A MAZDA what? Well, that proves the point. I have only seen one Demio in motion beyond the confines of a Mazda dealer's forecourt, and that was the one I drove a fortnight ago.

You'll see plenty in Japan, though. In 1997 it was the eighth best-selling car, hailed as the answer to so many questions. Such as why bother with that comp-licated four-wheel drive paraphernalia when you can achieve the image with a plastic nudge bar, plastic wheel-arch extensions and a pair of roof rails? Or, why have a small, tall estate car-cum-MPV which looks dull and utilitarian when you can have one which looks like a 4x4?

You get the idea. This is a car with a confused identity. Mazda gives it MPV credentials by posing it in promotional pictures with its two larger MPVs, the Premacy and the imaginat-ively named MPV (no, there isn't a word missing). True, the Demio has a tall and capacious body, and its back seat does slide and fold, but it's a little bit half-hearted.

You're probably wondering, then, why anyone should want one at all. Maybe the company just lives in hope that someone will buy one by mistake instead of one of those French van-based creations, the Renault Kangoo and the Citroen Berlingo Multispace. In which case, I should tell you what to expect.

First, the good bits. The engine is just a 1.3-litre, but it's smooth and lively and pulls the Demio along with an eager buzz. It is dead easy to drive and park, and some people even think it looks quite cute. It carries plenty of stuff, too.

Now, the bad bits. It feels tinny, and a lot cheaper than it should for pounds 10,565. An electric sunroof and four electric windows try to hype it up to its expense level, but you can't even adjust the door mirrors from the inside. And as for the dashboard... well, stark, shapeless angularity might have a brutalist chic in right circumstances, but here it just looks like a giant Kleenex box recreated in hard grey plastic.

Despite all this, I didn't dislike the Demio. But I understand why people, if they get as far as the showroom, lose their nerve. That dashboard unclinches the deal. Oh yes, and the imminent arrival of Toyota's Yaris Verso. Similar idea, but done with flair.

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