Motoring: Road test: Daihatsu Cuore

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Daihatsu's Cuore has a tricky name, a diminutive three-cylinder engine and comical perpendicular styling. As daft as it seems? Not quite, says Roger Bell.

At pounds 6,500, the three-door Cuore is the cheapest Japanese-made car you can buy in Britain. Suzuki's low-cost oddball, the Wagon R, costs pounds 750 more, and its pounds 6,175 Alto is made in India. Kia Pride? Nope, Mazda's hand- me-down now hails from troubled Korea.

Since it's Japanese, you can probably take for granted the Cuore's quality and reliability: three-year, unlimited mileage warranties are not lightly given. Exceptional economy is also central to the Cuore's appeal to marginal motorists: by any standards, 64.2mpg in the extra-urban cycle is pretty parsimonious. So is 53mpg in the combined cycle.

Manoeuvrability is another asset. Being short, and pinched-in at the hips - this is a micro K-class car designed for Tokyo congestion - the dinky Daihatsu will slot into gaps too small for superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and the Vauxhall Corsa. Even Ford's excellent Ka, which is not really a city dodgem, looks comparatively corpulent.

The evergreen Mini would be a close rival, had Rover not pushed it upmarket with a silly pounds 9,000 price tag. So it is Fiat's chic Cinquecento - 3in shorter, a couple of inches wider and appreciably heavier than the Daihatsu - that provides the Cuore's closest European competition. Both cars make a virtue of being small. They need to, as Skoda's admirable Felicia is not only cheaper but considerably bigger and roomier than either of these micros.

Lightness (630kg, 12.4cwt) may not be conducive to crash safety, but it allows the Cuore's modest 850cc, 42 horsepower engine to punch above its size. Acceleration is nippy within urban limits, though overtaking calls for long-range planning - and often a couple of downshifts. Rev hard, and a noisy boom assails the ears. Lavish sound insulation was not in the Cuore's design script. Nor were big-car refinement and comfort.

Although intended as a local runabout, the Cuore acquits itself surprisingly well on motorways because of its loping gait in overdrive fifth. Given a top speed of 85mph, law-abiding drivers will have no trouble holding a mid-lane station.

Whatever you think of the styling, it's not so weird as that of the Move, a five-door oddity that shares the pert Cuore's underpinnings and drivetrain. Up front, there's no shortage of room for two broad adults. Even in the back, there's more space than you'd expect to find in a car so small. Access to the extendable boot is through a top-hinged tailgate.

Ride comfort takes a back seat in this stiffly sprung micro, which bobbles and jerks on all but the smoothest roads. There are two sides to the car's handling. Steering is so sensitive at speed that the car seems to dart through corners as if guided by telepathy. Smoothness and delicacy are the watchwords if you're to avoid exposing a slightly nervous disposition. There's no evidence of this hypersensitivity around town, though. In fact you have to twirl the wheel quite energetically to park.

Daihatsu has kept the Cuore's price down by restricting equipment. Although you get a driver's airbag, side-impact bars, a folding rear bench and an engine immobiliser, you have to work the windows and locks manually on the three-door. Even the radio's extra.

DAIHATSU CUORE

Specifications Three-door, pounds 6,500. Engine: 850cc, three cylinders, six valves, 42bhp at 5,300rpm. Transmission: five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 85mph, 0-60mph 15.6 seconds. Fuel consumption: 53.3mpg combined.

Rivals:

Fiat Cinquecento 900S, pounds 6,647. Baby Fiat has cute, cheeky looks, endearing character. Slightly wider and heavier than Cuore, more fun to drive - especially as entertaining 1.1 Sporting.

Ford Ka, from pounds 7,995. Great car, silly name, radical new-edge styling not to everyone's taste, as sales confirm. One size up from Cuore, nimble Ka is more a dressed-up Fiesta than a city slicker. Power steering a must for agility.

Rover Mini, pounds 8,995. In its twilight years, evergreen Mini is promoted (and priced) as smart wheels for the trendy, not the impecunious. Still brilliantly packaged but far too expensive. Terrific steering and handling, wretchedly uncomfortable ride and seats.

Seat Arosa 1.0, pounds 6,995. Precursor of VW's sub-Polo Lupino, baby Arosa offers generous room in small package. Pert, well made, but lacking in zest. Cheap to run. Pricier automatic has bigger engine and greater thirst.

Skoda Felicia, pounds 5,999+. A proper car, not a micro. No joke, top value: roomy five-door hatch honed by parent VW to respectable standard at low price. Worth spending extra for power steering.

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