard across the range, and I did like the extra safety touches such as the shock-absorbing spaces for the windscreen wiper pivots and bonnet hinges.

All very impressive and practical. Another aspect of the Charade is rather less practical and suggests that some of Daihatsu’s designers spent a little too long tasting the fruit of the whimsy tree. When you turn on the ignition the LCD display on the instrument panel reads Hello, Happy in scrolling letters, and when you switch off again it reads See You – Goodbye.

Or at least it will in the cars that go on sale over here. The cars in this test were pre-production models, and the second message was actually See You – Good-by. Apparently CARkeys was the first UK magazine to spot the spelling hiccup (we confidently expect a Pedantry Award from the industry for this achievement) but Daihatsu’s importers already knew about it and have asked Japan to sort it out.

In fact Daihatsu’s UK people went so far as to ask if the messages could be deleted altogether. It seems that they can’t.

The facility is built in to the ECU, and if the message creation software were switched off the Charade’s ABS would stop working and sheets of flame would issue from the exhaust. Something like that, anyway.

The Charade range starts with the three-door EL at a marketably low £5995, and there’s a five-door version costing £6495. The next step up is the SL, which is only available as a five-door and gets air-conditioning, side airbags and alloy rather than steel wheels. On-the-road price for that one is £6995.

The automatic gearbox is a £695 option on all models.

Daihatsu Charade
Daihatsu Charade
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