Small is sometimes better: The Daihatsu Terios after 17 000 km

  • Overview
  • Video
CAR's technical editor with his Daihatsu Terios.

When I heard I was getting a Terios, I was downright disappointed. I had expected to get a Kia Sorento, but that went to one of my colleagues. I thought the Terios was too small, underpowered and always painted in boring colours.

My first surprise was when the car arrived. It looked very pretty in red. My wife didn’t like the particular shade, but I did. Since then, I’ve seen a number of colourful Terioses (Terii?). Does this mean a fresh marketing approach?

The next surprise was the amazing amount of interior space. It’s obviously smaller inside than a Sorento, but only by a few inches here and there. It’s still a comfortable 4/5 seater, and the rear luggage space is not only big but have hardly any protrusions, so that it can take bulky packages with ease. The fact that the rear of the body is upright means that the actual useable interior space is not much less than the space in a far bigger SUV that often features a sloping rear window.

This was well illustrated during the Cape Argus cycle race when I had to pick up two bulky cycle cases from the airport and had a choice of three bigger SUVs that we were testing. All three had a wider rear loading area than the Terios but the interior shapes were more irregular. I eventually chose the Terios and accommodated both cases quite comfortably.

The 1,5-litre power unit cannot perform like a bigger engine, but is perfectly adequate for everyday driving. It may be a tad sluggish in Gauteng, but has a lot of low-speed grunt, as befits a 4×4, even in fourth gear, which I always treat as the highest gear in town.

It is commendably smooth, but it takes a day or two to get used to the slightly strident exhaust note, which would be more welcome in a sports car. It is loudest while accelerating but dies down at cruising speeds.

My daily commuting consists of going over a mountain pass twice, cruising at 120 km/h for about 20 km, and then joining crowded main roads. Fuel consumption has remained close to 8,2 litres/100 km for most of the test. Cruising at 120 km/h on longer trips has made hardly any difference to the consumption.

The engine is longitudinally mounted, and in the 2WD version the rear wheels are driven, just like the Toyota Avanza. This points to some technical affinity with the latter model. This would make sense since Toyota owns more than 50 per cent of the Daihatsu shares. My car is the least expensive 4×4 model. The wheels are driven permanently, and this means there is a centre differential. This is manually lockable and makes the Terios a serious off-roader instead of just a part-time soft-roader.

Brakes are easy to modulate and seemed in keeping with the car’s intended use and the power steering carried just the right amount of weighting. Suspension is firm, but the ride is still better than on some inexpensive family saloons, most likely because the wide high-profile tires.

The interior is very refreshing, because it is modern without being similar to any other car.   The centre console shows that a lot of thought has gone into the design. For example, the air-conditioning controls are intuitive and practical. Huge round switches rotate for temperature and air volume, and they incorporate push-buttons for the modes and other adjustments. A high-quality sound system is fitted.

Features such as air-conditioning, central locking, electric windows, a front loading CD-player, an extra 12V power supply and lots of drink holders are all standard. There are dual front airbags and an emergency fuel cut-off.

I found a comfortable driving position quite quickly, in spite of the steering having only a tilt adjustment. The driver’s seat has height, reach and backrest angle adjustment and carries enough padding to enable the seat to remain comfortable on a long trip.

Living with the car has revealed that the air conditioning unit is an under-achiever. At full blast it supplies less cool air to the interior than some other units on the second of their four settings.

I’m now glad I didn’t get a Sorento. I borrowed it for a weekend, and found it bulky and unwieldy, with very hard suspension.

By far the most likable feature of the Terios is the handy size, making it ideal for four people.

Every time I drive a bigger car I long for the compact dimensions of the Terios and every time I drive a smaller car I long for the space inside the Terios. This has a lot to do with personal preference, but is also due to a very clever design.

  • Guy

    Yeah, i also wonder about that illusion of space that the Terios has. It definitely is a smaller car and easy to park, etc, but feels unrealistically big inside. The boot is also better than people think. Most people find it small but don’t consider the volume, i easily placed a new lawnmower and side cutter in one go in the boot.. TOp speed is an issue for the car, but in town a 100 is my limit and it has a sporty tone under acceleration. Its more than adequate.
    HOnestly, Toyota needs to market it here as the Toyota Rush and also offer a diesel version with low range. But then again it seems like toyotas game is to offer the worst of their vehicles and call everything cool anything but a Toyota… apperantly the next supra will be called gazoo? what a joke….