Owner Review

2003 Daihatsu Copen review

Rating: 7.8
$4,260 $5,060 Dealer
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The Copen is an achingly beautiful, dedicated driver's car that you'll have to want to own. If you're unsure whether to get a Copen or a pre-2015 MX-5 with a soft top - go buy the MX-5.

On the other hand, if you buy a Copen you are basically buying a baby racing car with a retractable roof that will be the most fun you've ever had driving! Every drive is a pleasure, with you changing gears all the time with the close ratio box, and feeling the car handling like a cat on carpet. This car will see off Porsche Cayennes through roundabouts! Being a Japanese made Daihatsu, build quality is impeccable, and if serviced properly these cars will do at least 160,000km with no problems. Plus, it basically makes everyone who sees it very happy.

People of all ages, from 18 year old girls to 80 year old men (and everyone in between) will make frequent and regular comments such as, "Wow, what a beautiful car, what is it?!"

People just can't help looking at it. As I was leaving poker this evening I had two young blokes admiring it and asking me everything about it.

Out of the factory, the little inline intercooled 659cc twin-scroll turbo four has to be a maximum of 50kW under Japanese laws, but these babies were engineered to go much further. Which is good, because stock they are pretty slow, but that is something which can be fixed. The engine redline is 8000rpm but there's no point going over 6000 - the close ratio box and the small turbo means the engine is always on boost anyway. The seats and driving position are excellent if you're under 6-foot-2.

Here's the basic upgrade: replace the deliberately bad air intake with a direct cone filter, put in a straight-through 2-inch exhaust, fit a manual boost controller to get to 15psi boost, remove and cap the 'vent to turbo' pipe to get a fantastic blow-off noise and fit a real time engine temp display since the stock unit is useless and the amount of coolant is very small.

I live in Canberra where temps range from minus 6 to around 46 degrees. Curiously, running the air conditioning brings the engine temp down 15 degrees with no noticeable loss of power. Insurance is cheap.

Now why you might prefer an MX-5: Copens are exotic outside Japan so you'll be sourcing every part from overseas. You'll have to find a mechanic who either knows Copens or wants to learn. She needs fresh, good quality oil every six months and logbook servicing.

Forget luggage - there is almost no boot when the roof is down so you'll be carrying the shopping home on the passenger seat and in the footwell. In-cabin storage is very limited - better than a current retractable roof MX-5 but that's a very, very low bar to jump. You'll have to learn where controls and buttons are but that's pretty easy. When the roof is up you realise just how small it is. A Copen is not a touring car; it pulls 4000rpm in 5th gear at 100km/h and you'll feel every stone on the road. Fuel economy is about 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres.

So, that's what owning a Copen is like. You'll either fall in love or hate all the compromises - it just depends on what you want in a car. If you're a driver, it'll be hard to wipe the smile off your face.