ROAD TEST Daihatsu Move
What, you may well ask, is the point? Here's a new breed of car - a tall box on wheels - with Brains (the intellectual power behind Thunderbirds, remember?) as its advertising-hoarding protagonist, and a tendency to make people fall over in disbelief in its television commercial. The Daihatsu Move is quite startling and clearly very small if it is designed to appeal to Brains who, if memory serves correct, is about 3ft tall excluding his strings. But what is it for?

The Move is a miniature multi-purpose vehicle, or MPV, which is to say it's a shrunken interpretation of the Galaxy and Espace idea. Being shrunken, it has only four seats, which immediately limits the number of its potential purposes. But all four seats can be slid individually fore-and-aft, reclined to make a bed of sorts, or folded flat for when you want your Move to move something other than people. There are five doors, the rearmost one side-hinged, and with huge headroom and deep windows the Move achieves the apparent paradox of being a very small car with an airy, spacious interior.

Right, so it won't carry an Espace-load of people. But it is a useful little device, being only a foot or so longer than a Mini and very narrow - it's a foot narrower than it is tall. Which makes it a very handy way of carrying awkward loads through crowded city streets, and for parking. And while there is not much luggage space behind the rear seats when you're travelling four-up, if you're a crowd of three you can let the load space encroach into the vacant chair's territory. You can do this in an average hatchback, too, of course, but it seems less of an invasion in the open- plan Move.

The Move was Japan's best-selling car at the end of last year, and has triggered an influx of imitators, the latest of which is the Honda Life (Move, Life - the Japanese have a knack of getting right to the core of a product's purpose, although Mitsubishi's contribution, the Minica Toppo, doesn't quite strike the chord). But we in Britain might embarrass more easily. And there's the other crucial question. What is it like to drive? Is it truly dreadful?

Not at all. The way the Move lollops along is rather fun. The tall build makes for roly-poly cornering, but the little wheels hang on to the road gamely, and the Daihatsu flattens bumps surprisingly successfully for something tiny, lightweight and van-shaped. The little 847cc engine - that's one cubic centimetre smaller than the original Mini's motor - spins smoothly, humming away enthusiastically with its deep, three-cylinder tone, and provided you make plentiful use of the long, wand-like gear lever, the Move moves along with a surprising frisk. Subjectively speaking, anyway.

The interior is plasticky and basic, and the upright driving position does your right ankle in after a time. However, if you're prepared to spend more than the pounds 7,200 that is the Move's on-the-road price, you can have a Move+ which has electric windows, central locking, a rev-counter and a Pioneer stereo with baffling controls. There are fancier paint schemes, colour-matched bumpers and a more plush interior trim, too, all of which costs you an extra pounds 1,000. Automatic transmission is optional; so is air conditioning whose pump does not, contrary to expectations, cause the tiny engine to groan to a halt when the air is being conditioned.

Strange as it may seem, the Move does make a case for itself. Actually, it's rather charming; were it cheaper, there would be something Citroen 2CV-like about its station in life. In Japan, though, you can get a 659cc, four-cylinder, 16-valve, turbocharged version with 58bhp instead of our model's 42, and a demeanour resembling a Yorkshire terrier on amphetamines. I drove one in London, brought over by the UK importer for appraisal, and people kept bursting out laughing because they couldn't believe that something so small and so square could move so fast and be named so aptly. It won't be sold here, sad to say. We'll just have to make do with the relatively sane version instead.

DAIHATSU MOVE

Specifications

Price: (on the road): pounds 7,200 (Move), pounds 8,200 (Move+) Engine: 847cc, three cylinders, 12 valves, 42bhp at 5,300rpm; five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive.

Performance: top speed 82mph, 0-60 not stated.

Fuel consumption: 42-47mpg

Rivals

Several similar cars are on offer in Japan, but for UK buyers the Move is a unique proposition. However, for the price of a Move you could buy a conventional supermini such as a Volkswagen Polo, or you could find comparably compact dimensions and engine size in the cheaper Fiat Cinquecento. Alternatively, you could spend more and have less with a Mini (pounds 8,995), but there's little point.

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