Road Impressions

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148

The Daihatsu Charade XTE

Having gone to the starting-point of the Brighton Run in a two-cylinder car (a Citroen Visa), I indulged in a spot of one-upmanship and drove to the VSCC Enstone Driving-Tests behind three-cylinders. The Daihatsu Charade has that number of “pots”. Indeed, in their advertisements Daihatsu state that they “have actually built and perfected the first 3-cylinder 4-stroke petrol engine in a passenger car, in the world!”. Well, unless the operative word is supposed to be “perfected”, this shows a complete reversal of history, inasmuch as I can think of no fewer than fourteen cars that had three-cylinder petrol engines before the First World War, and there were possibly more. Admittedly, the Daihatsu slogan modifies this inaccurate claim a little, saying that “Innovation Becomes Reality”, but one wonders whether Henry Royce and those other engineers who used 3-cylinder power units so many years before Daihatsu would appreciate the suggestion that their engines were merely unrealistic innovations. . . .

Much has been made of Daihatsu using this odd number of cylinders to obtain the best size of cylinder for maximum petrol economy. But I suspect that it was really done to make room for a five-speed gearbox beside the transverse engine in a front-wheel-drive layout. Be that as it may, here is another individualistic small-car to run for economy-car sales and there may be those who will not be able to resist a car with the simple firing order — 1, 2, 3. In fact, overall this is a good little package. It is a five-door saloon with reasonable room for four persons. It runs quite quietly by little-car standards, apart from road noise and a wind-whistle round the n/s quarters. There was also mild rattle from the glass in the driver’s door. It will work up to some 85 m.p.h. and cruise unconcernedly at 70 m.p.h., being geared at 18 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in that fifth speed. The five-speed gearbox is well worth having, because it brings engine revs. down to around 3,500 r.p.m., just like a big car, at Motorway cruising speeds, helps the fuel economy, and yet can remain engaged down to 30 m.p.h. without snatch when accelerating.

Like most Japanese cars the Charade is well finished and trimmed, in sombre black with cloth/p.v.c. upholstery in a jolly plaid pattern. The front seat-squabs adjust, using short, badly-placed levers, the head-restraints can be removed, and there is enough leg-room for most adults. Luggage space, restricted with the back seat in use, is greatly extended when this seat is folded, but there is a high sill over which luggage has to be lifted and the spare wheel is under the boot floor. There is a big area of glass in the Charade body but sideways vision is slightly obscured by steeply sloping screen-pillars. Instrumentation comprises a speedometer with decimal total and trip mileometers (a Japanese feature) on the right of the panel, with small fuel/heat gauge and tachometer to the left, all three dials deeply buried, but sensibly lit at night in non-dazzie fashion. Below the two small dials is a row of warning lights for burnt-out stop-lamp bulb(s), low brake-fluid level, no dynamo-charge, low oil-pressure and hand-brake on. The horn is sounded by pressing the steering-wheel spoke and there are two stalk controls, the left one for selecting the lamps, the right-hand one for the 2-speed and intermittent wipers, screen wash, turn-indicators and headlamps’ dipping. The Koito headlamps give a commendably good beam in both settings. Two switches on the right of the facia itself look after rear-window wipe/wash and rear-window demisting. There is a manual choke and a tiny button under the steering wheel puts on the hazard-warning lights. To the left of the instrument nacelle is the push-button radio with aerial on the o/s screen-pillar, with the three-lever heating controls, well symbolled, and with air-recirculating setting, below. The instruments have neat white figures on black faces.

The long gear lever, spring-loaded to the centre of the gate, with 5th gear forward right and reverse below this, functions quite nicely. The clutch is not too heavy but although there is ample space to park the left foot, the flat floor makes this a trifle uncomfortable, and free play on the pedal travel suggested that some drivers had preferred to rest their left foot on the pedal itself. If a door, opened with the lights on, a buzzer sounds, to aid forgetful owners. (Are the Japs abnomally forgetful?) Stowage of small objects is confined to a too-shallow, non-lockable but lidded, facia well, together with a very small tray around the gear lever.

This little Daihatsu has a not particularly smooth, four-bearing, water-cooled 76 x 73 mm. 3-cylinder engine of 993 c.c., which will run to over 6,000 r.p.m. and which accelerates the lightweight car from 0-60 m.p.h. in fractionally over 16 seconds. The Charade is faster in 4th gear than in the indirect, geared-up 5th gear. I found I was using the latter almost all the time, however, which produced extremely good fuel-consumption figures, of 49 m.p.g. under light traffic conditions, to average out at 42.5 m.p.g. Nowhere in the instruction book could I find the fuel-grade to use specified, but the engine is supposed to like 2-star, in spite of a 9 to 1 c.r. It “pinked” when pulling away on this grade, though, more so on Elf than on BP. The engine has a single overhead-camshaft driven by toothed belt, and two-choke downdraught Aisan C28FU carburetter which made the engine hesitate noticeably as it shifted choke. There are four main bearings for this novel three-cylinder engine, which has a cast-iron block and alloy head, and develops 50 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. Fuel is put in through a sturdy filler-cap beneath a lockable circular flap on the n/s.

On the road I found the Charade a pleasing little car, with ample performance if the gears are used. Its worst feature is poor cornering and lurchy ride, with sway apparently induced by the dead back axle on its twin trailing-arms and coil springs, which makes for an unpleasant vagueness when cornering fast, in spite of the presence of a Panhard-rod, although this cannot be called unsafe. The front suspension is by MacPherson struts, again with coil springs and telescopic dampers, but anti-roll bars are not used. The steering is light and although geared at fractionally under 3 1/2 turns, lock-to-lock, it feels lower geared on sharp corners. The steering wheel diameter measures 14 3/4″. It is rack-and-pinion steering the dead action of which does not help with that odd lateral float from the rear-end. The springing is quite reasonable, except for this horrid lurching. Cornering with full or even with less throttle induces under-steer but not so pronounced as on a Fiat 127 that I followed up twisting Brinksty Common hill between Broadway and Bromyard. The fuel tank is supposed to hold 34 litres but seemed to take nearer six gallons, or else the normally steady needle of the fuel gauge is badly affected by low fuel levels. The heating and ventilation system has eyeball-vents at the facia extremities, two fixed ones in the centre, and a quiet 3-speed fan. The wheels are shod with 12″ Japanese Dunlop tyres. The light bonnet lid is rear-hinged, with a prop, and all the fillers, Panasonic NK100-S6L battery, and the dip-stick are very accessible. No oil had been consumed after over 600 fast miles. The frontal radiator is biased to the n/s, carburetter and distributor are at the back of the engine and the three plugs are very easily reached at the front and weather-protected. The engine is a prompt starter if mildly choked, given a mite of throttle, and idles at just over 1,000 r.p.m.

The Diahatsu XTE is, then, a quite pleasing little car, with comfortable mats, adequate performance, light, fairly progressive servo disc/drum brakes, and a notable thrift in its consumption of 2-star fuel, for driving it as hard as possible against strong headwinds I was still getting over 40 m.p.g. The interior decor is very neat indeed. Mud flaps are fitted behind the back wheels but should be used at the front as well. The brake servo fades almost as soon as the engine stops. One key suffices for all locks, and releases the tail-gate. The test car was finished in a bright yellow. If you associate Charades with a guessing game this three-cylinder, five-speed Daihatsu could well be the correct answer, for those seeking an unusual, about average, little five-door can priced at £3,359 in XTE-equipped form, or at £2,969 in normal form. One imagines that British Leyland studied it carefully when designing the Mini-Metro.—W.B.