The Daihatsu Copen is a roadster that was available during the early 2000s. Its origin dates back to the Tokyo Motor Show of 1999, when it was introduced as a concept car of the same name. Two years later, the OFC-1 was introduced with a new front wheel-drive platform, and it served as the base for the production model Copen later on.
The production-version Daihatsu Copen was officially launched in 2002 with a 660cc turbocharged engine, that met Kei car laws in Japan, and a retractable aluminium hardtop. Word about the car spread quickly and so did its demand in other countries. The export versions of the Copen came with a more powerful 1.3L engine. By 2005, the Daihatsu Copen came in two trim levels: the Copen 1.3L and ZZ.
By 2011, Daihatsu decided to withdraw its small roadster from international markets, and production ended toward the middle of 2012 after 500 10th anniversary editions were manufactured. With its hardtop roof on top, the Daihatsu Copen proves to be a good standard coupe. Without the roof, however, wind and engine noise increases significantly, and the ride gets a little noisy in cruising speed.
The ride quality is not that smooth, even with the roof on, and especially with the optional sports suspension package. The firm suspension absorbs little of the road’s bumps and potholes, but the supportive and comfortable bucket seats help a lot. In fact, they make long journeys a lot more comfortable. Air-conditioning comes standard from the base model onwards.
The Daihatsu Copen initially came with a 659cc turbocharged JB-DETi engine that delivered 48kW of power and 100Nm of torque. It had a top speed of around 145km/h and went from standstill to 100km/h in 11.2 seconds. This engine was smaller than those used on the Daihatsu Charade and Sirion, and it was made to perform in line with Kei class regulations. For the international market, Daihatsu used a double overhead camshaft design on the 4-cylinder engine along with a turbocharger. The result was the K3-VE 1.3L, 16-valve, engine that delivered 50kW of power and 100Nm of torque.
Considering the size of the engine, 50kW was plenty of poke for the small and light Copen. It responded well in the low revs, and performance was good up to 8500rpm, which is surprisingly efficient, thanks to the low weight of the car. In 2007, the engine performance was bumped up to 64kW at 6000rpm and 120Nm of torque at 4400rpm, which meant more power and more pull. The car could hit 100km/h from a standstill in just 9.5 seconds, and the engine was lot more relaxed even when cruising at high speeds on the open road. Fuel economy improved as well, with a combined consumption of 6L/100km.
The light weight and short height of the Daihatsu Copen keeps its centre of gravity low on the ground, making the car surprisingly stable even when twisting and turning around sharp corners. The steering is responsive even in wet conditions and with moderate power. The front tires could have been stickier, but the car does well in holding on to the road otherwise. Expectedly, the Daihatsu Copen is not a performance roadster. No matter what engine is under the bonnet, the car hits its peak power pretty soon and refuses to go further. Nevertheless, it is still a lot of fun to drive despite the lack of speed.
For a roadster, the Daihatsu Copen is quite affordable, and most people would expect there to be only a few basics to account for the low price. Surprisingly though, the car comes with a decent amount of kit, with a boot spoiler, metal folding roof, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, ABS with EBD, twin airbags, remote central locking, air-con, front fog lights, CD stereo system, and electric door mirrors and windows. All these features are standard, and options are kept to a bare minimum that includes leather upholstery, Recaro sport seats, and metallic paint schemes.
Apart from the ABS and EBD and twin airbags up front, the Daihatsu Copen also gets other safety features like extensive underfloor bracing and dual side impact door beams. Rollover bars are also used for additional protection in a rollover accident.
The Daihatsu Copen has little competition because the small roadster and coupe market had never been that active. The nearest current competition is the Mazda MX-5, which is better than the Copen in most ways, but that is because it is priced higher than the Japanese Kei roadster. The nearest equivalent of the Copen in the 1990s would be the Suzuki Cappuccino, which had an underperformed Kei class engine.