By comparison, the Daihatsu takes a more grand tourer approach, with its folding hard-top roof still leaving plenty of room for a bag or two, roof up or down. Even with all that extra weight of the roof mechanism, the Copen surprisingly comes in at the same claimed 850kg kerb weight as the S660, the two cars also both using MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension.
This is the second-generation Copen – the first, which no one could tell one end from the other, was exported to countries including Britain with a larger, more powerful 1.3-litre engine. This time, it’s a 658cc 63bhp engine, mounted up front and driving the front wheels, and only on sale in Japan.
The Daihatsu is available in several different flavours, our test car being an Xplay version, which aims to bring the crossover together with the sports car for the first time since the Porsche 911 Safari rally cars, as someone in Daihatsu’s marketing department probably decided. There is no getting away from the fact that it’s quite weird looking, but at least it’s weird looking from all angles; there’s a theme that’s been stuck to but, by the end of our two days with the little car, I actually come round to quite liking it.
In this spec the S660 comes in at ¥2.2 million (about £14,500), but it can be had with fewer toys for around ¥1.9m (£12,500), which is what our Copen will cost.
The starting prices of these cars are rather at odds with kei cars’ sole purpose of being cheap to tax, insure and run, especially when you consider that most well-specced superminis in Japan can be bought for much less. That said, you have to go up to ¥2.5m (£16,500) for a Mazda MX-5 – a bargain price at list but with none of the other kei car cost benefits. So kei sports cars have their place; indeed, 10,298 S660s found homes in Japan last year (far more than Honda needs for it to be profitable), compared with 5152 Copens.
It’s the Copen I try first. Hmm.
It’s easy to get in and out of, at least, which technically is a good first impression. A better one than how woolly the clutch feels, how the steering doesn’t feel like it does anything for the first quarter of a turn, how third gear in the gate seems impossible to find and how the chassis has the sophistication over bumps in the road akin to a McDonald’s when it had the word ‘restaurant’ above its front doors.