I’m still enjoying the little Daihatsu, though I’m surprised at the amount of flack I’ve attracted since buying it. I can’t really see what people have against the thing. Sure, it’s no classic, but then was a Mk2 Golf really that interesting? No. It really, REALLY wasn’t. Yet that car attracted nothing but praise. It’s amazing what an advertising campaign can do for a car.
I think it has more to do with being Japanese. There’s still this belief that the Japanese can’t make cars that are fun. “Surely only the Italians can make small cars that entertain,” says the world, ignoring the fact that the Japanese have been building absolutely incredible small cars since the 1960s.
Honda’s S800 was the first car it tried to sell in the UK. It used a tiny 796cc four-cylinder engine, with four tiny carburettors and a red line somewhere beyond 8000rpm. 8000! It screamed like a racing motorbike compared to the overhead-valve plodders built in Great Britain at the time, which would run out of puff comfortably before 6000rpm. It was a technical tour-de-force.
Daihatsu itself build the Charade GTti in the 1980s as a response to the supermini hot-hatch market. With a triple-cylinder engine and a turbocharger, it was lunacy on wheels. It was a mere hint at what that firm could do. I still desire a Mira Avanzato TR-XX after reading about them when I was at school. Built to Kei-Car regulations (restricting size and speed for the Japanese market) the TR-XX had a 659cc three-cylinder engine, turbocharging, intercooling and four-wheel drive all crammed into a package only 3.3 metres long and weighing just over 700kg. It could scorch to 60mph in less than nine seconds. It was bonkers. Who needs a bigger car?
Now, my Sirion takes a leisurely 15 seconds to get to 60mph but the thing is, it doesn’t feel it when you’re behind the wheel! It feels much quicker, sounds fantastic and 60mph feels like the land speed record.
The screaming transmission is just hilarious. On my Land Rover, it means the transmission is worn out. With Daihatsu, I can’t help thinking they engineered it in specially because it would be funny.
Oh sure. It’s not perfect. The ride is a bit crashy and bouncy (though still better than the Golf), there are quite a few trim rattles and the steering is far too light. But it’s incredibly pleasant to drive and feels like it just wants to please. Getting into my Discovery today was a bit of a shock. I almost needed two feet for the clutch!
Well, I’ve done my bit to defend the Sirion from a surprising number of detractors. The poor thing sits in limbo land – too old to be new and too new to be old. But this is where the good folk of Autoshite realise that the bargains can be found, just like in the 1980s when a rusty Mk2 Jaguar was hard to give away. That doesn’t mean I reckon I’m sitting on an investment though. Japanese classics are woefully overlooked in this country (witness my giveaway-cheap Nissan Bluebird) and I’ve already discovered that Daihatsu forums, clubs and enthusiasts seem to be in horrifically short supply. If you find any, do let me know where they are hiding!