Cars as accessories? Is it possible? Cars that are sort of like the cute pink and pastel-blue smart phone cases that nearly all of the (amazingly) cute Japanese girls here always seem to have? I can’t relate to this. I’m a guy. I’m into cars for guys. I drive cars for guys. I write about cars for guys. Mostly. So, yeah, I can’t relate to the car as accessory thing, or, at least, I couldn’t relate until, on our Car Café Day, I was properly introduced to the cutest little fun Japanese sporting machine by the cutest little Japanese sporty girl.
In the first two parts of our Car Café series here on our Japan Car Direct Blog (click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2), I introduced you to a couple of the members of the car café, namely: “The Prez,” with his mighty, tuned Hakosuka Skyline, and “Mr Taxi,” with his restored and tuned classic Lotus Europa. Both these kind gents let me solo test drive their machines around the beautiful hill country roads on the Hakone side of the valley across from where I live on Mount Fuji.
I think that when I drove into the parking lot that day for our car guys meet up, the first things I noticed were that Skyline
and that Europa.
The third thing I noticed was the skirt.
Now, this is not just any skirt, guys. This is the pure, refined, Japanese fashion combination of short skirt and long socks (with the top of the socks zooming up to chase the ever higher receding skirt) that has become a mainstay style of Japanese girls between the ages of 18 and 26 years old. I don’t remember when this trend first came out, but I certainly like it. It even has a specific fashion name: “Zettai Ryouiki,” and there is even a Wikipedia page here about it.
I kid you not. There are even standards for proportions and ratios of skirt to socks to thigh. I’m serious! Check it out. I sure checked out that girl at our car café day, I have to admit. Here’s Wiki’s take on Zettai Ryouiki as seen at the Bologna Motor Show in 2021:
The lovely Car Café girl, whom I will simply call “The Girl,” in keeping with the nicknames-only policy of our first two posts, actually works at the car café, and she’s become something of a treasured jewel for the gentleman car guys who often visit the café for their coffees and cakes.
Now, The Girl, to whom the short skirt and long socks were attached, came with a car. The car was as cute as she was and it just fit her perfectly. It fit her image and look: fresh, sporty, energetic, delightful and…..fetchingly sexy. The car was a first series Daihatsu Copen,
one of the small and sprightly Kei sports cars which are one of the main classes of fun, economical, and good quality used cars that we export from Japan. I myself, right after moving to Japan, was quite thrilled with the Kei sports cars I found here, both the supercharged units like the Subaru Vivio RX-R
and the turbo-charged machines like the Suzuki Alto Works
or my own Mistubishi Minica Danagan.
This whole class of vehicle benefits from diminutive size and small, but high output engines; a winning combination, indeed, and we’ve looked at these wonderful little cars in earlier posts on our Blog here, here, here, and here.
Although we export a good number of 25 year old Kei sports cars to the USA, where it is easy to import a 25 year old used Japanese vehicle, be it sports car, minitruck, Kei van, you name it, we can’t yet send a used Copen to America because these cars are not yet 25 years old, but I always tell American fans of Japanese Kei sports cars not to despair because many of the best cars in this class are, in fact, the older ones (you’ll find the USA used car import rules on our site here).
It’s been my privilege to drive many thrilling Kei sports cars and to own, for many years and many happy miles, one of the best (that Minica Dangan) and, on our car café day, The Girl’s Kei sports Daihatsu Copen was another little thriller….like that little thriller skirt….eh hem!….moving right along….focus, Dave, focus.
Some Copen Specs
The first series Copens came out in Japan in the summer of 2002, and so they are old enough now to be easily imported to Canada and the UK (the import rules for Canada are on our main website here, and the rules for the UK are here ).
They are front wheel drive, two-seater sports cars with a 660cc turbo-charged straight-four engine. (Yes, guys, in case you were wondering, in the 660cc engine class in Japan there are some straight fours, although most are straight threes.) Power is listed as 64ps (just over 63hp) but that is the government regulated figure and forced-induction Kei engines, your turbos and your supercharged units, all produce well over the official figure. To get a better sense of the power of the Copen’s engine, it’s best to look at the torque figure: a nice 11.2 kg/m at a good, low 3,200rpm.
As far as size is concerned, the Copen follows the post October-1998 Kei car rules and is just a shade under 3.4 meters long by 1.47m wide. He’s a low-slung little guy at 1.24m in height. In terms of major drive train options, first generation Copens, the L880 chassis types, were available with either a five speed manual or a four speed automatic transmission. A limited slip differential (LSD) is also an option.
The Copen is a convertible with a powered hard top. The opening and closing mechanism is really neat and there’s a fellow named Marc Harvey on You Tube, I think he’s based in the UK, and he’s put up a little video to show us the hard top in action; you can check it out here; totally cool!
(In this article here today I won’t be looking at the new series of Copens, the LA400 chassis types, since I’ve not had a chance to drive one yet. They are pretty cool looking though, with slightly sharper and more muscular lines vs the easy going curves of the first series.)
Driving the Daihatsu Copen
Sitting in the Copen, the first thing that I noticed was that it’s rather more spacious inside than you expect for such a small car, and the interior is really nice.
To me, it has a sort of mid-90s Italian feel, like with the old Lancia Delta Integrale.
The control layout in the Copen was first rate and the material quality of the interior parts seemed quite good to me, no cheapy feeling. Handling was very good and braking was especially good: under hard braking the little Copen stopped very quickly and tracked absolutely straight. Very reassuring braking, although, for me personally, I think that the brake pedal input feel is too light; same with the steering input feel, but I’m a bit of an old school brute and moan and complain when I have to drive any sports car with power steering.
My only other complaint was that they top of the windscreen surround is just a bit low for me; I’m almost six feet.
Buddy Buys a Copen
Now, interestingly enough, my car buddy who brought me to the car café day, the fellow who drives the blue Lotus Elise,
(we’ll call him “Mr Elise”) also test drove The Girl’s Copen. Then he went out a bought one!
Was it such clear direct cause and effect? Not exactly. What happened was this: He was looking for a replacement for his wife’s Daihatsu Esse Custom (another good little Kei sports machine, although not a particularly powerful car..…awfully cute, though).
His mechanic had a customer who had a super low-mileage Copen that he was looking to sell and so: Customer meet customer and this is the Copen Mr Elise has got now:
Mr Elise’s take on the Copen is also very positive and he put it to me like this:
“The suspension is a bit hard around town, but up on the Skyline and in the winding maintain passes, like Kannami, the Copen really comes into its own. It turns well, turns real sharp. Climbs well, too. I mean, well, you know, compared to the Lotus, it’s a different range of speed, of course, but the pleasure of sports driving is definitely there. It’s a surprisingly fun car. Frankly, my first reaction was: Eh? Is it really this good?….And, yes, it is.”
Now his only complaint about the Copen is pedal position. He thinks that, because the clutch engages at quite a deep point, the foot rest is too close and, when you want to move your foot from the foot rest to the clutch pedal, it takes too much movement. He’s thinking of getting the foot rest moved to compensate for this. (He talks about his nearly new second hand Copen on his blog here.)
I myself did not have any complaints about pedal position on the Copen and I suspect Mr Elise is more picky because his Lotus has a much “sportier,” tight pedal spacing so, going from the Elise back to back to the Copen, he has the impression that the pedals are too widely spaced on the Daihatsu. I asked him about this and he said: “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Be Sensible About Low Mileage Used Cars from Japan
One of the best things about buying a good used car from Japan and importing it yourself (see details about the overall used car import process here)
is that used Japanese cars are generally very well cared for by their previous owners, and they also tend to have fewer miles on the odometer than is the case with used cars bought in, say, the UK, or Canada, or the USA. This is especially true of Japanese Kei cars, which are often kept as second cars. A perfect example of this are the low miles, used Suzuki Jimnys that are kept on farms as bad weather vehicles or just for use around the farm. They are often well over 25 years old, but don’t have many kilometers on them. (We’ve got a page on our JCD site just about Jimnys. You’ll find it here.)
So, yes, finding good, low mileage, used cars in Japan is the norm, but we are not talking here about cars like my buddy’s Copen with something like only 2,000km on it. At Japan Car Direct, when we are looking at used cars that have unbelievably low mileages on them, we are always suspicious and we advise caution. There’s believable low mileage and unbelievable low mileage, and our inspectors are always on the lookout to be sure that the claimed mileage on any used car that we bid on lines up with the general condition of the car itself. In addition, we always check that the MOT (shaken) certificates support the mileage on the odometer.
In my buddy’s case, he knew the provenance of the car through his trusted mechanic, so he knew that he was in the clear.
Yeah, when I bought used cars in Canada or the UK, “old” meant lots of miles and poor condition, but this is not so much the case here in Japan, where so many people just don’t drive their cars that much and, with the economic slowdown these days, there are lots of low miles used vehicles in Japan that are going for very reasonable money. These used cars are good deals and they are what we help our customers to find.
The Copen as a Fashion Statement
What a day that Car Café Day was! All we sports car guys had such fun and thrills, and writing about it now for our Japan Car Direct customers, has been a chance for me to “re-live” the day. The cars I drove were great.
And The Girl? It was so refreshing to meet a young lady who is not living her life on-line and glued to her smart phone. She’s an active sports car gal and she expresses her energy and positive, bright spirit in her style and in her choice of car. She was a breath of fresh air and the little Copen really suited her.
But don’t think that the Daihatsu Copen in just a car for cool, cute, and confident young girls. Oh no, no! You know the kind of people I often see behind the wheel of a Copen, enjoying the twisties on the mountain roads here in Japan? Middle-aged sports car fans like me and my buddy, Mr Elise. And I also see serious, young, tuner guys in Copens. Now, middle-aged me and middle-aged Mr Elise, drive Copens because we like the handling and style. Same for the serious young tuner guys. But might there be a second reason for them? For those young guys? I’m thinking: do they want to meet the “Zettai-Ryouiki” girls? Yep, not everybody is living totally on line. Not yet.
If you are thinking that the Copen or any of the other wonderful Japanese Kei sports cars is the right car for you (and maybe even the perfect “fashion statement”), then register here with us at Japan Car Direct and we’ll help you get a good deal on a sweet and thrilling little machine.