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.
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.”
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.
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).
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.