Tested: 2010 Daihatsu Terios 4×4

The cheerful companion

Every now and then you come across a car that’s not only good fun to drive but also proves an absolute hit with friends and acquaintances. I’ll try to explain this phenomenon as best I can, as it happened this week with the Daihatsu Terios.

The favourable comments and bright eyed enthusiasm starts with the Terios’ bodywork, which is most often accused of being cute or funky. The small proportions and big wheel arches give it a cheeky appearance which is underlined by big headlights, minuscule front and rear overhangs, and a big spare wheel carrier.

It looks purposeful and naughty, like the little SUV that thinks it can. Our test car was a dark-green metallic 1500cc 5-speed manual 4×4 model with selectable differential lock. Although it lacks a low-range transfer case, the Terios happily conquered muddy tracks and dirt roads without any major fuss.

The appeal of a Terios continues with its handling and raised driving position, despite the adjustable steering wheel not catering for the tall drivers among us. The steering is feather-light and feedback is adequate for a small SUV with big tyres; the pedals are equally obedient, as is the 5-speed gearbox.

A Terios is absolute child’s play to drive around town, with the only negative aspects being its road holding and highway manners. Push the mischievous Daihatsu into a fast corner and it will instantly reward you with immense body lean and under-steer; a gentle reminder that you’re driving like an idiot.

Out on the national roads you’ll also do well to approach fast sweeping bends with added caution, plus the Terios is quite prone to side winds. Shame, it sounds like I’m slating the poor critter for not meeting supercar norms when I actually loved zipping around the Peninsula in my cute little SUV.

So now it’s time to focus on the positive points and feel-good aspect of the Terios, which make it such a rewarding car to drive. We started our journey in Cape Town, drove to Somerset West, commuted around town for two days, quickly popped into Cape Town, paid Stellenbosch a visit, and still returned it to Cape Town with a quarter tank.

Although it doesn’t have a consumption read-out (and our new testing equipment is still on its way), that is sensationally low use from its 50L tank. The Terios’ 5th gear isn’t made for high speeds, and the engine registers 4,000rpm at an indicated 130km/h.

Still, as we just discovered, the chunky Daihatsu is economical with its fuel and easily cruises at the national speed limit. Overtaking ability isn’t exactly breathtaking but thanks to its gear ratios, only steep inclines or low speeds will necessitate a gear change or two.

Which will rouse the Terios’ suitably cheeky engine, a 1,495cc in-line 4-cylinder 16-valve petrol engine worth 77kw (105hp) and 140Nm. Just like other 1500’s I’ve tested, this gem of an engine shines with frugal fuel consumption, adequate torque and reasonably quiet operation.

That is until you give it the spurs and it becomes really, really angry. You can feel the variable valve timing kick in at 4,500rpm as the engine’s soundtrack becomes alarmingly loud and raspy. As with other 1.5L engines this one happily operates near its maximum speed and still remains economical.

Performance is still nothing near impressive, but at least the dramatic full-throttle antics of its engine lend another fun feature to any Terios. To heave itself in the opposite direction, the Terios uses disc and drum brakes with ABS assistance and electronic brake force distribution.

Further safety features include two airbags and side impact protection, collapsible steering column, engine and suspension, plus a clever safety cell design which awarded the Terios a Euro NCAP crash test result of 4 stars. Brilliant!

The Terios really is a cheerful companion and our test car had to endure numerous inquisitive fans prodding around its interior. The materials and finish are acceptable rather than luxurious, with some onlookers remarking that the seats could offer more support.

Head and leg-room front and back even accommodate five adults in comfort, while the rear folding (and reclining) seats pleased most temporary occupants. Boot space is a generous 380L thanks to the relocation of the spare wheel to the rear door.

Inside the 4m length and 1.7m width of the Terios you will find power steering, central locking, air conditioning, electric windows, electric mirrors, plenty of storage bins, two cup-holders and a radio/CD combination with decent sound quality.

All this could be yours for just N$234 995 with a 3 year 100 000km warranty and a 3 year 75 000km service plan. Add N$10 000 for automatic or N$20 000 for the “Off-road” model; the 2WD version currently retails for N$204 995. The big smile on your face as you zip around town comes as standard.

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