08/07/2009 06:12 | By LH

On test: Daihatsu Charade 1.0 review (2003-2007 model)

Daihatsu Charade


  • Bodystyle:Hatchback
  • Engine:1.0-litre in-line three-cylinder
  • Fuel type:Petrol
  • Transmission:5-speed manual
  • Date of test:October 2003

What is it?

Small car specialist Daihatsu launched it latest city car in May 2003 with three and five door body styles. It comes with just one engine option, an advanced three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit. That may be one fewer cylinder than many rivals, but it's an increasingly popular concept in small cars, for it promises exceptional economy as well as strong pulling power at low revs. Cheap it may be, but it comes equipped with ABS brakes, power steering, and twin airbags, as well as offering the option of automatic transmission.

Where does it fit?

Confusingly, the Charade name has been used on the company's supermini, competing with cars like the Ford Fiesta. Now the Sirion is Daihatsu's supermini, and the Charade is a size smaller, competing with the Ford Ka. There are cheaper cars on the UK marklet than the Charade but few that offer the balance of equipment and technical ability. Chief rivals are the Perodua Kenari and Kelisa (both superseded Daihatsu models built in Asia), Daewoo Matiz, Fiat Siecento, Kia Rio, Seat Arosa, Suzuki Alto and Vauxhall Agila.

Is it for you?

That depends on your view of city cars. Cars this compact can do one of two things, look stylish or offer a decent amount of interior space. The Ford Ka goes the former route and outsells all the opposition combined many times over. The Charade goes the practical route and consequently its looks won't get anyone excited. But the fact that it comes with three or five doors, and you can specify an auto gearbox, means there is a lot in its favour.

What does it do well?

The Charade is really good fun to drive. Not just for a small car, but fun, full stop. The main reason is that perky 1.0-litre engine, which throbs away like a tiny Porsche, responding instantly to the throttle and providing all the get up and go you could wish for in city traffic. It's a bit noisy, not surprisingly, especially cruising at speed. Daihatsu claims a top speed of almost 100mph, so motorway travel is viable, if a little wearing. The electric power steering gives good feel of the road, adding to the favourable impression from the driver's seat. Then there is the interior space - amazing. Four adults fit, with good front seat comfort.

What doesn't it do well?

Though it goes and steers well, the Charade lacks grip at the front. That means wheelspin is too easily provoked on wet roads, even when simply pulling away from a road junction. Even in the dry the grip could be improved - it's possible that a simple change in tyre could much improve matters. Then there is the tall, slab-sided bodywork, which is easily deflected by crosswinds making high-speed cruising, though possible, an event that requires constant attention.

What's it like to live with?

City cars have to be very easy to live with, that's the whole point. Even so, the Charade scores well here, very easy to drive, park and with good visibility. The boot is small, a common problem, but big enough for most supermarket trips and with back seats that quickly fold forward to add space. Economy is excellent, close to 60mpg average, while CO2 emissions are tiny, meaning road tax is just £75. Even the basic model has decent equipment levels, including central locking, electric mirrors and windows, while the top SL adds air conditioning, side airbags and alloys. The only fly in the ointment is the group 5 insurance - higher than all competitors.

Would we buy it?

In the sub-£7,000 small car segment, the Charade has an awful lot going for it. The price is right, equipment levels very high and economy unsurpassed. Aside from the insurance issue, it's a compelling package. But there is no getting away from the fact that you do feel slightly vulnerable when driving along - you sit close to the thin doors and well forward. They may be no more safe in an accident than the Charade, but full-sized superminis seem more robust - and when there are offers going, prices of these can slip below £7,000. You still won't get the economy or equipment of the Charade if you go this route, though, so either way there still a good case for this small Daihatsu.

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