Sean O'Grady: Wonderful, wonderful copen wagon
Published 20/11/2007 | 15:01
I have to admit that I have not, until now, got round to alerting you to the existence of a new Daihatsu "concept car", which you see illustrated below. I spotted it at the Frankfurt show ages ago, and it was at the more recent Tokyo event, but it hasn't received much attention anywhere, which seems a pity. It will be, I'm both happy and sad to say, the replacement for the company's baby Copen model, which I'm joyfully running at the moment.
So the good news is that this special notion of what car should be – a tiny city-car but constructed as a proper convertible – has plenty of life in it. You might even appreciate the forthcoming model's more "grown up" styling. It's a bit like a Mazda MX-5, albeit somewhat shrunken.
No doubt this represents progress, but to me it's bad news because the Copen was – is – a genuinely different little car that sets out, quite self-consciously, to be cute and succeeds massively in doing so. It is a little classic in the making, in a very strange way.
Let me explain. A few weeks ago I was, as usual, chatting to a complete stranger about the car (it's very good at starting in the morning and at starting conversations, you see).
He said that it was "much better than the previous one". On further probing – seeing that Daihatsu hasn't made a Copen before – I discovered what it was he was referring to.
He was thinking of something called a Nissan Figaro, which was a retro-styled two-seater built on the base of a Micra in about 1990. It resembled something that would have come out of Italy in 1958, with maybe a hint of Peugeot about it, but was thoroughly modern, reliable and (as we see from the numbers of pampered Figaros still on our roads) surprisingly durable.
If you had the choice between a Figaro and the real thing – a Hillman Minx Californian, say, or a Peugeot 403 convertible – you might well opt for the little Nissan, on the grounds that it'll get you to work on time and pass its MOT.
So it is with the Daihatsu Copen. It looks retro-ish, because it was inspired by the Audi TT, itself a retro-ish design drawing on VW Beetle cues. But it has thoroughly contemporary manners, comforts and performance. And you can park it anywhere. Surely that's a classic recipe.