BY CLAIRE EVANS
If you're shopping for a secondhand supermini, you probably haven't considered Daihatsu's Charade. Like most small car buyers, you've probably set your sights on a mainstream model such as a Ford Fiesta or a Vauxhall Corsa. However, if your priorities are quality and value for money, a Daihatsu Charade might be worth tracking down. The Charade started life as a rather uninspiring looking hatchback (offered in three and five-door form) with lacklustre 1.0 and 1.3-litre engines. These were replaced in 1993 by altogether more modern machines. This expanded range included 1.3, 1.5 and 1.6-litre hatchbacks and a 1.5-litre saloon. They were better equipped and offered buyers greater value for money. Though now almost completely replaced by the smaller one-litre Sirion, the Charade remains an affordable supermini alternative and makes sense as a good second-hand buy.
Models Covered: First generation Charade - 1987-1993 (1.0 and 1.3 petrol and 1.0 turbo diesel three and five-door hatchbacks [CX, GTti, CXi, GXi ] ). Second generation Charade - 1993-to date (1.3 and 1.5 petrol three and five-door hatchbacks and four-door saloons [GSe 16V, GXi, Xi, LXi, LXi SE, GLXi, GLXi SE, GTi, GSXi])
While the earliest Charades (1987-1989 CX and the hot-hatch GTti models) are practical and affordable vehicles, post-1990 cars are a far better bet. From September of that year even the entry-level 1.0 CX added power assisted steering to its already comprehensive list of standard equipment. Creature comforts on both variants included electric door mirrors, an internal fuel filler and boot release switches as well as a good quality stereo. Later that year, the range was extended to include a 1.0-litre, five-door turbodiesel CX version. Then, in 1991, this trio was joined by another variant, a 1.3-litre petrol-engined five-door hatch that was available in three different trim levels: CX, CXi and GXi. However, the newer the Charade the better and the revised 1993 line-up is superior to anything that came before it. It includes an economy version (the 1.3 petrol GSe), plus a trio of three and five-door hatches with a single point fuel injected version of the 1.3-litre engine. There was also a luxury 1.5-litre variant called the GLXi SE (which boasted air conditioning and metallic paint) and a flagship 1.6 GSXi three-door hatch. In 1996, the whole range was given a makeover and gained cheeky front end styling that singled it out from a number of more anonymous-looking competitors. These models are also longer and much roomier than their predecessors. There's more leg space for both front and rear-seat passengers, while greater glass area and careful changes to the interior have given the cabin a more airy, less claustrophobic feel. Luggage space is improved, too. Three-door models were dropped after a couple of years and, at the end of 1999, the 1.5-litre saloon and the automatic and anti-lock brake options were deleted. The range continued as a single 1.3-litre LXi SE hatchback with generous equipment including dual airbags, central locking and electric windows and mirrors. This model was deleted at the end of 2000.
What You Get
As already mentioned, equipment levels are better than average. Standard features of the revised 1993-on cars include a rear wash/wipe, a heated rear window and a removable stereo. All have side impact beams in the doors for added safety. (A driver's airbag became a cost option in 1996 and standard on later cars while the latest LXi SE has a passenger 'bag as well.) Further up the scale, the 1.3 LXi five-door comes with power steering, electric mirrors and a rev counter. Move up to the GLXi and Daihatsu has added electric windows and central locking as well as extra speakers for the stereo.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Rust can be a problem on older models, as can worn engines, particularly on the complex GTti version, which we'd advise buying only with a full service history. There are far less worries on post-93 cars which have proved generally reliable and durable.
(Approx for a 1.3-litre 1993 model excl VAT) A clutch assembly will be around £130 and brake pads for the front and rear are around £40. An alternator should be close to £200 and a radiator around £110. A replacement headlamp is close to £100, a full exhaust system excluding the catalyst will be around £190, and a starter motor can be up to £170.
On the Road
Under the bonnet of the last generation of hatchbacks there's a choice between 1.3, 1.5 and 1.6-litre power. However, you're far more likely to end up behind the wheel of one of the most popular mid-range 1.3 cars. This is no hardship though, as it is one of the most refined engines in its class. Indeed, tests showed that the Charade's interior noise levels at 50mph are equal to those of Nissan Micra at just 30mph. The other emphasis with these powerplants is fuel economy: the LXi model, for example, is capable of over 60 miles to the gallon. Around town, it can average 43mpg. Fuel economy was even a priority on the automatic version, which uses a sophisticated electronically-controlled four-speed system codenamed `ESAT`. Left in `auto` mode, the computer selects gear change points to maximise fuel efficiency. Should you need swift acceleration, though, simply plant your foot hard down on the throttle and the transmission switches to `power` mode.
Often overlooked and under-rated, the Charade is a capable and durable supermini that is certain to appeal to anyone buying a secondhand car with their head as well as their heart.