I Want to Tell You a Story

Singalonga’ Sirion.

Image: Parkers

Mention the name Max Bygraves to anyone under fifty and you will inevitably elicit blank stares. In the 1970s when UK television was in its heyday, Max[1] was the doyen of Saturday night TV entertainment. Crooning a ballad, he would then relocate to his armchair, emit the title phrase (which had the public impersonating, ad Infinitum) to begin his raconteur session, replete in chunky knit cardigan. Adored for years, by housewives and knitwear aficionados alike, he most likely encouraged an entire generation into the pleasures of yarn.

Looking out my workplace window recently, you can only imagine my surprise to find the automotive version of the London born troubadour – a twenty year old Daihatsu Sirion. Cardigans are somewhat unfashionable garments nowadays but this story contains a few twists, as cable-knit. Get settled in your comfiest chair, grab (carefully) a hot drink and a biscuit and enter the rarefied world of the cardigan car.

Launched in Japan for 1998, the car had several names. Toyota, longstanding Daihatsu bedfellows, selling them as Duets and Passos. Daihatsu choose Boon but in the main, Storia – Italian for story or history. “A name instilled with expectation that a new small car story begins here,” the Osaka based manufacturer informed the world.

The remaining Mondiale knows the car as the Sirion with the UK receiving six incremental model variants, all powered by a one litre, three cylinder petrol powerhouse making around 60bhp, mated to either a four speed automatic or five slot manual gearbox. Later versions (from 2000-onwards) could be specified with thirteen hundred ccs, which we’ll return to, shortly.

From the Land-Windermere school…

From EL base, we move to the + (the car in question), then E and later Deluxe and finally SL. Sadly the five door hatchback’s owner was not encountered but further inspection revealed the + to have enhanced trim. All models received PAS, twin front airbags, seat belt pre-tension, electrically adjustable door mirrors, engine immobiliser and rare for such a class, headlight levelling. The plus models have added side air bags, air conditioning, central locking and even electric rear windows.  

There are side protection beams, a door release system in the event of an accident and a Mercedes supplied braking system to help avoid one. All this equipment garnered the Sirion a three star NCAP rating with road testers of the day praising the equipment levels and cost but criticising the lightweight feel to proceedings and lacklustre performance.

But starting at £7,400 and rising four thousand to the top (for luxuries such as CD player and nicer cloth trim) you were buying into a competitive package at supermini prices for a car the class above. The car measured 3,860mm, whose wheelbase is 2,370mm and a starting weight of 820Kgs, rising a hundred for that bigger mill. Comparative rivals such as Polo, Fiesta and homegrown Jazz sold better though and we must now remove those rose tinted spectacles to investigate the cardigan more closely.

Daihatsu would have those interested believe this was a car for the frugal, more liberal and stylish motorist which happened to hit the ballpark with those of a more mature age. Similar to the Jazz, few under pensionable age warmed to the Sirion. Resembling a mid-life crisis Metro, the looks are distinctive if not exactly loveably persuasive. 

The author.

Delve deeper – look how much glass there is – Sirion is an easy car to see out of and therefore park – please take note, designers. The DRG is, hand on cardigan shaped heart, droopy – perhaps the (unknown) designer was listening to some of Max’s hit parade topping tunes such as “Meet Me On The Corner”, or perhaps, rather appropriately for such decisive orientation, “Fings A’int What They Used T’Be.” Similar to Mr Bygraves, Sirion is inoffensive, a universe away from a hoody-wearing hoodlum in a Max-Power Polo, for example.

Luxuriating points are an actual front bumper – chromed to boot! This filigree continues onto the doors. Above one’s station? Or just pleasing to see, especially after twenty years (and more) of ever more aggressive intakes and openings? Further nods to difference being the thinner than a knitting needle aerial (a favourite of ne’er do wells) and tongue-in-cheek rear spoiler. V-Max was 90mph, downhill with an assisting wind. To the rear, the chromed registration plate bridge is nice.

Autoevolution

But the hopelessly tacky add-on rear fog light does actually offend. What were Daihatsu thinking? The chrome surround is as incongruous as an F-word in a Bygraves ballad. Same goes for the reversing light – could this have not been incorporated into the decent enough looking light cluster?

A score of years have been reasonably compliant with the cherry red hue but those wheels could do with a refurb. Other hues your Sirion could be found in being an acid lemon (fetching), plain white, silver, black, red and a dusty coral pink – ideal cardigan fodder.

But wait – From the turn of the Millennium, Max then not only dropped a stitch, he ditched the cardie altogether for a layer of Nomex and a flappy paddle gear change! The facelift brought about an even droopier headlight arrangement but also the BMW 5 series[2] baiting Rally 2 and 4 variants, the latter deploying four wheel drive. Grille changes and go-faster front fog lamps complimented the new, Rallye look. 

The Sirion’s engine bay sported a 1.3 engine it shared with sibling, and infinitely more saleable (in the UK) Yaris. Power tipped the 100bhp envelope meaning this car suddenly dropped its pensioner image into a cardigan-wearing wolf. Whether any budding Colin McRae or Sebastian Loebs got their racing gloves on them is rather doubtful – only around a hundred in total came to ply the Queen’s highways and the special stage with surprising effect.

Facelifted Sirion Rally. Favcars

Rare as a classy cardigan, these eyes have only seen around a dozen Sirion’s ever and a completely new version arrived in 2005. Daihatsu saw fit to leave Blighty just seven years later as sales – akin to cardigans, but unlike Max’s career – dropped off a cliff. To the name: Sirion can also mean breastplate, a Lebanese mountain, along with inspiration for one J.R.R. Tolkien who used it for a river. My attention distracted but a moment, the Sirion+ was gone. Probably to the tune of Max’s “Out of Town.”

[1] Real name Walter William Bygraves OBE – 1922-2012.

[2] 0-60 times: 520i – 9.2 seconds. Rally 4 – 8.9 seconds.

A six minute, Japanese only video that helps gets the message across. Warning: does contain music that some may find too excitable.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

19 thoughts on “I Want to Tell You a Story”

  1. At the time I didn´t think so much of the Sirion. Car magazine´s James May gave it a quite warm review in the Newcomers section, somewhat surprisingly. In retrospect, the Sirion is a pleasing, package-oriented car with charming 90s design cues. To like the car you need to dispense with ideas of sporting proportions and instead view the car as its own. What you find is a lot of car packed into a small space; it´s character is fun utility and a perkiness. It´s probably nicely light and nimble.
    This is what Australia´s Car Guide says:
    “The Daihatsu Sirion is a stylish well-built Japanese hatchback with an excellent reputation for reliability and low running costs. It wasn’t as successful as big brother Daihatsu Charade on the new-car market, but it’s a tough little critter and there are still plenty on the roads today. They can be kept on the road with a minimum of expense if you choose a good one, drive it properly and keep the maintenance schedule up to date.”
    Sirion fans will notice the horrible facelifted version at this link:
    https://www.carsguide.com.au/car-reviews/daihatsu-sirion-used-review-1998-2005-42257
    The RAC likes the car too (in the text); their numbers ratings are less impressive:
    “The Sirion is so stylish it’s debatable as to whether the effect was intended or accidental. There are 1950s industrial Japan design cues all around the car, with so much that is noteworthy and interesting. The stretched headlamps give the car an appearance of its hair being pulled back, and sit over a trim chromed bumper. This tapers off to a point along the Sirion’s flank, guiding the eye back to the kicked-up bustle tail. Not even the Ford Ka could rival the Sirion for cafe society cool. All it needs to complete the look are some stylish wheels and a funky old-school colour scheme, like orange or lime.”
    What you get with the Sirion is evidently simple reliability. It makes my fantasies of old French and Italian cars seem a bit demented.

  2. Good morning Andrew. Another rather sweet little Japanese car to brighten up an overcast Saturday morning. I’m afraid I’m not wholly convinced by the chrome garnish, however. It looks a bit heavy-handed to my eyes, as does the E-Type front grille. I do like the (coincidental?) way the tail lights are almost exactly the same size and shape as the rear quarter window! The rear fog light really does look like an afterthought, as for that matter does the reversing light. Both could have been incorporated into the tail light cluster (one each side) with little difficulty. At the very least, they could have inserted a second reversing light symmetrically into the rear bumper and stuck a red bulb in it!

  3. The second-generation Sirion is a pleasingly chunky little thing:

    I had completely forgotten about it, so thanks for the (indirect) reminder

  4. The second-generation Sirion was also sold in the UK as the Subaru Justy (1.0 only) or Perodua Myvi (1.3 only); the Daihatsu was also sold with a 1.5litre engine, though it seems to have been rarely chosen. Prices for them all on Autotrader seem to be reasonably strong, particularly the ones with an automatic gearbox. I can’t find any Daihatsu vehicles for sale in the UK from 2009 or later, did they really sell so few between that time and their official departure in 2013?

  5. I didn’t know of the speedy version. There’s some serious stealth right there!

    I always found the chrome a little bit too chintzy, but with 20/20 hindsight it’s clear to see it’s a great little car. As I age I am more and more warming to this sort of thing – the honest, capable, unhyped Japanese appliance car. The ‘White Good’ that the smart buyer who reads ‘Which?’ magazine buys because they are too old to care about being uncool any more. I had a ride in a neighbours last-gen Yaris yesterday and it was delightful.

    I think buyers in the UK are so completely ruled by the urge to not look uncool, that wise buying choices like this would have always been in the age-group where people have finally got over pleasing the Jones’s and get what they want because of a genuine value proposition.

    I seem to recall the ‘light feel’ described in the comments when driving it’s baby brother the Cuore (Mira) as a courtesy car back in the 90s and that was a huge amount of fun. The feeling of driving something so light is much akin to getting on a race bike after trying to ride a mountain bike around the city – nimble, nippy and fun. 30mph feels like 50.

    I have a serious hankering for a Cuore every now and then- maybe even one of the domestic-market only ‘Gino’ models that make no excuses for their retro inspiration.

    https://static.carfromjapan.com/spec_9c205c0c-4812-4ee7-a96c-6d26bd3cf9eb_640_0

    The add-on fog / reverse light thing is a strange quirk of lower-volume imported japanese cars.
    Our car, a Mk1 Subaru Forester has the same add-on fog approach at the, even though as a second-phase facelift version it actually had extra light clusters added the tailgate as well as the rear quarter panels. Yet no ‘room’ for the fog. I think when exporting at lower volume it was just easier for Subaru, Daihatsu and Suzuki to get a sawsall out and add something generic to the bumper than create new rear lens internals to accommodate extra bulbs.

    It’s a shame the love for Daihatsu ran out here – they’re great and unusual little cars. The more that cars from the east iron out their stylistic quirks for a western market, the more boring the world gets even if they sometimes feel a bit weird.

    (I’m thinking specifically of 2002’s supremely weird 4×4 YRV Turbo)

  6. I didn’t know of the speedy version. There’s some serious stealth right there!

    I always found the chrome a little bit too chintzy, but with 20/20 hindsight it’s clear to see it’s a great little car. As I age I am more and more warming to this sort of thing – the honest, capable, unhyped Japanese appliance car. The ‘White Good’ that the smart buyer who reads ‘Which?’ magazine buys because they are too old to care about being uncool any more. I had a ride in a neighbours last-gen Yaris yesterday and it was delightful.

    I think buyers in the UK are so completely ruled by the urge to not look uncool, that wise buying choices like this would have always been in the age-group where people have finally got over pleasing the Jones’s and get what they want because of a genuine value proposition.

    I seem to recall the ‘light feel’ described in the comments when driving it’s baby brother the Cuore (Mira) as a courtesy car back in the 90s and that was a huge amount of fun. The feeling of driving something so light is much akin to getting on a race bike after trying to ride a mountain bike around the city – nimble, nippy and fun. 30mph feels like 50.

    I have a serious hankering for a Cuore every now and then- maybe even one of the domestic-market only ‘Gino’ models that make no excuses for their retro inspiration.

    https://static.carfromjapan.com/spec_9c205c0c-4812-4ee7-a96c-6d26bd3cf9eb_640_0

    The add-on fog / reverse light thing is a strange quirk of lower-volume imported japanese cars.
    Our car, a Mk1 Subaru Forester has the same add-on fog approach at the, even though as a second-phase facelift version it actually had extra light clusters added the tailgate as well as the rear quarter panels. Yet no ‘room’ for the fog. I think when exporting at lower volume it was just easier for Subaru, Daihatsu and Suzuki to get a sawsall out and add something generic to the bumper than create new rear lens internals to accommodate extra bulbs.

    It’s a shame the love for Daihatsu ran out here – they’re great and unusual little cars. The more that cars from the east iron out their stylistic quirks for a western market, the more boring the world gets even if they sometimes feel a bit weird.

    (I’m thinking specifically of 2002’s supremely weird 4×4 YRV Turbo)

    1. Funny, I actually never realised how relatively unique these cars are, as they are quite ubiquitous in my direct neighbourhood. Courtesy to the local garage (former Citroën and Daihatsu outfit, now of a generic mien): they managed to create a niche market out of these and similar Daihatsus second-hand. Probably indeed because these are “the honest, capable, unhyped Japanese appliance car” as so aptly described by Huw above. They do quite fetch a good price though, and that must have a reason; running forever with just adding timely oil and water…

  7. Was rather underrated despite the odd styling and lack of diesel, did feel Daihatsu missed a trick in not carrying of the 128-138 hp 1.3 K3-VET from the YRV and Terios for a turbocharged version of the Rally 4.

    Seem to recall the existing Rally 4 having a slightly higher hp compared to the Rally 2 (that the latter could have benefited from had the Rally 4 featured a turbocharged spinoff).

  8. Another great read Andrew, thank you. My sister in law bought one new to replace her run of Ford Ka’s. Certainly had more toys for the money. Only actually saw it once though as they live the other end of the country. She did rave about it though.

  9. I seem to remember Autocar being impressed with the Sirion when they road-tested one, and since I was impressed with Daihatsu anyway ( thanks to their ground-breaking 3-pot motor in the earlier Charade) it earned a place on the short list of cars I might need to buy one day. In Ireland motor insurance for a first-time driver is so extreme that a one-litre car is the obvious starting point, and I hoped used prices might be quite low by the time my youngest child was ready. Most folk start with a Micra, but neither the Micra or the Yaris are actually made in Japan, unless you buy a grey import, so the Sirion had no real competition.

  10. The first gen Sirion was very well recieved here in Norway, and i remember seing a ton of them at time.
    i seem to remember 4wd was standard over here, and the reviews of the day praised the low weight and sporty handling.
    Unfortunately, being cheap japanese hatches they dissappeared just as fast as they showed up, being handed down to young drivers and scrapped as soon as the first big repair bill showed up.

  11. I think the Sirion is a very likeable car, but it has too much chrome. I don’t mind the grill too much.

    How’s this: A Trevis. The car is local, so I get to see it quite often. Apart from this one I can’t recall when I last saw it.

    1. Hi Freerk and Andrew. The Trevis is so cute, just like a recreation of the original Issigonis Mini:

      Really, why can’t we have happy cars like this in Europe?

    2. I saw a green one today! Very nice – a slightly toned down Mira Gino which, unlike the Sirion, has a cute dashboard that matches well the exterior. It mimics the Olde English “plank” style:

      I’ve also seen this one a while ago (the photo is not mine):

      “Payback time: Just this once, a car gets run over by a cat”

  12. And I spotted a Cuore today as well. Also an increasingly rare sight these days.

  13. Some good Daihatsu spotting there, Freerk. I was completely unaware of either. When “everybody” else can be found in monthly payment German machines, I’m puzzled as to what makes someone take such a route? The car that inspired my article was approaching 20 years of age; are such routes always cost based? The Sirion looked in very good condition for its time. I’m also glad this one showed up as I haven’t seen another for eons

  14. Before the Sirion’s very questionable facelift, there was this intermediate version that looks more like a “sport package” than a facelift but it had redesigned taillights with integrated fog/reversing lamps:


    Though I also like the first version, I think that those bumpers, side skirts and wheels do a nice job of toning down the rotundness of the original without denaturing it.
    4-5 years ago, I had an appointment with a real estate agent who showed up in a red Sirion similar to the one above, in immaculate condition. I was quite impressed by that car which also seemed to drive very nicely – its owner was a very nice guy in his thirties who seemed like he could appreciate a good cardigan in the wintertime, and he turned out to be a big Daihatsu enthusiast who had also preserved his parents’ MK1 Charade.
    The Sirion’s pulled-back headlamps have reappeared almost verbatim in the MK1 Citroen C5 🙂 ; the latest (and probably last) Daihatsu Boon pays a very cute tribute to them:

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