We’ve had a bit of a thing for small cars of late. In N2G’s early days, we were all about getting as much metal for your money as possible, and that was a bit blinkered of us. Sorry about that.
There’s a world of fun, exciting, teeny tiny cars out there that can be had for under £2,000. A case in point would be the Micra 160SR or maybe the Fiat Panda 100HP. And they’re good, so very good actually. There’s a lot to be said for the joys of lightweight motoring, which brings us to this, the Daihatsu Copen. It’s small, it’s a bit cheeky and thanks to being Japanese, it’s outrageously reliable.
No, wait, that’s not it. Curse you, Google Image Search, this is not what we were looking for.
Right, now that we know what we’re looking at, we can explain what it is in a bit more detail. The Daihatsu Copen is what’s known as a Kei car. They came about in postwar Japan to help mobilise the nation. Incredibly small, economical and reliable, the first Kei cars were a welcome addition to the automotive landscape. As time moved on, they were engineered to be excluded from Japan’s rather strict tax and insurance regulations. Basically, the Kei car is there to ensure everyone has a shot at being a motorist.
Interestingly, the Kei car format is, generally speaking, too small to work anywhere else in the world. Yeah, the M25 is a bastard and the local shopping centre’s multi-story is crowded, but even so, it’s nothing compared to Japan. As such, Kei cars that escape Japan tend to be a bit lost over here. However, the cheeky styling has gained some appeal, so a few Kei cars have done well on foreign soil. Cars like the Suzuki Cappuccino or of course this, the Copen.
Right then, that concludes the Kei car history lesson. We should probably talk about the car itself now, so, are we sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
The Copen came about in 2002, though it didn’t become a noticeable fixture on UK roads until around 2004. As you have probably worked out by now, it was very small. Though while many a Kei car can happily seat four people, the Copen was restricted to bum space for just two. This is the brilliant thing about Kei cars. Yes, their inception came about through a need to mobilise the masses, but as the years went on, the people wanted the choice of more than just a small van with windows. As such, car-makers started knocking out fun little numbers like the Copen.
It might have been the size of gnat’s testicle, but that didn’t stop Daihatsu from cramming a load of good stuff into the Copen. As such, you got a giddy little four-cylinder 659cc petrol engine complete with a turbocharger. It kicked out 68bhp, which might not seem like a lot, but you have to remember the Copen had a curb weight of a mere 830kg. There are doilies that weigh more than that, ask your nan.
If you’re really put off by an engine smaller than your Dyson’s, Daihatsu did swap it out for the 1.3 four-cylinder engine from the Sirion in 2007. It had 19 extra horses and brought the 0-60 time down from 11.7 seconds to 9.5. However, it wasn’t nearly as rev happy. The 659cc unit would scream all the way up to 8,500rpm. That’s a bit like a Honda S2000. possibly.
On the road, the Copen was a joy, even if it was lacking on the power front. With virtually no body-roll, more than adequate brakes, and brilliant ‘wheel at each corner’ dynamics, it was the sort of car that loved to be thrown around. Buy one of these, make sure it’s got some decent rubber on its shoes, and you’ll have an absolute riot. The steering is nicely weighted, the gear change through the five-speed ‘box is crisp and direct while the engine, especially the smaller one, positively delights in being given a kicking.
Inside, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that space is at a premium. If you’re 6’5, this isn’t the automobile for you, sorry. The seats are comfy though, and unusually for a car this small, the steering wheel had reach adjustment, helping you to achieve the best driving position possible. You also got a CD player, air conditioning, electric windows, driver and passenger airbags and electric mirrors. It really is a lot of car.
It’s biggest party piece, however, was without a doubt the roof. The metal, retractable roof at that. No flimsy fabric here, this is a proper little coupe cabriolet. Okay, so it was glacially slow at 25 seconds to drop, and once down it meant the already small boot became smaller than a toddlers shoe, but meh, you could get your face in the air, so who cares?
Admittedly, it wasn’t the most refined. Wind noise was considerable, it forcibly gave you a lesson in buffeting, and drivers over 5’5 made it look like someone had jammed a Gi Joe into a Micro Machine, but that’s all part of the fun.
And fun is what the Copen is. Small, turbocharged, a giddiy thrill to drive (on B roads, it’s not fun on motorways), reasonably well-built and more reliable than an AK-47. All for much less than £2,000. Go on, get one bought.