Daihatsu's latest SUV doesn't have the power to compete on the open road, says David Wilkins. A team of readers also take it for a spin

Price: £14,295
Engine: 1.5 litre petrol
Performance: 0-62 mph in 12.2 seconds, 34.9 mpg
CO2: 191g/km:
Worth considering: Fiat Sedici, Suzuki SX4, Volkswagen Polo Dune

I'm not a particular fan of four-wheel drives. I'll make an exception for Audi's and Subaru's systems designed to improve traction on powerful road cars, and for the great engineering that goes into Land Rovers, which means that even their plushest, most civilised models are still highly capable off-road machines. But most other SUVs are usually cruder, slower and heavier than mainstream cars, without really being designed for serious cross-country use.

That said, I found Daihatsu's new Terios to be a likeable machine, starting with the styling, which is mostly modern, perhaps even funky. The only jarring note comes from the eye-wateringly garish spare wheel cover; if it cannot be banned outright, there really ought, at the very least, to be a law against parking a Terios fitted with one of these in a conservation area.

By contrast, the interior is a sober affair with only a few pieces of metal-finish trim to brighten it up. But where the Terios's cabin really scores is in offering generous space for passengers and luggage, an achievement for which the car's space-efficient upright stance is responsible.

Also good for the comfort of the Terios's occupants is the ability of its suspension to soak up obstacles such as speed humps fairly well. That's a result that deserves some credit, because despite this comparative softness, the Terios feels nothing like as topply as you would expect, given its tall, fairly narrow body.

The Terios's main weakness is its smallish petrol engine. This performs adequately around town - admittedly the most likely habitat for examples of this model sold in Britain - but struggles a bit on the open road, where the manual gearbox has to be worked hard to get results.

Even when cruising at the 60mph single carriageway limit, let alone motorway speeds, the engine, while not harsh, always sounds busy, with the short gearing leaving you reaching for an extra sixth gear that isn't there.

What the Terios really needs is a decent modern diesel engine capable of doing the rest of the car justice by delivering the generous levels of torque that could support longer gearing, making for a much more relaxed driving experience.

The Japanese manufacturers were always more reluctant than their European counterparts to adopt diesel engines, but Honda and Toyota especially have now produced some good examples of the type. If Daihatsu could come up with a similarly capable unit for the Terios, it would have a much more convincing product on its hands.

Mark Stevens, 49, Consultant nurse, Oxford

USUAL VEHICLES: GOLF 2.0 TDS, HARLEY-DAVIDSON

Despite its chunky tyres, permanent four- wheel drive and cute, rugged, small/big-car looks, this off-roader felt like it would struggle on a damp playing-field. The interior can seat five adults comfortably and would be great for long drives if it were not for the noisy, lacklustre engine. I felt the Terios would be better suited to the urban jungle, bought by someone who wants the 4x4 format for shopping and the school run, and has a green conscience. For me, a car's personality comes from its engine, but this one is the mechanical equivalent of tofu. If ever there was a car that screamed, "Please put torquey diesel engine in me," the Terios is it.

Mike Power, 40, Facilities manager, Harrow, Middlesex

USUAL CAR: SAAB 9-3 AERO

First impression? Nice shape. Inside, surprisingly roomy; I didn't need to push the driver's seat all the way back, yet there's still room for a small adult behind. Mirrors provide good vision. Nice upright seating position. Steering wheel adjustment only in one plane, up/down. Handles well in town, with relatively light steering. Not the fastest for the engine capacity; definitely needs extra horses. Quality of build seems good. Boot space is tall but not very deep. I'm not convinced it's worth £1,500 more than the entry level. As a form of Chelsea tractor, it'll hit any 4x4 congestion charge band, but the Terios should get a rebate rather than pay a premium.

Jonathan Pagden, 45, Cameraman, Chesham, Bucks

USUAL CAR: CITROEN BERLINGO DIESEL

It looks like an off-roader, but it's more a family car with fat wheels. The 1.5 petrol is the only engine available. On a single-carriageway A-road it handles well but is noisy and slow on acceleration. Motorways are hard work. The high floor meant my feet were well out in front; someone with short legs might have problems with the pedals. Simon (14) was comfortable in the back but adults would be a bit squeezed. The external spare gives a roomy boot at the cost of a heavy, side-opening rear door, although camera kit and crew would fill it to bursting. I'm sure this car is meant for the school and shops run; the steepest hill it's likely to encounter is a tall kerb.

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