What's it about
The Daihatsu Sirion currently pottering about on our roads was launched a while ago in 2005 already. Initially only equipped with a 1.3-litre engine, it was quite impressive nevertheless - given its stiff competition in a very hotly contested market segment.
Arguably the best looking Daihatsu available in South Africa today (cuter even than the all-new Charade launched late last year) the Sirion line-up has been bolstered with the addition of a fiery 1.5-litre powerplant.
It really looks good in the metal, as was demonstrated by a group of teenagers who approached me wondering what the car was. "Quite nice" was the verdict, "although we'd probably get it bigger wheels..."
Its "Sport" nomenclature suggests athletic intentions, and this car definitely does not disappoint on the appearance front. It gains a new headlamp cluster with a fresh front bumper and integrated fog lamps, side sills, racy rear tailgate spoiler along with a new tail lamp arrangement and those shiny little 14-inch alloy wheels. Chrome plating on the inside door handles are new on the Sport, too.
Daihatsu prides itself in being a small-car specialist, but don't think that this means "cheap" in this Toyota offshoot. The quality of the test unit's hard plastics, in particular, were hardy, but look as though they should wear well.
Furthermore, the interior has been rejigged somewhat and the instrument cluster mounted to the steering column so it moves whenever the height-adjustable steering wheel is moved. The oversized dials and digital reading within the instrument cluster are prominently displayed and easy to read.
Other thoughtful touches include height adjustment for the driver's seat, an in-dash CD player with an auxiliary point for an MP3 player or iPod and air conditioning - all of which are standard features. Standard too, as on the 1.3 Sirions, are power windows and mirrors, power steering, airbags for the front occupants and key-operated central locking.
For added peace of mind, the 1.5i Sport is sold with a three-year/150 000 km warranty and a three-year/75 000 km service plan.
Under the bonnet
The engine used is identical to that powering the larger Terios SUV, and as you can imagine, in the smaller-bodied Sirion this engine is an absolute hoot. It dispatches 76 kW at 6 000 r/min and produces a peak torque figure of 132 Nm at 4 400 r/min.
The four-cylinder 16-valve engine is equipped with double overhead camshafts and DVVT (Dynamic Variable Valve Timing) by which the valve timing is regulated based on engine revolutions.
While also available in a four-speed automatic, the test unit was supplied with a five-speed manual gearbox.
This gearbox's typically clunky operation - especially when engaging first and reverse gears - is offset by the convincing manner in which it drives this power to the front wheels.
On the road, the bigger engine adds true zest to your driving experience. While it essentially translates to more power when you need it, particularly for those dashes when quick acceleration is needed, it is also a lot more comfortable as a distance cruiser.
However, while the driving experience is much improved, the seats could be a little less shallow and I generally find Daihatsu gearlevers to be on the short side. Not to be confused with a great short-throw 'box, I tended to list to the left while shifting through the gears. Of course, although this comes down to personal preference, the length of the driver's arms is probably key too...
But the car is petite (its overall body length is just 3.6m long) and it has a low ride height of 150 mm. Add to this Sirion's relatively wide track (1 460 and 1465mm front and rear), along with a revised McPherson strut and semi-independent torsion beam suspension arrangement, it ensures this car is quite the neat handler with minimal body roll and uneasiness in tight corners.
And just in case you overcook it (believe me, the desire to push the envelope is great at times) rest assured this Sirion is stocked with ABS brakes with EBD to aid braking at least. Other than that, the car has an energy absorbing body with a safety cell, crumple zones and dual side impact beams.
The Sirion impresses with its honest nature, gutsy persona and frugality. And it's eternally entertaining since, off the line, this car will try to convince you it's the closest you'll ever come to driving a sports car - so you'd better hold on tight!
I enjoyed the Sirion. Sure, I often drive vehicles that will out-power and out-handle this little car every day and twice on Wednesday nights at the drags - but who cares?
The manual version tested costs R119 995, while the convenience of the four-speed automatic will cost you R128 995.