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Daihatsu Charade

2003-04-16 07:53

The last time the Charade was seen in South Africa was in the early 80s, and Imperial Daihatsu, which imports the cars into this country, estimates there are still more than 7 000 of these running on our roads.

Since Daihatsu came back into SA in 1993 its economy banner has been carried by the Cuore - a wonderful boxy little machine closely resembling the original Mini is many respects - but which has suffered from a name many people can't pronounce!

The Charade name wasn't available at that time - it was used on a 1.6-litre medium-sized Daihatsu - but realignment of the range means Daihatsu cars have a maximum capacity of 1.3-litres - and the latest entry level five-door, fresh out of Japan, is now a Charade again.

Like its predecessor the new Charade still has a 1-litre 3-cylinder engine, but it's now a 41 kW four-valves-per-cylinder DOHC unit that benefits from improvements in midrange torque over that fitted on the Cuore, as well as a totally new front suspension, revised rear suspension, and brand-new styling.

This latter aspect results in a drag factor of cD=0.31 - excellent for a small car - while space is up by 120 mm in interior length and 80 mm in interior width.

This means four big adults can be carried in comfort - without knees touching the rear seats - while seatbelts are provided for five, the centre rear one being lap strap only, and the front ones height adjustable.

The new cars, which feature a strong wedge shape, steeply sloping bonnet with multifaceted headlamps, "muscle blister" front wheel arches, and a flat back with high mounted lights a la Ford Focus, are thoroughly modern, and come in two specification levels - the entry level CX, and the more luxurious CXL.

Both are available with either five-speed manual gearboxes or a new four-speed automatic.

Common to both models is a new two-spoke steering wheel, digital clock, a simple instrument panel comprising a large speedo calibrated to 180 km/h flanked by water temperature and fuel gauges (tank capacity 36 litres), LED instrument and air/heater controls illumination, remote opening of the rear door and fuel filler cover, door pockets, a drop-down glove box, a utility box, and a floor console.

There's also a rear window demister.

In addition the CXL gets a integrated air-conditioning, electrically-operated windows and mirrors, central locking, two-tone interior trim, a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat (the CX folds but doesn't split), front seat head restraints, a seat back pocket in the rear, and a rear window wiper.

Suspension changes are designed to offer a more compliant and comfortable ride.

At the front this means there are now L-beams attached to the bodywork and onto the suspension instead of the previous system used on the Cuore which attached to a separate sub-frame, while at the back there is more wheel travel and better suspension refinement on the semi-independent torsion beam axle thanks to vertical shock absorber attachment.

Brakes are improved, too, with a 203 mm brake booster assisting the front disc/rear drum setup, while wheels are 13 inch steel shod with 155/65R13 low profile radials.

On the road

Getting into these cars is a big surprise. Firstly, the doors now open to 90 degrees, which makes it much easier to get in and out (most cars only open to 75 degrees) and the high roofline allows for even the tallest driver.

But it's the space that gives the biggest surprise. Get into a bigger car, such as a Golf or BMW 3 Series, set the seat in your normal driving position, and see how much room there is in the back.

Do the same in a Charade, and you'll find there's noticeably more knee room (and head room), this in a car that is more or less the same size externally as a CitiGolf/Chico.

OK, so boot space isn't great, at 157 litres. It isn't in most small cars. But at least it can be extended to 421 litres with the seats folded.

It's easy to get comfortable in this car, despite only fore/aft and seat rake adjustment, and the driving position affords great all-round vision.

The engine has a nice sound thanks to that uneven 3-cylinder beat, and literally roars away from rest. The manual is naturally quicker than the auto, but we would probably prefer the latter for all-round use, especially in city traffic.

It's a smooth shifter that doesn't steal a lot of power.

Ride qualities are now on a par with much bigger cars thanks to the new suspension, and handling is also much improved - less propensity to plough-on in terminal understeer when cornering hard and fast.

Standards of finish are also much improved over the Cuore, and the overall effect is of a car that is class leading.

Manny de Canha, MD of Associated Motor Holdings, which imports the cars, says the company hopes to sell 150 units a month. We think this might well be a very conservative aim, especially at the current pricing.

The cars come with 15 000 km service intervals and a 3 year/100 000-km warranty.

Pricing

  • CX R72 995

  • CX auto R79 995

  • CXL R84 995

  • CXK Auto R89 995

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