Model: Daihatsu Materia
Engine: 1,495cc four-cylinder petrol
Performance: 106mph top speed; 0 to 60mph in 10.8 seconds; 39.2mpg
Worth considering: Vauxhall Meriva, Renault Modus, Nissan Note
This week, we have a cult car. It's been launched here as the Daihatsu Materia, but it's been around for a few years in the States, where it's called the Scion xB, a Toyota brand aimed at the youth market.
Toyota wanted to appeal to the elusive "generation Y", the demographic born between 1978 and 1990. So it abandoned mainstream marketing and took the mini MPV to art galleries and hip-hop parties. The idea was to let the customers come to the brand and make up their own minds.
It worked, and Scion sells 150,000 cars a year in America. It isn't worth trying to establish Scion in Europe, though, and the nearest Toyota has to a "youth" brand is Daihatsu (an affiliate) – hence the Materia. Marketing will be more conventional. Still, you never know; it may turn up at a hip-hop event or two, or in some viral ads.
With its edgy looks, the Materia doesn't have to try hard to get noticed, especially against dull-looking rivals such as the Vauxhall Meriva. On the outside, its MPV lines, bluff angles, high waist and blacked-out rear windows seem to have been inspired by a 1930s American gangster car. It especially looks the part with the optional extra-bling giant chrome rims Daihatsu offer as an option.
On the inside, the car is appealingly stylish, especially the mirror-finish black plastic used for audio and minor controls. The dials are beautifully weighted, and the speakers mounted next to the air vents look refreshingly different. A pity, then, that a car supposedly so closely linked to the music scene should have such a poor sound-system.
Nor would any hip-hop star appreciate the noisy ride at speed, a function of that shape, or the unsupportive seats or wibbly-wobbly gearstick. Least of all would they like the plastic steering-wheel. Oddly, the large deep doors, ease of controls, competitive pricing and impressive prospective reliability should appeal to the opposite end of the market. Can the Materia tempt UK pensioners away from their very own cult car, the Honda Jazz?
Tim Makin, 31
Nightclub owner, Edinburgh
Usual car: 1500 Volkswagen Beetle
My first two impressions of the Materia were good and good – the first because this was my first road test, and the second because, at first sight, I wasn't disappointed with the car. The outside looks striking, and the interior looks and feels pretty well put together, although I'm not a fan of centre dashboard consoles. It is spacious until you get in the back; then it's gigantic, with reclining seats. I'll travel in here, thank you. The 1.5-litre engine is willing and you soon get used to the long gear-lever, so driving is enjoyable. I like the Materia, but you can make up your own mind about the illuminated speakers (don't worry, you can switch them off).
Roy Davis, 24
Company director, Edinburgh
Usual car: Golf R32
I would give full marks for the 1.5-litre engine's responsiveness, and it seemed well suited to the car. I also found the Materia quite comfortable. I liked the excellent feel of the power steering and found the controls easy to use. The mirror, window and stereo switches were all readily to hand. On the negative side, I thought the build quality not so good and wondered about how it might fare in certain types of impact. I especially didn't like the centrally mounted instruments. I also had an issue with the way the wheels looked – too small for the bulk of the car. The boot space with the rear seats in their normal position (they slide back and forth) wasn't that good. However, it did seem worth more than the £11,000 asking price; I thought it would cost a few thousand more.
Michael Higgins, 23
Advertising executive, Edinburgh
Usual car: VW Golf GTI
When I heard I'd be driving a Daihatsu, my heart sank. I pictured a strange, cheap-looking Japanese creation that my friends would laugh at. First impressions were different, however; while it resembles a mini hearse, it also looks fairly sharp and well designed. The exterior manages to appear unique and aggressive, while inside the sheer amount of space is impressive. The seats were comfy, and the gadgets all worked well. It drove quite well too, with the engine propelling it along nicely, with good acceleration, while the higher driving position and big windows gave excellent visibility. Annoyances came in the form of an unbelievably woolly gear-stick and the speedometer in the centre of the dash. All in all, quite an impressive and, dare I say, cool car, even if it does look a bit like a little hearse.
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