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Just about Copen. Image by Daihatsu.

Just about Copen
Have you noticed how tiny the Copen really is? Get past that and there's a proper helping of entertainment to be had.

 



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| Week at the Wheel | Daihatsu Copen |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

Have you ever had an LOL directed at you on the street? Well, it was more a ROFL than an LOL, but however you want to define it, it was a PITA. I'm talking about the time I first dared to venture out in the Daihatsu Copen, obviously, and the impudent Audi A4 driver who saw me crawl into Sainsbury's car park, tap his mate on the shoulder, then point and burst out laughing. At 6'4", me and the Copen don't fit together very well, and to be honest, if it were the other way around I'd probably LMAO too.

But the Copen isn't a bad looking car; it's just a car for small people. No car quite says 'tiny' like Daihatsu's halo product - not even the original Mini. Mind, given the automotive trend towards downsizing, Daihatsu might have a future classic on its hands.

So, in conclusion, it's small. And because there's minimal seat and wheel adjustment, it's cramped for head and legroom, a problem exacerbated by a massive aftermarket Momo steering wheel (part of a 500 leather pack that includes heated leather seats). It's also a quite plasticky, quite creaky, quite archaic, and a little bit dour inside.

And in the age of the 15-second, one-touch roof, it becomes extra frustrating when you try to get the roof down and it doesn't work. I was evidently incapable of meeting the conditions required to open it - something to do with some bracket or shelf in the boot, I think. Anyway, I was actually quite relieved; the 'head above the windscreen' look isn't the best.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

Daihatsu has given the Copen an unusual type of facelift, in that it hasn't changed the exterior, but chosen to replace the entire engine and alter the gearing: the 600cc turbo of the original is exchanged for a 1.3-litre naturally aspirated unit that's better on fuel and emissions and it's quicker, while the gear ratios have been lengthened for better motorway ability.

On paper the difference is marked. Top speed rises from 106mph to 112mph; 0-62mph whizzes by a full 2.2 seconds quicker - now 9.5 seconds; CO2 drops by 11g/km to 140g/km and fuel economy rises slightly to 47.1mpg. And those positive advantages come hand-in-hand with an altogether more civilised power delivery, though the engine still revs freely and feels fast enough for a car of these dimensions and weight. The transmission too, while not the smoothest to transition from gear-to-gear, still has a well-honed, solid sort of precision. All in, the Copen's drivetrain has lost something of the raw edge imbued by its little turbocharged predecessor, but in exchange it has taken on a shred of mechanical integrity and maturity.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

In this area the little Daihatsu almost excels. The manner in which the short-chassis, firmly-sprung Copen tackles twists and roundabouts is close to hilarious. It really does feel like a car honed on someone's favourite back road; pulling a second gear lift-off tail slide back into line is just as easy as getting it out in the first place. And despite its girth, the wheel transmits plenty of positive feedback; the car turns in with sharpness without the steering ever feeling twitchy.

It's arguably not a 'pure' sportscar because it's front-wheel drive, but when the chassis is so short and the power so manageable, that doesn't matter. The brakes - which grew with the facelift - feel strong too, contributing to the Copen's overall sense of mechanical integrity.

The problem, however, is that it's so 'jiggly' that many will find it too uncompromising to live with day-to-day - yet it's not quite good enough for a proper enthusiast to consider above, say, a used Elise. The Copen easily handles with enough malleability to be taken seriously among some of the best roadsters, but in every other area it falls short - it makes a Mazda MX-5 look butch and practical.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

The other thing that Daihatsu did when it gave its designers four weeks off during Copen facelift month was asked its accountants what it could do about the price. "Drop it by 2k," they said.

So that's what you get - a cleaner and quicker hardtop cabriolet, now tangibly cheaper. Daihatsu has extended the service intervals too, from a measly 3,000 miles to a more reasonable 9,000. We've already discussed the high forties fuel economy and though you might expect that of such a miniscule car, it's still appealing relative to the Copen's giggle factor.

And despite appearances, it's well equipped for loot; ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution are standard, as is air conditioning and polished alloy wheels, which are small and will be cost-effective to re-shoe. Actually, there are only three options: Recaro seats (895), metallic paint (350) and leather (500).

Overall: star star star star star

You'll take one look at the Daihatsu Copen and decide whether it's for you or not. If you haven't instantly laughed it off, there's a genuinely entertaining handler there for a very reasonable price. It's often tricky to discuss target markets, especially with sportscars - people like what they like - but we do wonder whether the Copen falls between a rock and a hard place, the rock being the raft of very good and very non-laughable alternatives on the market (two of which we've already name-checked). The hard place is the Copen itself, whose uncompromising ride - and non-existent practicality - will limit its appeal to those perhaps looking at it not as a driving tool, but as an off-the-wall and rare runabout. Still, if you're even thinking about it, you should try it.

Mark Nichol - 18 Jun 2009









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2009 Daihatsu Copen specifications:
0-62mph: 9.5 seconds
Top speed: 112mph
Combined economy: 47.1mpg
Emissions: 140g/km
Kerb weight: 850kg

Full technical specifications

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.



2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.
 

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.
 

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.
 

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.
 

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.
 

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.
 

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.
 

2009 Daihatsu Copen. Image by Daihatsu.
 






 

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