It’s difficult to make sweeping generalizations about Japanese cars, especially those that you actually find on the streets and parking lots of Japan. Take these two, for instance. At first glance, one could deduct from this unlikely duo that JDM cars are small – and pretty bulky, too. They’re ultra-conservative, as well as completely modern. They’re square and yet round, sporty and slow, dull and exciting, somewhat silly and deadly serious. Welcome to the Land of Paradoxes.
Take the 2002-12 Daihatsu Copen – a two-seater drop-top with a turbocharged 659cc 4-cyl driving the front wheels. It’s not the quickest car on the market, but then it’s a kei car, so it has no business being very fast. It’s cute and cool and cheap to keep on the road, and that’s what matters.
Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it has to be ugly or shoddy. After all, it takes just as much effort to design and build an ugly car as a pretty one (and more effort to sell the ugly ones), so they really went for the retro rounded design with this one, though it manages to look distinctive, as opposed to derivative. Sure, there are lots of VW New Beetle hints, but the smaller overall package, slab-sided design and a few judiciously placed details, e.g. the grille, give this Daihatsu its own character.
The owner of this one obviously thought it needed a few sporting touches, including a great big rear spoiler. It’s a hilarious addition to such a small car, just like the multiple air ducts in the front. The cuteness of the Copen clashes with these “performance-enhancing” items in a most comical way. Unlikely juxtapositions – or paradoxes – are often a source of merriment.
The only thing I was able to suss out about dating these is that the rear-mounted antenna disappeared for MY 2009, so this Copen is at least 10 years old. In kei car years, that’ like 20. After 10 years, the mandatory biennial vehicle inspection (the dreaded shaken, designed by the Government – in collusion with the automakers – to incite the public into buying new cars on a regular basis) tends to be prohibitively expensive, so keeping a car like this one on the road is a sign that the owner, to his great credit, is not stirred by the shaken. This little Daihatsu is still on the road. And that, in and of itself, is also a paradox.
The other member of this duo of misfits is ubiquitous around Japan (not that the Copen is all that rare, but Crown Comfort taxis are just everywhere). As familiar as I am with these cars, I am still not used to seeing these small-taillight base models, which I would reckon, based on personal empirical guesstimates, to represent about 40% of the current Japanese taxi fleet. The higher-spec Comfort Super Saloon is present in roughly equal numbers, though slightly higher in Tokyo and less in the provinces.
Is there any 21st Century vehicle that could rival base-level Crown Comfort in terms of staidness and butt-clenched rectitude? That is part of its charm. So square it’s cool, so antiquated it seems to have landed here straight from the late ‘80s – which it has, in a way. The underlying RWD / live axle nature of this beast only widens the gap between it and its neighbouring Copen, yet they are contemporaries and made by sister companies. Do I detect a faint whiff of paradox?
It’s impossible for me to ascertain when this Crown came off the assembly line. These were made for over two decades (1995-2017) with precious few changes, as far as I know. The column shifter in this one might indicate an older car, but even that is pure speculation on my part.
You just can’t tell how old this car is by looking at it. Japanese taxis, even two decades old and clocking over 500,000 km (which do exist), are always spotless. I’ve used a lot of taxis in Southeast Asia and the experience is not always a pleasant one, in terms of upkeep and/or general hygiene. Japanese taxis are always clean, comfortable and meticulously maintained.
But they cost an arm and a leg, so I never use them. Paradox.
CC Capsule: 2002-12 Daihatsu Copen – Parp Parp!, by William Stopford