Summer is here and the motorist's eye is caught by attractive and fun little sports cars with drop tops. For some, hardcore thrills of the ilk of the Lotus Elise
are what will satisfy their needs. The majority though will probably seek something stylish, enjoyable and easy to live with on a daily basis. The list of such cars is long and contains the names of Audi, Mercedes and BMW amongst others, but at what price? In the real world many people can't stretch to the £20k plus needed to buy a convertible and small fun cars on a lesser budget have become more of a regular sight. Witness the Streetka, Tigra, the eccentric Smart Roadster
, and this latest offering, the Copen from Daihatsu.
So, first impressions then: the Copen's looks are cute and feminine. There are shades of the Audi TT
and Boxster here and there but the yellow of our test car produced more Noddy comments than I'd have liked to cope with. Make no mistake, if you are male and you drive one of these cars people will mock you and question certain aspects of your lifestyle. Women seem to escape such quips. However, the Copen has a cult following; something about this car will entice people into it regardless of the negative vibes so you must persevere to uncover the car's talents.
For one, the roof is a marvel; the press spiel makes reference to the Mercedes SLK and, to be fair, it isn't as ludicrous as it sounds. Unclipping the two side fasteners that latch the hard top in place and pull on the toggle switch and sit and marvel. A series of little motors whirr into life and after a perfectly choreographed engineering ballet the roof is stowed in the boot. It's one of those things that you get your mate to sit in the car and pull the switch for so you can enjoy it. I watched it several times, increasingly impressed. So that's the Copen then, a cutesy car with a flash roof.
Well not quite. Once you've admired the quality engineering and attention to detail on the outside clamber in and be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the interior. It isn't the most spacious environment, but not as claustrophobic as the external dimensions would suggest. I'd call it snug. Visibility is slightly hampered by the leading edge of the roof but remains quite good nonetheless. Plenty of standard equipment including a CD player and air conditioning combine with a well laid out cabin to give an impression of decent quality. The materials add to this. This may be a little car with a large price tag, but I would say that it is good value for money.
Your perception of value increases when you drive the Copen. Prepare to be surprised. Under the bonnet beats a humble little heart of only 659cc, but what a little gem. At first the mysterious high pitched whirring has you wondering if there is some form of electric kitchen utensil under the bonnet but the demented Moulinex sound track is the give away of a little turbo plumbed onto the four pot engine. This combines with the optimised breathing of the four valve head and the inherent low inertia of the lightweight engine to give a magically sparkling and revvy unit.
As happy at 8500rpm as it is at 850rpm, its turbo endows it with genuinely useful torque that the short-geared close ratio box exploits to the maximum. Usable grunt from 2000rpm perpetuates all the way to that stratospheric red line. Revving the tits off it is where the fun is! Drive it like you hate it and mechanical sympathy is never an issue; this engine wants to be spanked. This would be to little or no avail if the chassis was poor but fear not. Daihatsu has engineered a real peach of a chassis on this car. Obviously developed by enthusiasts, the fun starts with direct and feelsome steering, continues with great grip and agility and culminates with adjustability via throttle and brake. I drove this little car as fast and as hard as I've driven some exotica and laughed my head off all the way; all the while discovering more hidden depths in that chassis and never burning fuel at more than 38mpg. This is one of the few cars you can thrash within an inch of its life with no fear of retribution from fragile mechanicals, a biting chassis or the law. It isn't fast enough to get into real trouble; a little mischief yes, but any speed above an amble feels quick.
The looks and roof will sway the purchase decision for many buyers before they climb into the Copen. For those individuals the fact it drives so well will be a bonus. For others, particularly enthusiastic drivers, the delight lies in the way the Copen drives and this above all else will make them part with the cash. For my money it's a better car than the Smart Roadster and entertains more than that and the Tigra and Streetka. At the end of the day it may look like a bit of a Noddy car, especially in the test car's yellow, but so what? It's great fun, and if Noddy were driving one it would go some way to explaining why he was always grinning!