Bonsai Aphrodite

Compact and comely, the Daihatsu Copen Coupé is something of a balm to the crossover contagion.


Despite the inexorable decline and likely demise of the small sports car; victim to the kind of commercial logic that has seen crossovers and their ilk take over every sub-niche, there remains one market that is seemingly still immune from contagion. Japan’s Kei car scene.

Daihatsu’s diverting little Copen roadster requires little introduction given that Driven to Write has warmly spoken of its compact pleasures in the past. The first series Copen was officially discontinued in 2012, and since then, owing to Daihatsu’s regrettable withdrawal from the European market, Kei-car enthusiasts have been denied its current incarnation.

The contemporary Copen was designed from the outset, not only to be more angular and somewhat more technical in appearance, but also to offer more customisation options than the outgoing car. The model’s detachable composite body panels which are attached to a stressed frame, allow for alternative styling themes to be offered, ranging from charming to something a tad more assertive.

Having previously displayed it in concept form a number of years ago, Daihatsu have recently introduced a fastback coupé version, which is set to enter limited production this year. Based on the more comely of the Copen variants, (the Copen Cero), the production car retains most of the convertible model’s body panels, undoubtedly for quite justifiable reasons of cost.

Shutline management aside, the Coupé is a pleasing thing to behold, looking, to these untrained eyes at least, somewhat akin to an Audi TT in miniature. Parallels too with Suzuki’s well-regarded 1979 SC 100, including the rear glass which doubles as a tailgate.

Mechanically identical to the Copen Cero, it’s powered by a double overhead camshaft turbocharged and intercooled 658 cc triple, developing 63 bhp – which sounds like a bit of a hoot. Transmission choices allow for either a five speed manual or a seven-speed CVT unit. Diahatsu has also seen fit to add a limited slip differential and attractive forged alloy BBS wheels to further bolster the Coupé’s performance credibility.

With attractive looks, a promising technical package and the rarity of being one of a 200 car production run, the Copen Coupé is likely to fly off the shelves. But looks aside, it’s somewhat unclear what it offers over the cheaper, more readily available (in Japan at least) and just as enjoyable convertible sibling? After all, not only has the Copen always come with a folding hard roof, making it as much coupé as roadster, but it probably makes a good deal more sense as such.

Given that Audi is reportedly considering ceasing production of their TT model, owing it is said to the loss of the requisite business case, the question as to how Daihatsu can make any money on the little Copen raises its head – especially given that it is unlikely to be sold outside of its home market? Because if they can manage it at Osaka, it fuels a growing suspicion that carmakers are not axing niche models such as these because they are no longer profitable, but that crossovers are simply cheaper and more profitable.

Allowing for the fact that Suzuki’s recently announced Jimny has been universally hailed in something not vastly short of messianic terms, despite being (despite its diminutive proportions) another sodding SUV, (if at least a proper one), surely Daihatsu deserve praise for maintaining faith with a format which is rapidly fading from grasp.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

20 thoughts on “Bonsai Aphrodite”

  1. My first thought on seeing the Copen Coupe was that there was a mixture of Ford Puma and Mini Marcos in it with a hint of 2003 Ford Thunderbird.

    1. There is also more than a hint of the 2008 Ferrari California to the rear-end treatment of the Copen Cero (with circular tail lamps). Indeed, if anything, it’s better handled here.

  2. The original Copen really was a charming little thing:

    I’m not sure adding those heavy feature lines to the flanks has done it any favours. If Daihatsu wanted to sharpen it up and make it look less “cuddly” they should have looked instead to their OFC1 concept from 2007, which is just great, IMHO:

    1. Agree – the updated Copen manages to look like it’s trying a bit too hard. I still welcome its existence and hope to see a further iteration which reverts to the less is more ethos.

    1. I do too, but am still thankful that the little Copen continues to breath and has a pulse.

  3. Ah, the Smart Roadster. With an engine for 14k, with electrity for more or less twenty, brand new in the UK. Whilst a reasonable looker, the price is certainly a put off but the Copen looks better, more athletic and with a cuddly attitude. The Smart looks a bit boss-eyed straight on and the side view merely ok.
    The kei cars have a charm that Smart, to me, could never get near.

    1. Er…didn’t the Smart Roadster cease production in 2006?

    2. Not sure I understand engine for 14k and electricity for around twenty??
      The Smart Roadster similar to the Suzuki and Copen would be the 03 to 05 Roadster and Roadster Coup’e.
      Only built for three years and with the last cars now fourteen years old there are still plenty of immaculate examples out there which proves their build quality and durability. Don’t believe I could say the same for the K car sect for I’ve tried without success to find one that was rust free and solid.

  4. Ah, yes, the Smart For Two Cabrio. That’s what I meant to type but was totally fazed by the wife asking me about fennel.
    Apologies for me being gormless.
    But my previous comments hold true

    1. Not sure if this Smart Roadster/ Coup’e picture will load, its an 04 with removable top.

    1. I personally think Smart lost the plot by adding a snub nose. The original “one box” design was unique and on such a short car loosing the bonnet/hood made for a more cohesive design. I was an early adopter of the mark one and also have had two of the later designs that had improved ride and interior look. Still have one in the States which solicits no end of comments concerning MPG or safety, it really is amusing some of the remarks from monster truck drivers who I respond too by saying I’m a very small target and have you ever tried to swat a fly!
      The present car looks as if it was designed by a group of kindergarten children and the interior is hideous to my eyes, totally overdone for such a small space.
      I don’t think I will be considering another!
      Now to the Copen, what a neat little thing, I’ve always been drawn to the unusual especially if its small and practical or pretty as in this proposal, just sad there are to be low production numbers.
      I’ve previously shopped for a Copen or Cappucino but time has not been kind with most weakened by rust however the alternative that has faired better is the Smart Roadster only built between 2003 and 2005.
      Several years ago I ran a roadster followed by a stint on a 500cc Piaggio MP3 followed by the fear I might just get killed. I thus returned to the safety of another roadster but this time a Coup’e model. These are cracking little cars that reminds one of the days of the sprites and midgets but with all mod cons and without rust problems . About the only fault I can find is the electric assist steering rack is “numb” “dead” and totally unnecessary as there is no weight on the front although looks easy to replace with a suitable alternative.
      The six speed box with paddle shifters is a hoot to use on the crooked rural lanes of Suffolk
      and sitting about seven inches above the road surface makes one feel the speed is faster than it is, having said that they are reputed to top 110 mph on just a 698cc turbo charged triple cylinder engine and accelerate to 60 in 10 sec.
      Press a button on the gear selector and you have fully automatic drive with none of the foibles of the standard Smart for Two everyone complains about.
      Definitely a sleeper the Roadster get one while you can for they will appreciate.

    2. Spot on. I got mine 3mts ago “trading down” from a 74′ porsche 911S. I miss the sound and image of the 911 but that’s all!

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