BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Daihatsu's Charade may not be the most visually arresting citycar you've ever clapped eyes upon, but beneath those unassuming lines is one of the most entertaining small cars money can buy. The 1.0-litre engine that resides beneath the Charade's stubby bonnet is more than enough to entertain and serves up a big portion of fun at a very small price.
Models Covered: 3/5dr hatchback, 1.0 petrol [EL, SL]
The Charade was introduced in 2003 after a three-year absence from the British market. During this period, the YRV and the Sirion models had been fulfilling the small car duties for Daihatsu but neither could really fill the Charade's shoes and in May 2003 a new Charade was officially offered for sale. Three models were available starting with three and five-door EL and the range-topping SL. All models were powered by the same 57bhp three-cylinder powerplant with an option of manual or automatic gearboxes.
What You Get
Unlike its predecessor, this Charade is a tiny Citycar rather than a Supermini. The franchise is well used to producing city runabouts. Its previous offering - the Cuore - competed ineffectually against the likes of Ford's Ka and VW's Lupo but this car has proved to be more of a threat. What's confusing is that the Charade actually offers a longer wheelbase than either Daihatsu's larger Sirion or YRV Superminis. So, although it's tiny on the outside - the 3,410mm length makes it 20cm shorter than a Ford Ka - impressive interior space is promised within. Styling-wise, this car is certainly very neat, looking like a shrunken and chamfered Honda Jazz. The 1.0-litre engine meanwhile, is an intriguing three-cylinder affair that manages a mere 58bhp but which seems to punch way above what the bantamweight statistics promise. The EL and SL trim levels on the Charade provide a decent haul with the SL (around £7,300 when new) adding alloy wheels and air-conditioning to the EL's (around £6,800 when new) ABS, twin front airbags, CD player and central locking. Other safety features include twin airbags (with side bags on the SL), height adjustable seat belts that feature force limiters and pretensioners, side impact bars and Daihatsu's impact-sensing release system. During a collision, this unlocks the doors, illuminates the interior lights and activates the hazard warning lights. Pedestrian safety hasn't been ignored either, and the engine compartment has been designed to allow it to absorb energy, the windscreen wiper pivots and bonnet hinges both being designed with shock absorbing spaces behind them. The Charade must also be applauded for upholding the tradition of wacky Japanese translations. Fire the word 'Charade' into a thesaurus and it'll come back with synonyms such as farce, sham, and travesty - hardly the image many would want to project. Most will instead associate it with a genteel parlour game. It's a car that really does go that extra mile to please. Every time you turn the ignition on, the instrument display reads "HELLO, HAPPY" which brings to mind the film 'Happy Gilmore' which features a golfer prone to fits of irrational violence. When you switch off, the display flashes up "SEE YOU - GOODBYE." How sweet. A great deal of thought has gone into making the Charade as user-friendly as possible. The front seat height of 480mm is said to closely match most people's hip height to ease entry and exit although whether these people were Japanese or British is not clear. The doors open at right angles to the car, making entry and exit easy for those laden down with shopping or those who aren't as agile as they once were. The height adjustable steering wheel and front seatbelts also ensure a comfortable driving position.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Charade is not known to have developed any significant faults during its existence. It will in all likelihood have transported children, so check the cabin for rips, stains and other damage wreaked by small hands. The luggage bay should also be examined for evidence of wear and tear. This model should have been exposed to a fair amount of city driving, so check the exterior for knocks and scrapes, and check under the bonnet for accident damage or paint overspray. Otherwise, the usual reminder to obtain a service history applies.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2003 Charade EL) Daihatsus are so reliable that it's hard to see how the dealers make a profit on spares that include a clutch assembly at £155, starter motors from £115, headlamps from £65 and brake pads at £30 a set.
On the Road
The 57.6 horsepower available can punt the Charade to 60mph in 12 seconds and on to a top speed that knocks on the door of 100mph. The automatic version can be recommended if you plan to use it as a second urban scoot. Fuel economy is a beneficiary of the low weight/low drag approach. An outstanding fuel return of 58.9mpg makes the Charade amongst the most economical cars it's possible to buy in the UK and the 114g/km emissions figure also takes some beating. The engine features Dynamic Variable Valve Timing (DVVT) to provide even stronger low-speed pulling power, resulting in fewer gearchanges, yet also manages to increase top end power. Other innovations include a resin port intake manifold and a head cover incorporating an air-cleaner casing. Both serve to reduce weight and beef up torque in the lower and mid ranges. Anybody who has ever driven a sporty Daihatsu Sirion Rally can't fail to have been impressed by the meaty feel of the gearchange, and the Charade adopts the same materials used in the bushings and the same springs to give a similarly substantial feel to the manual shifter. Likewise, the speed-sensitive power steering also offers plenty of feel once the car's rolling, being feather light for parking manoeuvres. The firm feel to the steering and gearbox, the surprising refinement and the abundance of room in the cabin all serve to give the impression that the Charade is operating in a class above its citycar station. It's not, of course, and one benefit of its light weight comes when you press the brakes. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution are fitted as standard, a system that takes into account the distribution of passengers and luggage to optimise the braking forces.
The Charade is in many respects the forgotten gem of the citycar sector. If you can live with the econobasic styling, you'll be getting a supremely well-built and reliable car that will put a smile on your face every time you turn a wheel. On a fun per pound basis, motoring doesn't get a lot better than this.