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First drive: High hopes for Charade

More than a charade: Daihatsu's new light contender has serious ambitions.

Charade returns to Daihatsu's Australian range after a six-year absence

1 Jul 2003

DAIHATSU has big hopes for its little Charade, the first all-new car to appear from the Japanese small car specialist since it came under Toyota control in September, 1998.

Due on sale on July 1, the single-specification, three-door Charade will be priced at a bargain basement $11,950, replacing the slow-selling $11,250 Cuore hatch as Australia's least expensive new car.

Representing what Daihatsu claims is the lowest self-shifter premium on offer, the four-speed automatic Charade will sell for $13,200, with air-conditioning adding about $1500 to both versions.

Metallic paint is the only other option - priced at $200 - and Charade comes sufficiently equipped to compete in the light segment, featuring twin front airbags, CD player, power windows and mirrors, central locking, cloth trim and front/rear cupholders.

There is no ABS, keyless entry, lockable glovebox or steering wheel adjustment, and the cabin features only four seating positions - each with a lap/sash seatbelt and height-adjustable head restraint.

But surprise items include front seatbelt height adjustment, front seatbelt pretensioners and force-limiters, rear windscreen wiper/washer and an impact sensing safety system that prepares the vehicle in the event of a collision by unlocking the doors and switching off the fuel pump and the like.

Featuring a long-in-class 2390mm wheelbase and an interior length similar to Corolla at 1840mm, the basic Charade formula is otherwise familiar. Measuring 3410mm long, 1475mm high and 1500mm wide, the new bodyshell has an aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.31Cd.

Don't expect the five-door version on sale elsewhere to arrive here anytime soon, as Daihatsu says this role is handled in its range by the larger Sirion.

A higher rear seat hip point is said to improve rear occupant visibility, new tail-lights extend vertically up the C-pillar and three fluid-filled engine mounts have been inclined to reduce vibration.

Mounted transversely up front is a 989cc, 12-valve DOHC three-cylinder engine with undersquare 72 x 81mm cylinder dimensions and a 10.0:1 compression ratio.

Maximum power is quoted at 40.5kW at 5200rpm and peak torque at 88.5Nm at 3600rpm, which is sufficient to propel Charade’s 720kg (725kg auto) kerb weight. Claimed combined fuel economy is stated at a frugal 5.0L/100km, providing an adequate range combined with the 36-litre fuel tank.

The electric rack-and-pinion power steering is speed-sensitive and returns a tight 8.4-metre turning circle, braking is by front discs and rear drums, and 13-inch 155/65-section Bridgestone tyres wrap around plastic-capped steel wheels.

Charade suspension comprises coils all round, MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam axle at the rear, which have been repositioned to optimise interior space. Luggage capacity now stands at 421 with the 60/40-split rear seatback folded.

Dubbed "Full Circle" in a reference to Australia’s first Charade released in March, 1980, the launch of the smaller new Charade represents a return to the size of the original G10 model.

Later Charades – including the G11, G100 and the final G200 of 1993 - grew progressively bigger in size, with the new car’s predecessor doubling sales in the first half of the 1990s.

Instrumental in establishing the light car segment here - now Australia’s third largest car market – Charade eventually comprised around half of Daihatsu’s sales volume during its halcyon years of 1992-’93.

Daihatsu – Japan’s oldest car company - found some 16,000 customers annually during those years and while Charade is expected to continue as the brand’s volume seller, limited supply and an unprecedented number of light segment rivals has seen company executives target the conservative figure of just 100 Charade sales per month.

That might seem miniscule next to the numbers in which Charade rivals like Hyundai Getz and, to a lesser extent, Daewoo Kalos are sold, but Daihatsu says Toyota’s South Korean challenger will continue to target both the youth and empty-nester markets by providing good value and well-equipped and reliable transport that is easy to drive and offers low running costs.


THE slab-sided Cuore is gone, replaced by a slightly less boxy, Charade-badged three-door Daihatsu to sit below the larger, five-door Sirion.

At this end of the market styling is crucial and it remains to be seen how the new Charade is accepted among the young and retired customers Daihatsu hopes to target.

But there’s no question Charade has the features, packaging and dynamics to attract even the most rational sub-$12,000 new car buyer.

The new Charade interior is surprisingly well finished, employing soft-to-touch plastics with an animal skin texture and cloth door inserts to match the seat fabric. Let-downs include the painted metal finish on the inside of the tailgate and jagged perforation marks in the dash that outline the passenger aibag.

The seats themselves are firm and unsupportive, the glovebox is unlockable, the headlining cheap and the steering wheel non-adjustable – most of which is common to anything else offered at this price.

On the road, however, the somewhat coarse three-cylinder engine delivers responsive urge in either automatic or manual transmission form, despite the latter’s somewhat notchy, long-throw shift action and a sudden clutch takeup point that makes smooth shifting more difficult than it should be.

The electric steering is well weighted and suffers little torque effect, or tugging under power – mainly because there’s so little power on offer from the 1.0-litre three-pot.

Reasonably rapid city-road progress is still available, mind you, but the harder Charade is pushed the more composure it loses. Ride quality – especially over the ultra-short, 8.8km Sydney city loop our launch drive was restricted to – is a little jiggly on the tiny 155/65-section 13-inch tyres. But, at least at speeds up to 60km/h, overall grip and handling levels feel up to par.

Unexpected items like adjustable front seatbelt anchors and impressive rear legroom are simply a bonus four a four-seater light car that stacks up with the right amount of equipment. But the lack of an ABS option and a full-size spare wheel will disappoint.

As an even cheaper alternative to light cars like the slightly bigger and more powerful Toyota Echo, the familiar Charade nameplate will attract its fair share of new-car buyers looking for a budget-priced, reliable light car.

For the price, Charade – an obvious attempt by Toyota to target the cut-price Koreans - stacks up well against the likes of Hyundai’s Getz and the Daewoo Matiz.

But it doesn’t stand out from the light car crowd and, unless a three-year/100,000km warranty is the highest priority, these days the same money will buy a number of larger, more powerful and more substantial second-hand vehicles.

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