Daihatsu Copen

Debut: 2014
Maker: Daihatsu
Predecessor: Copen Mk1

 Published on 29 May 2015
All rights reserved. 

Flyweight roadsters are unique to Japan. Their manufacturers use components from mass production Kei-cars to realize the smallest sports cars ever seen in the world. They might not be sold in large numbers, but they always ignite the excitement of young car lovers and the interest of the press. In recent memory, Suzuki Cappucino and Honda Beat were most talked about. Even though they ceased production for nearly 2 decades people still recall them as some of the most interesting roadsters ever seen. Closely followed them was the original Daihatsu Copen. Born in 2002, it was cute, tiny, cheap yet unusually featured a retractable metal roof. It was probably this roof kept it in production for 10 long years. Since the demise of Copen, Japan ran into a brief period without any K-car roadsters. Fortunately, last year 2 new models were announced: Honda S660 and the second generation Copen. Young Japanese motorists have something to cheer about again.

Although the original Copen was most recognized for a Beetle-like shape, its maker believes the second generation should seek a new styling direction in order to attract new interests. Unlike the radical approach of Honda, which designed a bespoke mid-engined chassis for its S660, Daihatsu opted for reusing as many components from its Kei-car parts bin as possible. This means a compulsory FF layout. However, by lengthening the front overhang it is capable to realize a long-bonnet proportion that looks much like a conventional FR roadster. The overall length and width are dictated by government regulations. The wheelbase is set at 2230 mm, same as the last Copen. The roadster is much lower than a normal K-car, of course, but not as low as Honda. As for detailed design, the design team came up with 2 polarizing options, i.e. a rounder, more civilized design called “Robe”, which should appeal to ladies, and a tougher, crossover-style design called “Xplay”. Which one is better? Difficult question. Why not have both?

To that end, Daihatsu designed a steel skeleton chassis called “D-frame” and dressed it with body panels made of resin (only the door shells are steel and fixed to the frame). Theoretically, by replacing these resin panels the exterior can switch between Robe and Xplay, although such work has to be done in selected service centers. The concept is not unlike the original Smart city car, whose plastic skins could be changed to different colors or patterns. In reality, I suppose few customers would spend money on the change of clothes. However, this approach does help the Copen to broaden its customer base without investing into costly steel stamping and assembly machines. It also makes possible for more derivatives or facelifts to come in the future, keeping the car fresh to eyes and hopefully in production for another 10 years.

The chassis frame itself is adequately strengthened to compensate the open roof. It has a stronger backbone, sills, A-pillars and underfloor cross-members. Tubular roll bars are fixed behind the seats to protect the occupants. The 2-piece retractable roof, now made of resin as well, has a moving mechanism carried over from the old car. No complaint here, as it opens or closes smoothly in 20 seconds. When it is up, the boot can swallow respectable amount of luggage. Even when it is stored, the luggage space left underneath the roof panels is still a lot more than the front boot of Honda S660. The Copen is clearly the more practical car to use on daily basis.

The cabin is not as stylish as Honda, even though it is improved from the usual standards of Daihatsu. While the instrument is clear, the center console is a bit toy-like, and the optional sat-nav screen stands strangely above the dashboard as it if added as an afterthought. All plastics are hard ones, although they are grained to feel more substantial than the usual K-cars. Cabin space is actually pretty generous considering its size. Moreover, outward visibility is definitely better than Honda. With the roof down, it feels airy.

Like Honda, the Daihatsu roadster offers 1 engine and 2 transmissions. The 660 c.c. 3-cylinder turbo is said to be equipped with DVVT, but the D here probably refers to Daihatsu or Dynamic, as the variable valve timing works on the intake camshaft only. This engine is carried over from other K-cars of the group without alteration, so it produces the same 64 ps at 6400 rpm and 68 lbft of torque at 3200 rpm. The torque delivery is a little weaker and peakier than Honda S660, which offers 77 lbft at 2600 rpm. On the road, it also feels less energetic at lower revs. The turbo spools up at about 2500 rpm and feels strongest from 3800 rpm upward. The performance it delivers is adequate on Japanese soil, but if it was exported to Australia or the Western world, I’m afraid it could not satisfy their motorists. Expect 0-60 mph to take around 12 seconds, no faster than a 50-years-old MGB.

Daihatsu’s 5-speed manual does not match Honda’s 6-speeder for gearshift quality as well as close-ratio fun, but it is still worth more recommendation than the alternative CVT.

In terms of handling, the front-wheel-drive Copen is not supposed to be as sporty as the mid-engined S660 for sure. Basically, it is a K-car happens in the form of roadster rather than a bespoke sports car happens in the K-car category. It is a delight to drive in urban area, thanks to its small size and short turning radius. On open roads, it corners with respectable stability and composure, but you are aware the higher center of gravity from its body roll and the less grip it generates compared with the Honda. Its electric steering is light at low speed and weighs up nicely at speed, but the nose does not turn in as keenly as the Honda. However, its chassis is more interactive with the driver. Push it too fast into corner will induce understeer. Lift off mid-corner will tighten its line, something the grippy Honda refuses to do. While S660 cries for more power to exploit its capable chassis, the Copen has its chassis well matched with its power.

That is enough to warrant a win. The Copen is 10 percent cheaper than the S660, but it offers an excellent retractable roof as standard and, in my eyes, funkier looks. Limited by the regulated dimensions and engine restrictions, K-car roadsters will never match a proper roadster like Mazda MX-5 for performance and driver entertainment. Daihatsu is clever not to take the sporty route and concentrate on what K-car does best. It is cute, affordable and practical, just like its predecessor.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly resin
3395 / 1475 / 1280 mm
2230 mm
658 cc
DOHC 12 valves, VVT
64 hp / 6400 rpm
68 lbft / 3200 rpm
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
850 kg
87 mph (limited)
12 (est)

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