We adore this pint-sized but capable off-roader...

The Daihatsu brand was first introduced to South Africa in 1983 when the local Alfa Romeo factory built the popular Charade and Charade Turbo. The Terios was introduced in 1997 as an affordable go-anywhere car and continued as a popular purchase in subsequent generations until the company withdrew from South Africa in 2015. Low mass and short overhangs made the Terios more capable off-road than the power output would suggest. In Japan, it was called the Toyota Cami.

Packaging

The rear door opens to the right and houses the spare wheel, freeing up more interior space. All the wheels had basic steel rims from new. The rear seats fold flat in a 50:50-split to provide a nearly flat load area, but no parcel shelf is fitted. The luggage capacity ranges from 248 to 984 litres and ground clearance is 185 mm.

Some interesting colours were available, including a light purple. Our test unit in 1998 (pictured here) had blue paintwork, silver bumpers and side trim, and multi-coloured cloth upholstery.

Powertrain

Using the familiar Daihatsu 1,3-litre, 16-valve unit with s-o-h-c and longitudinal layout, the Terios offers a modest 61 kW with 105 N.m of torque, but the engine can rev all the way to 7 000 r/min. The drivetrain is permanent four-wheel drive with a mechanical centre diff lock. There is no low range fitted as with one of its rivals, the more expensive Kia Sportage, which was launched at a similar time.

Which one to get

Any example in good condition should be a great purchase. Remember, parts will be in short supply and you might have to import spares. Bear in mind the small engine spins quickly at speed, so 120 km/h in fifth gear means 4 600 r/min. This results in a less than ideal fuel consumption index of 11,69 L/100 km. The steady-speed economy at 100 km/h is slightly better at 8,35 L/100 km, so this is a more suitable cruising speed with the rev counter showing just under 4 000 r/min.

What to watch out for

Rack-and-pinion, hydraulically assisted steering is fitted to the Terios and should not cause concern as long as you check the hoses for leaks and wear. The engine uses a timing chain, so no belt-breaking worries there. The engines and gearboxes are generally tough.

Availability and prices

There are many newer, larger Terios models available, but you should find a few of the original models in the classifieds. Prices are not as cheap as you might think – up to R60 000 – but demand should not be too high, so make a reasonable offer. Perhaps helping the cause somewhat is that a copy of this model was sold in South Africa from 2010 under the name of the Zotje (pronounced “zoi-tie”) Nomad. This was a rear-wheel-drive SUV with a 1,3 or 1,5-litre engine. They were sold for some years without much success.

Interesting facts

In the late 1990s, Daihatsu had not one but three 4x4 vehicles on sale simultaneously. The Terios was the most affordable at R99 999; this was followed by the three-door, 1,6-litre Feroza at R109 999; and finally, the Rocky 2,8-litre at R136 033. The Rocky was a two-door using a non-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine with a power output of 72 kW. The latter two had a soft- and hard-top rear enclosure that could be removed. CAR never tested these two 4x4s with their capable low-range gearboxes. In 1998, only the Lada Niva (R68 888) and Suzuki Samurai (R74 000) were more affordable than the Daihatsu Terios.

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