WITH so many new car names arriving on our shores almost on a daily basis, it’s perhaps surprising to realise that the Daihatsu Charade dates back as far as 1983, when it was assembled and distributed by the then Alfa Romeo SA. Now, the brand – whose parent company in Japan is owned by Toyota – is imported and marketed by the Imperial Group, and, nearly a quarter of a century on, the latest iteration of the Charade has just been released.
The styling has been softened from the squared-off, chunky box that we tested in 2003, giving the car a cuter look that should appeal to women, who, after all, form the majority of buyers. Larger headlamps, reshaped tail-light lenses, and a more curvy C-pillar are the main external changes, although some dimensions have also been altered. The wheelbase is now 115 mm longer, but the overall length has grown by only 60 mm.
These days, ridiculous monikers for cars are being dreamt up by marketing departments, and for the Charade the choice is between Classic or Celeb. The Classic includes air-conditioning and 13-inch wheels in its spec, whereas the Celeb adds aftermarket- looking 14-inch rims, dual airbags, ABS, a factoryfitted radio/CD system, central locking, and electric windows and mirrors.
All the doors have a very useful feature of opening to nearly 90 degrees, allowing excellent access for passengers, or while buckling up toddlers in car seats. However, the doors are flimsy, and a couple of passengers kept thinking that they had not closed them properly when, in fact, they had. Seats are well proportioned, for such a small car, and the squabs, especially, offer decent under-thigh support.
Although the bonnet is extremely short, this does not mean that front seat occupants are short-changed on legroom – there is ample space. But what is really outstanding is the rearseat legroom. In fact, there’s more than enough to accommodate a pair of basketball stars. Unfortunately, though, at only 120 dm3 there is only sufficient boot space for one of their shoes… Luggage volume expands to 744 dm3 with the rear seat folded down.
However, an inspection of the space-saver spare under the boot board, and the space under the rear end, shows that the boot floor could easily have been dropped by at least 200 mm to the benefit of boot space. This is something we have noticed with the Charade’s larger sibling, the Sirion, as well as the Toyota Auris and Corolla. Another possible improvement would be a rear seat that slides forward, giving much more versatility between interior and luggage space. Instrumentation has been revised, and now comprises an oddly shaped speedometer that is difficult to read, and a small digital fuel gauge plus coolant temperature warning lights, instead of the larger, clearer analogue gauges of the previous model. A narrow driver’s door pocket allows space for keys or a CAR magazine, but little more, and a handy bottle holder is positioned at the rear of the centre console to supple- ment the dual drinkholders ahead of the gearlever. The factory- fitted radio/CD is a great improvement on the old, aftermarket slot-in item.
Under the miniscule bonnet Kia Picanto EX Similar in size with nearly as much interior room, but an even smaller boot. Has most of the features found on the Charade, but loses out in having one less airbag and no audio system. Facelifted soon. Citroën C1 Furio Offers the same three-cylinder powerplant as the Charade, combined with typically avant-garde French styling. Arguably the bestlooking in this line-up, it will suit those who like something different. Has dual airbags plus all the usual features, with the exception of power windows.
Peugeot 107 XR+ Peugeot’s offering, sporting the same engine as the Citroën and Daihatsu, comes with dual airbags, ABS, power steering and an audio system, but without electric windows or central locking. Again, there’s French flair inherent in the design. nestles the familiar three-cylinder, 1,0-litre mill that graces such exotic minicars as the Citroen C1, Peugeot 107, Toyota Aygo and Toyota Yaris T1. Whereas the previous model churned out 40,5 kW at a low 5 200 r/min, this one boasts 51 kW at a higher 6 000 r/min. With identical gear ratios, we were surprised to find no real improvement in parting the air, though. Maximum speed is 159 km/h, compared with the previous model’s 158 km/h, and acceleration is pretty much identical on average, but, strangely enough, the overtaking acceleration is noticeable slower. The new Charade is only 29 kg heavier than the old one, so the mediocre performance is a mystery. The test unit had just over 1 300 km on the odo on the day of testing. The engine has oodles of character, including an uneven idle that gently shakes the car. On acceleration, a throaty induction roar is briefly heard, reminiscent of classic twin side-draughtfed Alfas. Thereafter the vibes smooth out and the Charade is quite fun to drive and nippy in traffic, too. The longish gearlever has a reasonably weighted action.
A mystery exists around why Daihatsu does not offer powerassisted steering (fitted to the previous automatic model) on the entire new range. Leaving this out might cut costs, but the problem is that the car really does need it. Without power assistance, parking is somewhat tedious, and at higher speeds the steering is a bit vague, due to the high 4,6-turns lock to lock ratio. Softish suspension results in some body roll in the corners, and the steering remains heavy at speed, so fast cornering is not something that you would choose to do for fun. Apart from the generous legroom, the other big plus of the Charade is the fuel economy. At 5,3 litres/100 km, you should get over 670 km on a 36-litre tankful – but, naturally, not if you rev the three-pot flat out all the time!