BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Small is certainly beautiful when it comes to city cars. Daihatsu have heartily embraced the 'less is more' concept with the Cuore. While it may be the height of vogue in downtown Shinjuku, does the little Daihatsu cut it as a used buy here on the UK's pockmarked roads? If new sales are anything to go by, the answer is a resounding yes. The Citycar class is taking off, and with offerings like the Daewoo Matiz, Fiat Seicento and Vauxhall Agila to compete against, the Cuore has its work cut out. The Japanese have been, are, and probably always will be, the experts on miniaturisation. From personal stereos to cameras, the Japanese inability to be satisfied with a product until a minuscule version was available was bound to come round to cars. Here's how to track down a used Cuore.
Models Covered: 3/5dr hatchback, 660cc, 850cc, 1.0 petrol [Base, +, Avanzato]
The Cuore was borne out of Japan's stringent small car tax regulations which demand tiny dimensions in return for revenue rebates. It is this which sparked the manufacture of genuinely tiny cars, although the export success of these cars in foreign markets meant that they probably would have been developed without the existing legal framework. They all have one thing in common, and that is to European eyes, they look faintly odd. European rivals aimed to create more mainstream looks, which the Daihatsu Cuore aimed to replicate. The Cuore was first offered for sale in the UK in summer 1997, and was launched in base (three-door) and Cuore+ (five-door) guise. The engine available was a tiny 847cc three-cylinder unit shared by the Daihatsu Move. In fact 65% of the Cuore and Move were common, and the Cuore was a more mainstream alternative for those who couldn't put up with the pointing, chuckling and general bafflement the Move generated. In October 1997 limited numbers of the Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4 were introduced. This was a citycar able to accelerate to 60mph in less time than it took to carefully enunciate its name. The specification of this model was, and remains to this day, almost unbelievable. A microscopic three-cylinder 659cc engine had a turbocharger and intercooler attached to it, with drive going through all four tiny wheels, like a Lilliputian Audi Quattro. An aggressive bodykit and alloy wheels completed the image. Unsurprisingly, the Avanzato was a touch avant-garde for British tastes and few were sold before it was quietly withdrawn in 1999. April 1998 saw the launch of three limited edition models, the 'Start', 'S' three-door and 'S' five-door. The Cuore range received a freshening in December 1998 when new 1.0-litre three cylinder engines were introduced along with a slight lengthening of the chassis, changes to grille, lights, bumpers and specification levels. The same Cuore and Cuore+ range designations existed as before. It was early 2003 before the last of the Cuore models exited the dealers' showrooms.
What You Get
The Cuore is a city car that doesn't have people chuckling in mirth as it drives by, unlike its sibling, the Move. Its shape is tidy, rounded and slightly reminiscent of Nissan's Micra. The wheelbase is relatively long, which helps with packaging. The packaging of people into its compact dimensions. It's a little bigger than you might expect; the Japanese bureaucrats now permit their little 'K-class' cars to be slightly longer and wider which has allowed the latest Cuore to grow in every area but height. Don't expect it to be a Fiesta - two big blokes up front will still rub shoulders - but against Eastern opposition and Western rivals like Fiat's Seicento, it feels relatively spacious. Which is a bonus in a car that's billed as the cheapest Japanese built new car on the market. As a used buy it's a good way to get nearly new for next to nothing. Though there's a choice of three or five doors, the dimensions of both body styles are identical - so don't go offering back seat space to any sumo wrestlers. Better to flatten the split-folding rear bench and make use of a decent amount of luggage room. It's a pity you don't get this on the three-door base model. Still, there is quite a lot else for your cash. Twin front airbags, an engine immobiliser, a decent stereo, colour-keyed bumpers, a rev counter and a rear wash/wipe all come as standard on the 1.0 models, though curiously, there's no clock. The 1.0 Cuore+ does include this, along with electric windows and mirrors, central locking, a centre console with cupholders and a special impact release system which unlocks the doors in a collision. There are a number of little touches not normally included on a car of this price; the height-adjustable front seatbelt mountings, the remote headlamp levelling, the twin vanity mirrors and the remote levers to open the rear hatch and fuel flap. Interior door bins and that clock are the only real omissions. Still, there's the option of a 3-speed automatic gearbox: you'd be surprised how rare this is in this sector.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Cuore 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 backs of the seats should be checked for evidence of wear and tear in the Cuore+ model, as the trim is not the most hard wearing. Unless you know what you're doing, it's probably best to bring an expert along to inspect an Avanzato. These models are incredibly mechanically complex, and have usually been thrashed hard. That's not to say the Avanzato doesn't relish such treatment, it's just the case that should something let go, it may not be immediately apparent. Check also that the car has had all of the proper UK modifications such as mph clocks, rear fog lamp and correct sized fuel filler neck fitted. The Cuore will 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 Cuore+ 1.0) You wouldn't want to buy a bargain basement city car and discover parts prices that will require you to take up an evening job to make ends meet. The Cuore+ responds with some very cheap consumables. An air filter is around £8 and a fuel filter retails at round £13. An oil filter is £8 and spark plugs are about £10. A timing belt is around £15, whilst front brake pads are around £30 a pair. A distributor cap retails at around £35.
On the Road
Whilst risking a statement of the obvious, the Cuore is not at its best on the open road. Dual carriageways and motorways will magically grow to frightening proportions. All other traffic will suddenly be piloted by Schumacher or Hakkinen. Best to stick to the Cuore's purpose in life, that is zipping through inner city traffic and into tight parking spaces. Here you can take advantage of the Cuore's low gearing, when in either 850cc or 1.0 guise it will accelerate reasonably smartly to 30mph, the light weight and dinky wheels helping the little Daihatsu along. Their narrowness also has genuine advantages. It's possible to squeeze through gaps that would have a Matiz or Seicento flummoxed. The high profile tyres and inexpensive plastic wheel trims also means that kerbing a wheel is not the unmitigated disaster in can be on more expensive models. The turning circle of 8.6 metres is also the smallest in its class, and fuel consumption is another big plus.
Is this the ultimate city car? In Cuore+ 1.0 automatic version it may well be so, especially if fitted with the optional air conditioning. It certainly makes a very good case for itself on practical grounds, and the price is attractive too, especially when considering Daihatsu's generous warranty arrangements. A nearly new Cuore+ 1.0 certainly looks like an enjoyable and worry-free way of making the urban sprawl and crawl just that little bit more manageable.