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Tested: Offbeat Daihatsu Materia

2007-04-10 12:40

Hailey Philander

Let's get one thing straight - I'm not used to being the butt of total strangers' jokes, and it's a sensation I know I'd struggle to accept. However, after my experience with Daihatsu's oddball Materia, I've realised that, like car guards, there are certain things in this world that just cannot be avoided.

What's it about?

I spent quite some time clambering around in the vehicle when I first saw the Materia at last year's Auto Africa. After declaring it rather sweet, I also noted it as something I would love to get my hands on when it arrived in South Africa. (Could also be that I was just feeling an abundance of automotive love after checking out the wares on the neighbouring Lamborghini stand?)

I've just had the chance to sample the Materia's idiosyncrasies firsthand, and this car makes a serious case for the "let's try something different" brigade.

Materia is an interesting mix of angles, appearing to have been constructed by placing two metal boxes one on top of the other, using an industrial file to trim the edges, and squishing lights into some random crevices to complete the look.

Essentially a rebadged Toyota Bb based on the Daihatsu Sirion's platform, it was decided that the quirky model would be pitched to the South African market as a more upmarket Daihatsu.

Though it's not too pleasing on the eye, it does come with an interesting colour palette - our test model was finished in a very eye-catching pearlescent lilac shade.

Standing outside the car and admiring its proportions, it's clear that there is no real lack of space inside the cabin.


With an over-supply of headroom and sufficient elbow and legroom for all occupants, Materia's spacious cabin allows all occupants to be comfortable.

Equipment within the cabin is generous too, with dual front and side airbags, central locking, electric windows and mirrors, an MP3 compatible audio system, and a 60/40 split rear bench that allows the snug luggage space to be extended.

The luggage space is high and flat and would definitely benefit from the use of shopping bag hooks (as I suspected prior to the dramatic demise of a tray of Cape Town's finest free range eggs).

But back inside the cabin, the quirky exterior proportions equate to an often frustrating driving experience.

Ergonomically, this Materia is a bit of a mess. Very few things, apart from the controls for the stylish piano key black audio system, heating and ventilation controls, and the controls and cupholder in the door recess, fall to hand easily.

The cabin is apparently awash with several stowage areas for bits and bobs, but being able to reach them while keeping my eyes on the road was just too much of a struggle. As a result, the cupholder ahead of the gearshift, and the oddment nooks in the lower section of the facia went largely unused.

Also, as welcome as the smart audio system is in the sea of hard (though not unpleasant) plastics that is the Materia's facia, it is clear that this system was claimed from a Toyota parts bin. It uses several acronyms denoting features that I never have - and probably never will - take the time to familiarise myself with. Someone should tell these people that functions controlling power and volume and something that allows for toggling between modes is all one really needs?

The floor-mounted gearshift and handbrake lever also took some time to adjust to, though I still felt that the lack of a console between the seats was a wasted opportunity.

However, the Materia was such a delight on the road, that it was possible to overlook many of its apparent interior shortcomings.

Under the bonnet

The big little car is powered by a new 16-valve 1.5-litre unit with dual overhead camshafts and outputs of 76 kW at 6 000 r/min and 132 Nm at 4 400. With the four-speed automatic, Daihatsu claims an increase in the torque figure of 6 Nm to 138.

Overall fuel consumption for the five-speed manual sampled is quoted at 7.2 l/100 km.

Stick the gutsy four-cylinder on a road and its perky, easy-to-please personality shines through.

Driving it

The Materia is actually very fun to drive - it has a joie de vivre that is almost insatiable. Its short gearing, light steering and tight turning circle are perfectly suited for city maneouvering.

Materia is equipped with an instrument cluster mounted high atop the facia that requires quite a fair amount of neck action to view.

Stick it into a set of fast swoops and the Materia is more than willing to comply. It may feel as though it is about to trip itself up, but even this woolly sensation is oddly endearing on this little one. In case you get too caught up in the "wooliness', the car comes standard with ABS, EBD and brake assist.


Daringly different
Entertaining character
Spacious cabin...


...with lots of wasted space
Dealing with undisguised sniggers and comments such as "yoh, that's ugly" from total strangers


The Materia may not be the instant choice for most people, and it has the ability to polarise opinions with people either loving or loathing it. However, I found my time with this little car to be very enjoyable. It may have its fair share of faults, but many of these can, with time, be overlooked.

And with its distinctive shape and eye-popping hue, losing this car in the parking lot - even if you wanted to - could be a tall ask.


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