When I was a child, I used to read Noddy books. For those who aren’t familiar with the Enid Blyton character, Noddy was a little wooden boy who lived in Toyland with a friendly gnome named Big Ears. Noddy drove around Toyland in a little convertible with a big key sticking out the back. When I see the Daihatsu Copen, I can’t help but think of Noddy and his little convertible. All that’s missing is the key.
The Copen certainly was small enough for Toyland, using the Cuore mini-car’s platform and measuring just 133.7 inches long and 58.1 inches wide. This was a kei car and as such the standard engine in Japan was a 660cc DOHC turbocharged three-cylinder. The little three-pot produced 67 hp and 73 ft-lbs and could hit 60mph in under 12 seconds.
A few years after launch, export markets received a larger 1.3 naturally-aspirated four with 85 hp and 88 ft-lbs. This was enough to push the Copen’s 0-60 time to just under 10 seconds. No, that wasn’t terribly fast but it felt it in such a tiny little car, at least with the five-speed manual; a four-speed automatic was also offered in some markets.
I don’t think Noddy’s convertible had a folding roof – does it even rain in Toyland? – but the Copen had a slick aluminium retractable hardtop, highly unusual for a convertible this small.
The cabin was understandably small but curiously cheerless – the fun design motif didn’t carry over inside.
Because of its pert dimensions and low 1874-pound curb weight, the Copen was darty and fun-to-drive – perfect for running over Skittles (strange Toyland creatures that liked being bowled over by cars – Enid had quite an imagination!) The Copen’s short 87.8-inch wheelbase didn’t help ride quality however, the little convertible crashing over bumps.
The Copen had a short three-year run in Australia. Daihatsu was withdrawn from the Australian market in 2005 although Toyota denied this was to make way for a rumoured introduction of the Scion brand here. More likely it was the ongoing threat of small Korean cars and a rather unexciting product lineup, both of which had made the brand unprofitable here. The Copen was one of the few highlights in the Daihatsu range and it undercut the Mazda MX-5 by a cool $8000.
Elsewhere, the Copen enjoyed a lengthy decade-long run before being discontinued. This cute little convertible couldn’t stay gone for long, though. A new generation debuted at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, sporting decidedly more aggressive styling more suitable to a car owned by mischievous goblins Sly and Gobbo. Fortunately, a variant called the Copen Cero arrived in 2015 to appeal to buyers that liked the first generation’s cute styling.
On the smooth roads and amidst the sunny climate of Toyland, the first-generation Copen would have been a treat for a diminutive driver. For everywhere else, it was just too small, noisy and uncomfortable. If you could get past those flaws, though, the Copen could put a smile on your face.