Re-1998 Part 8 : ダイハツ シリオン

Initially the plan was to write about the Peugeot 406 Coupé, pictured below. The plan deviated when news came in that the Daihatsu Sirion+ celebrates its twentieth anniversary this month and as a present, I’ll give it some airtime.

Peugeot 406 coupé

James May is today one of the three huge faces carved out of the Mount Rushmore of motoring journalism, along with Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson. In August 1998 he still wrote for Car magazine, and could be found offering interesting and balanced views. That month he wrote up the Daihatsu Sirion +, (ダイハツ シリオン in Japanese) as it was called officially.

May was able to say quite a few nice things about the car and gave it three Car stars. Autocar also rated the Sirion quite well – when my copy of Autocar’s compendium of 1998 cars turns up I will quote that. For the record they said of the Sirion+ “The five-door Sirion appeared in the UK in 1998, and was praised for its generous specification, low price and strong performance from the 101bhp 1.3-litre engine. But more talented rivals, such as the Skoda Fabia and Nissan Micra, left it in the shadows.”

Peugeot 406 coupe. The colour is good. As is the whole car.

James May attended the 1998 launch and noted that Daihatsu managed to be up front about the Sirion being a just car doing car things and so merely discussed fuel economy, price, equipment, warranties and so on. The price amounted to £7995-£9395 in 1998 money.

Peugeot 406 coupe. Good from every angle, but no Diahatsu Sirion

At the time I noted the Sirion’s styling which featured a brave chrome moustache running around the front bumper and half-way along the flanks. It also had a lot of curvy graphics and round forms superimposed on what really could be seen as a fundamentally boxy package. One wavy feature line ran down the side but mostly you can’t see it. A lot of them were sold in cheerful yellows, even more cheerful than the Peugeot (above).

If I was given the choice between a 1998 Clio or 1998 Fiesta or 1998 Corsa and the Sirion I’d go for the Sirion. Why?

Daihatsu were clever enough to spot that a 3-cylinder engine with 989 cc would do instead of a 4 cylinder engine of around a litre’s capacity. In 1998 James May could only think of bike-engines when he thought of a twin-cam triple: “The 1.0 litre engine is a twin-cam triple, a configuration beloved of British bike fans but alien to most car buyers”.  These days a three-cylinder engine is nothing unusual.

May went on: “The characteristics are curious. It is amazingly gutless at low-revs and judders at gentle clutch take up, which maybe why the Sirion was launched in hill-free Holland. But thrash it along and the note becomes all hard and enthusiastic, gearchanges accompanied by a desperate gasp for breath”.

Facts, please. The top speed touched 90 mph, it took 15.2 seconds to get to 60 mph but it acheived a stellar 51 mpg. To show we have made progress, Ford wring out twice the bhp and torque from their one-litre 3-cylinder engine and it pulls a Mondeo. Isn’t that something? Alas, it’s pulling along a car that weighs twice as much as the Sirion.

May liked the Sirion’s package, judging the car to be not too tall and not too short and having reasonably precise steering (thanks in part to the narrowish tyres, I presume).

2003 Daihatsu Sirion. Finally!: source

Daihatsu didn’t do well enough with this or later versions of the Sirion. More’s the pity because, like Isuzu, Subaru and Suzuki, these smaller Japanese firms seem more free-thinking in their approach. The Sirion is a characterful car when many of its peers lose charm in the race for something like conformist professionalism. And remember from the non-conformists come the crazy ideas leading to Ford putting a 3-pot engine in a C-D class car or, simply, 3-cylinder engines becoming commonplace.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

7 thoughts on “Re-1998 Part 8 : ダイハツ シリオン”

  1. I am not sure I agree with you about the colour of that 406 – it’s a bit of a wishy-washy yellow, like a lemon bon bon. My view is coloured (sorry) perhaps by bias towards the more striking ‘Broom’ Yellow of my old Cinquecento Sporting, which I recounted in a late entry to the Film theme month. Otherwise, I am a big admirer of the 406 Coupe – uncommonly sleek, graceful and pretty.

    1. The problem with most of these pale(ish) yellow is that they become even paler quite soon and in this process often show uneven fading. It does the cars no favour, although in principle I like this colour (not on every car, of course). For the 406 coupe one could also order very nice and rich blues or greens – a much better choice in my eyes. On the other hand this car looks so good, it could bear any colour.

  2. Oh, and there was another Sirion (it came later, I think), that also became a Subaru and Perodua, which I really liked – it had hints of the A2 about it …

    1. While I’m always in favour of playful, unaggressive designs, I found the Sirion showed here a bit over the top with all its wavy lines and square metres of chrome. The successor you mention is perhaps a bit too low-key in comparison, but otherwise quite good. A colleague drives one of those (in Subaru guise), and I was surprised by how spacious it is. The rear seats are flat and hard with an awkward inclination of the backrest, but there was no problem to stow my legs and head.

  3. Three cylinder SOHC 1.0l engines were common in the mid ’80s to middle’90s with the Geo Metro in the North American market, Suzuki Cultus worldwide. Hundreds of thousands sold and so popular for a while that GM/Suzuki even manufactured the Metro in Canada in a joint venture, with a turbo version too. My secretary spoiled herself with the convertible edition Geo Metro whose chassis rigidity resembled that of overcooked pasta. A whip was necessary for decent forward progess but fuel economy was great. Subaru had their own 1.2l triple EF engine in the original Justy from 1984, while additionally Innocenti had a triple turbo in 1988 which I drove and which was an utter hoot.

    By those standards Daihatsu was late to the triple game by only a decade but added an extra camshaft by way of apology, and poor old James May was just as clueless as usual, I’m afraid.

    A quick web search shows the Corsa was available from 1997 with a triple and was just another Geo Metro variation. So triples were hardly unusual when Daihatsu blushingly revealed theirs.

    Ford doubled the Sirion’s horsepower by two simple tweaks – a turbo and direct injection. Then applied the Big Marketing Push. Now they’re all at it anew, BMW, Volvo, Mazda, Nissan and Hyundai, GM from at least 1997, VW from 1998 both petrol and diesel, and lately Toyota. One less cylinder than the typical four reduces friction and therefore consumption, while giving the NVH reduction backroom boys a chance to shine by disguising the fore-aft shake.

    That Peugeot looks a little self-conscious in primrose yellow, and those particular alloys look completely uninspired and unsuitable for its svelte and curvy lines. Probably a marketing department added-cost option with no reference to the design/styling studio. Ruins the look in my opinion.

    Narrow tyres give better steering feel? This must be a new theory about tall flexible sidewalls I haven’t encountered before.

    1. i wouldn’t say Daihatsu was late to the triple game, as the original Charade had one in 77.
      actually the very Innocenti turbo triple you mention having driven was a daihatsu unit 😉
      and let’s not forget the glorious Daihatsu Charade GTti, extracting a rather respectable 100hp from it’s 1l triple.

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