Daihatsu Copen first drive: More fun, less money – Telegraph

22 Oct 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Daihatsu Copen first drive: More fun, less money – Telegraph
Daihatsu Copen

Daihatsu Copen

first drive: More fun, less money

Now with a 1.3-litre engine, Daihatsu’s Copen has few rivals, says Rod Ker

Peugeot first introduced a décapotable électrique way back in 1934, so it was appropriate that the 206CC should popularise the idea in the new millennium. Offering the security of a closed car with the wind-in-the-toupée delights of a soft top convertible, press-button retractable metal roofs have been popping up (and down) everywhere in the past few years.

Daihatsu’s Copen is the smallest and cheapest offering in an expanding market niche. And the cutest, too, judging by the general reaction. In contrast to the scowling world that surrounds planet-destroying pariahs ensconced in two-ton 4x4s, this bijou machine tends to elicit smiles, or in some cases outright laughter.

Amusing bystanders is one thing, but the latest version also has a greatly increased ability to please the driver, thanks to a new engine. First shown as a concept in 1999, the Copen (a contraction of Coupe-Open, perhaps) owes its existence to Japan’s K-car legislation, which gives vehicles of restricted size, capacity and power exemption from various parking and licensing requirements.

An engine capacity of 660cc and 64PS (about 63bhp) is your lot, hence the original model’s frenetic turbocharged three-cylinder engine. This reached the UK in 2004, and became something of a cult car, notwithstanding a price tag similar to that of a fully-grown 206CC.

As Tony Dron discovered when he first tested the car in these pages (Motoring, June 28, 2003) the tiny turbo engine gave respectable results but the Copen cried out for something meatier under the bonnet. So the 2007 European edition comes with the 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine from the Sirion, mildly tweaked to produce 86bhp at 6,000rpm. Top speed is now 112mph and the 0-60mph sprint takes well under 10 seconds – proper sports car territory.

At the same time, the fuel consumption is better and emissions are reduced. Despite all that, at £10,995 on the road the price is £2,500 lower than it was in 2004.

The original version could be fun in the right circumstances, but it could also be exasperating, because the power vanished as soon as the revs dropped and turbo boost faded. The American no substitute for cubic inches mantra applies as much here as with huge V8s. Although 85bhp sounds like a cure for insomnia on paper, in a small, lightweight package it’s plenty to keep a keen driver entertained. You might never be going very fast, but your subjective speedometer says otherwise.

One passenger was convinced we were about to be hunted down by Richard Brunstrom in a helicopter until I pointed out that we were only doing 57mph. Some might suggest that this is a negative quality, but I think it’s exactly what we need in Gatsoland, especially when coupled with 50mpg fuel economy.

Considering its compact external dimensions (3,440mm long, 1,475mm wide), the Copen is roomy, with plenty of space in the footwells and a dished roof that gives just enough headroom for six-footers. The boot is also surprisingly commodious – at least until you undo two catches and press the button that lowers the lid, leaving a space just about big enough to stow a copy of the latest Harry Potter, opened at page 326.

Roof operation takes about 25 seconds, which seems a long time in a thunderstorm, I can report. The interior is refreshingly simple and functional, a worthwhile option being the £500 leather pack, which includes heated seats and a Momo steering wheel. With such a short wheelbase, a choppy ride is inevitable, but the extra cushioning given by a set of slightly higher-profile tyres would have been welcome in most circumstances.

And as in most convertibles, going topless increases the jiggle factor noticeably due to scuttle shake. There are more restful cars, certainly, but on a smooth road the suspension settled down. Against all the odds, the Copen also felt directionally stable and fairly quiet in a blustery wind on a motorway.

With the possible exception of a Mazda MX-5, which is significantly bigger and rather more expensive unless you buy nearly-new or secondhand, there’s really no direct competition for the Copen now that the Smart Roadster/Coupé is defunct. Going back about 10 years, the Suzuki Cappuccino was possibly the nearest equivalent, but both were in any case blighted by their K-car capacity engines.

To find the true ancestor, students of ancient motoring history must recall that Britain once produced a sports car called the MG Midget. What they may not know is that in 1965 a pint-sized convertible made by Daihatsu became the first Japanese car officially imported into Britain, and that the company responsible is celebrating its centenary in 2007, making it about 20 years older than MG.

Daihatsu Copen [tech/spec]

Daihatsu Copen

Price/availability: £10,995. On sale now.

Engine/transmission: 1,298cc, four-cylinder petrol with DOHC and four valves per cylinder; 86bhp at 6,000rpm, 88.5lb ft of torque at 4,400rpm. Five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive.

Performance: top speed 112mph, 0-62mph in 9.5sec, EU Urban fuel consumption 36.7mpg, CO2 emissions 140g/km.

We like: Immediacy, compactness, fun, economy.

We don’t like: Luggage space with roof lowered, ride, scuttle shake.

Alternatives: No direct competitors. Consider Peugeot 207CC, from £14,795. Mitsubishi Colt CZC, from £14,026. Vauxhall Tigra, from £13,995. Nissan Micra C+C, from £13,500.

Used Mazda MX-5 1.6, from £5,000. Restored MG Midget or Austin Healey Sprite, from about £3,000, or Frogeye Sprite, about £8,000 in top condition.

Daihatsu Copen
Daihatsu Copen
Daihatsu Copen
Daihatsu Copen
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