Road impressions: Daihatsu Charade

A practical fun-car

I have been bemoaning lately that modern cars are all the same. But the GTti model in Daihatsu’s Charade range is different.

Under the bonnet you have a transverse three-cylinder, fuel injection, four-valve-per-cylinder, turbocharged, just over-square (76 x 73 mm) 993cc power unit, developing just under 100 bhp at 6500 rpm, and able to run to 7100 rpm. There is an intercooler, and the valves are operated on the classic twin-cam principle. It has the lot, in fact!

The larger body of the new Charade has a rather “breadvan” appearance, yet the claimed drag co-efficient is as low as 0.32. There is ample glass area in the flush-sided three-door GTti, which has all-round independent suspension by coil-sprung struts. This top performance model has disc brakes all round, ventilated at the front.

The outcome is a jolly little car (but not so little as you might expect, there being plenty of space for the front occupants on comfortable seats) and one of very notable performance. For this twin-cam turbocharged Charade will leave behind, from the customary but academic 0-60 mph bracket, cars such as the bigger VW Golf GTi, the celebrated Peugeot 205 GTi and the Ford XR3i, with a time of 7.7 sec, as a police-pulling sticker across its windscreen proclaimed.

Couple this to a maximum speed of some 115 mph and you have a car which is great fun, yet docile in the modern idiom. It has a good five-speed gearbox (at a time when the art of making an acceptable gear-change is diminishing), and slight understeer which is not troublesome in ordinary motoring. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is parking-heavy but otherwise equally acceptable. In the dry, in spite of all that power, torque-steer was no problem; in the wet I imagine you would kill it by changing up a cog or two.

So here is a car one can enjoy driving, its highly-impressive acceleration (which makes a car that much safer) just going on and on as engine revs build up. The ultra-modern power-unit is not noisy for its output, though the body sound-damping is, to a small degree.

The luggage area of the hatchback body small but enhanced by folding back seats, the self-lifting back panel openable with the single key.

The clearly-calibrated speedometer and tachometer might be on the fascia of a German car, so easily read are they, and the only other dials are heat and fuel gauges. The digital clock is set rather too low, and needs ignition-on for reading, and the generous sized cubby-hole could do with a lock on its lid. A rest is provided for one’s clutch foot.

In spite of all that performance, the Charade GTti is a tractable little outfit, with 96 lb ft torque at 3500 rpm, but having less “road character” than I had anticipated, and it depends on your personality whether or not you will mind the inscription “TWIN CAM 12 Valve TURBO” along the body sides! The rear-hinged bonnet opens easily to reveal accessible service items, the long dipstick having a clip support. Electric window-operation, central-locking, alloy wheels, metallic paint and a sun roof bring the total price to £8849, from 7699.

The switches and interior fittings are well contrived, with substantial control stalks, turn-indicators and lamps from the right one, washers from the left one. A knob brings in the rear wipe-wash. The fast Charade’s sporting look is enhanced by front and rear spoilers, the 8.8-gallon fuel tank had a lockable lid, and the hatchback and this flap are openable by little driver-accessible levers. There are internally adjustable external mirrors, and the test car had 175 x 60R14 Dunlop Sport 78H Radial tyres and a Sharp Guard System stereo-player.

How nice it is to come upon a car of such technical merit which can out-perform its opposition! Driving as hard as I dared on congested summer roads, fuel consumption averaged 36.2 mpg. WB