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Daihatsu Terios SE Auto Roadtest

Although a little underpowered, the all-new Terios is loaded with urban chic, which it combines with a genuine off-road capability.

the all-new Terios has acquired a welcome muscularity

"Mum, Mum!" cried the youthful God of the Land, "Metropolis has put something called Doncaster in the middle of my countryside." Aphrodites turned to her young son, and said, in a comforting tone: "Don't get upset, dear, he's put it in Yorkshire, where no-one will notice. You just concentrate on Sussex for the time being, and if you do it nicely I'll let you call it God's County".

As any student of Greek mythology will tell you, that young God grew up to be Terios, whose name lingers on in a smart little Japanese off-roader. More than that, were Terios and Metropolis still around - and who's to say they're not? - the two gods would be able to share the eponymous Daihatsu, given that it is as much at home in town as it is on the land.

And this is no myth: I live in a particularly rural part of Surrey, where green lanes abound, and during the test week I alternated between off-road driving and trips up to town, where, in both environments, Daihatsu's pint-sized 4x4 proved to be as adept as it looks.

A big improvement on the previous model, which looked flimsy, petite and altogether inadequate, the all-new Terios has acquired a welcome muscularity spoiled only by a garish spare-wheel cover of the sort I associate with hoop earrings and Estuary English. And unfortunately, the excessively cosmetic wheel cover - which appears to be a standard fitment - implies that the rugged appearance of the Terios is only skin deep, which is far from the case.

Daihatsu has a lot of experience in building highly competent 4x4s - the FourTrak would rival a Defender in most instances - and much of that experience seems to have emerged in the Terios. For example, it has permanent 50:50 all-wheel drive with a centre differential to eliminate transmission wind-up; it also has fairly high ground clearance, and short front and rear overhangs to enable steep approach and departure angles; and, furthermore, by means of a fascia-mounted switch, the diff can be locked to improve traction in sticky situations. And the long coil springs allow ample axle articulation during traversing or whilst driving across particularly uneven terrain.

OK, so there's no low-ratio transfer 'box, and the standard road tyres are not ideal in muddy situations, but by and large, the Terios lives up to its name.

It Is To The Terios's Advantage Not To Look Like A Hulking Gas-Guzzler

Yet, in town, the Daihatsu is no less capable. The high driving position is obviously a benefit, and the 9.8-metre kerb-to-kerb turning circle is better than many hatchbacks, and the wrap-round rear windows are quite helpful when reversing into confined spaces. And given the growing strength of the anti-4x4 lobby, it is to the Terios's advantage not to look like a hulking gas-guzzler. Although considerably larger than its predecessor, the all-new model is nonetheless smaller than a Freelander or Rav4, and less likely to attract the ire of earnest young students armed with opprobrious stickers.

Indeed, Daihatsu refers to the fuel consumption of the 1.5-litre Terios as being 'politically correct', but relies on the 40.4 mpg achieved on the extra-urban cycle by the 5-speed manual model to make its point. I hate to spoil a good argument with the facts, but the SE model (as tested) has non-optional, 4-speed automatic transmission, and on the urban cycle - which is what most of the fuss is about - it returns a meagre 26.4 mpg. And that's under beneficial test conditions: in the real world the urban consumption is likely to be closer to 20 mpg. Furthermore, the auto' 'box pushes up the CO2 emissions to 201 g/km - although, in fairness, all models are in VED Band F, that is £180 per annum.

Although the SE's automatic transmission eases the burden of town traffic, it is a bit vacant at times, and under a light throttle load seems uncertain about quite which gear to select. And kick-down is not to be relied upon, as I discovered on a couple of steep hills near to my home. In fact, any appreciable gradient requires high revs in a low gear (selected rather than waiting for kick-down), mainly because the 1.5-litre engine develops its modest peak torque of 140 Nm at a rather frantic 4400 rpm, although the torque starts to pull its weight at around 3000 rpm.

But even without a steep hill in prospect, the Terios is not a candidate for Santa Pod. Partly thanks to the draining effect of a 4-speed auto' the SE needs at least 13.6 seconds to reach 60 mph, and more than 14 seconds to reach 62 mph. And the engine's 105 PS will sustain a top speed of no more than 93 mph, which leaves little in reserve on a motorway. In other words, long, high-speed journeys put quite a lot of strain on the little engine. Having said that, the engine is man enough to tug a 1350-kilo braked trailer, which equates to most twin-axle caravans, a decent horse box, or something noisy in the sports-boat line.

On the other hand, and by way of compensation, the seats are very comfortable, and the cabin is much roomier than that of the previous model. The ride quality, however, is somewhat variable. On smooth roads, no complaints; but on minor country roads there is a noticeable tendency for the car to ride too lightly on its coil springs and it exhibits a curious, bouncing, Zebedee-like motion, which can be tiring if taken in lengthy doses. It came as no surprise to discover that the handling was also quite soft, although the road-holding appears not to suffer too greatly as a result. Considering its split personality, the Terios demands little in the way of compromise, and as long as you don't expect it to drive and handle like a penny packet Freelander, you should not be disappointed.

But, of course, the Terios is a lot cheaper than a Freelander, and at £14,995 for the SE Auto, it could be argued that it offers a lot better value, too. Although there are no such luxuries as electronic stability control or cruise control, the SE does come bundled with side airbags, air-conditioning, alloys, reverse-parking sensors, a radio/CD player, tinted and rear privacy glass, front fog lamps, a heated windscreen and mirrors, and roof rails. Oddly, there is no mention of ISOFIX mounts.

There Is A Surprising Amount Of Leg Room For Rear-Seat Occupants

Missing from the specification is one item that deserves a mention, and that is what might be called the car's provenance. Although Daihatsu is to some extent the 'poor relation' of Japanese manufacturers, it is owned and backed by the giant Toyota Corporation, with all that implies: build quality is of a very high standard, and reliability is pretty much assured. If you doubt that, watch any film shot in the developing world and you are bound to spot a Toyota somewhere in the background. When you are a day's drive from the nearest garage, you need a car that will start every time, and keep going whatever the terrain.

But I digress. Back in Blighty, it is perhaps of more consequence that the large tailgate opens from the pavement side, an important safety feature still overlooked by some manufacturers. But the presence of the spare wheel located beneath the rear window does make the tailgate quite heavy, and difficult to open if the car is parked on a steeply cambered road. But once inside, there is ample room and the built-in load hooks are handy for restraining heavy objects. The split, folding rear seats can be easily collapsed to make room for the Sunday morning DIY pilgrimage, or, at 1.29 metres, a full-sized mountain bike.

Although this car is only just over 4 metres long, and boasts a 380-litre load area, there is a surprising amount of leg room for rear-seat occupants, and shoulder room to match. Although ostensibly a five-seater - with three, three-point rear belts - the Terios will not comfortably accommodate five adults except for short journeys. Five adults - I know because I tried it - are also a bit much for the small, four-pot engine. Even four adults deplete what even to start with is scarcely scintillating performance.

The absence of outright performance appears of little consequence around town, which is where the Terios is at its most engaging, as its character seems more than anything else to portray a sort of rugged urban chic. Several companies have tried to create a similar image but all have lacked the essential 4x4 architecture to carry it off. But the Daihatsu's aesthetic appeal is not limited to its external styling: the bright, Odeonesque, art deco centre stack looks fresh, novel and a welcome change from the dismal grey plastic that usually prevails.

And for once, I could work the radio, which delivered a surprisingly high sound quality despite its not being a premium brand. It might even have impressed the God of Entertainment, Stereos.

Posted on 17.10.2006 by Graham Whyte
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