This compact, with its gauche chrome affectations, represents the last conventional compact offering from quirky Daihatsu. To paraphrase their oft-repeated tagline, “Who can build a compact for ten years with few compelling changes? Daihatsu! That’s who!”
Daihatsu may have left the Australian market almost a decade ago in 2006, but it enjoyed a much longer shelf life here than in North America. Its final offerings included the tippy but cute Terios SUV, the delightful Copen roadster, and the pleasant Sirion.
Not every Daihatsu was brimming with character, though. There were plenty of staid offerings, like the bargain basement Cuore and Charade Centro and the conservative Charade, which had a very senior-friendly image. The Applause was another fairly invisible offering, but it did have a trick up its sleeve.
Despite its traditional, three-box styling, it was actually a hatchback with a useful 14.54 cubic feet of trunk space. Daihatsu figured they could offer the best of both worlds: sedan styling and hatchback versatility.
Still, perhaps it was the three-box styling that was both its most unique feature and one of its biggest flaws. Why? It resulted in nicely proportioned but utterly sensible styling. Anecdotally speaking, sedans here in Australia have always been preferred by older people. Those more youthful prefer the style of a hatchback. Statistically speaking, hatchbacks are more popular.
1996-2000 Daihatsu Charade. Photo courtesy of Order 242
Like Suzuki, Daihatsu was a second or even arguably third-tier Japanese brand on the Australian market. With much less development capital than the big Japanese brands, both brands pursued niches or put their marketing efforts into their more successful offerings. For example, Suzuki has always focused on its successful Swift and SUV range, but its larger offerings (Baleno, Kizashi) have never been very successful.
The Applause was never a force on the sales charts. The model lineup was a confusing jumble – at various times including Executive, Li, Ri, Ri Sports, Theta and Xi variants – but all models came with the same 1.6-litre, overhead camshaft, 16-valve four-cylinder engine with 103hp and 99 ft-lbs, mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic (three-speed in 1989).
A rising yen in the mid-1990s forced prices up of the dull Charade and Applause, and their small Australian presence further sabotaged their success. Daihatsu decided to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. The mid-1990s, thus, saw a shift from plain Jane to Mary Jane.
In came the dorky Move kei car, the narrow Terios and the mini-minivan Pyzar. In fact, the long-running Charade was even axed in favour of the quirkily-styled Sirion and the van-like YRV.
The Applause had been trudging along since 1989 before its first revision in 1997. Newer, fresher rivals had come along, offering more space and power. The Applause couldn’t even play the value card; although its base price had held the line in the $AUD15-17k range for several years, a rising yen saw the MSRP jump to $21k in 1995, and the complex range was trimmed back to two models.
The 1997 revision was heavy-handed and further cemented any senior-friendly image the Applause had. Lashings of chrome, including a gaudy new grille, were alarmingly out-of-touch additions; acres of plastic woodgrain trim adorned the interior as well. Unlike, say, the AMC Concord – another example of a dated compact tizzied up with luxury touches – the market wasn’t clamouring for a more Broughamantic small car.
Where the Concord was a modest success, the Applause revision failed to arrest flagging sales despite substantial price drops of around $3k. The Executive and Xi were replaced with a single model with either a manual or automatic, at $19,490 and $21,490 respectively. In addition, this new model, cheaper than the previous base model, included the previous uplevel Xi’s features such as power windows and mirrors, but it still lacked remote central locking.
Despite these price cuts, the Applause still didn’t represent exceptional value. Nissan was making hay with its long-running Pulsar Plus limited edition, heavily advertised on television, and offering alloy wheels, rear spoiler and standard air conditioning for a memorable $19,990 driveaway price. Moreover, the Pulsar was one of the segment’s best offerings and offered better dynamics, more modern looks inside and out, and a gutsier engine: 115hp and 108 ft-lbs versus the Applause’s 93hp and 99 ft-lbs. In addition, the ever ambitious Koreans were offering newer, more stylish models like the Kia Mentor and Hyundai Lantra.
A 1998 small car “super test”, one of my favorite comparison tests by my favorite but sadly now defunct magazine Which Car, saw the Applause go head-to-head with almost the entire segment. The Applause was older than its opponents, the Daewoo Nubira, Kia Mentor (Sephia), Mazda 323, Ford Laser, Holden Astra, Nissan Pulsar, Toyota Corolla, Proton Persona and Mitsubishi Lancer. Its age showed: it tied dead last with the Nubira.
Kia Shuma/Mentor hatch
While praised for its decent price and equipment, fuel economy and willing performance, it was panned for excessive NVH and steering kickback, as well as sloppy handling, poor tire selection, a lot of body roll, and a loose front end. Inside, the woodgrain appliqué was deemed tacky, the interior ambience dated, and the seating position uncomfortable due to a higher driver’s seat and the lack of height adjustment for the steering wheel.
It was considered no better dynamically than the Nubira, and having driven a Nubira, I can advise that means it was a pretty rubbish drive. Still, the Applause’s ills were more forgivable considering it was approaching the decade mark at this point, and the Nubira was brand new.
Even the Applause’s once vaunted practicality was called into question, as the rear seats didn’t completely fold down and the trunk was shallow. The older design also meant less interior room than its rivals. However, the Applause was always reliable and its aged design certainly meant if there were any kinks, they’d been ironed out long ago.
It was a miserable end for a forgotten car. Daihatsu kept building the Applause for the Japanese market until 2000, but by 1999 it was dead in Australia and without a direct replacement. Suffice it to say, when you are competing in the most cutthroat segment of the market and you are a small brand, you really have to bring it. The Applause didn’t. At best, it was a polite clap.
What stirs memories for me in this piece isn’t the Daihatsu Applause, which pretty much looks “inoffensive generic Asian”, but the Kia Shuma. I remember being struck by its appearance being Dodge/Plymouth Neon in the rear and 1986 Ford “Ovoid” Taurus in the front. A 2001 styling revision went the Ford Taurus route, too, with a new grille and teardrop-shaped integrated headlights/parking-signal lights.
In aping the Taurus, the Kia Shuma followed Ford’s styling lead by one year, both times.
glad to finally know I’m not the only one who thought that.
Now, which 3 cars is the hyundai genesis a mashup of?
My most vivid Daihatsu experience took place in Xian, China. They used older, 4-door Charades as taxis, with an LPG tank as your rear-seat headrest. Sort of like being in a Pinto on steroids.
Clever idea, 3 box hatchback. Best of both worlds indeed. Wonder why it didn’t catch on? Seems like if it was offered on the US where hatchbacks are unpopular but useful this design would be a great idea.
My Plymouth Sundance had it, as did the larger Lancer/Lebaron GTS twins. It is a good idea.
Beat me to it, Dave. Ive never liked 4 door sedans…half of it because 4 doors looks frumpy and clunky, ruining otherwise clean lines. In the case of a wagon or hatch, at least you gain a fair amount of usefulness so some tradeoff of style is acceptable, but a sedan with a trunk and fixed rear window offers no clear advantage over coupes or wagons/hatches. The ‘hidden hatch’ does rectify it a bit though and as a daily grinder I wouldn’t mind having a clean manual trans/turbo II P-body or Lancer/LBGTS.
Toyota used a similar style hatchback on its Corona for the NZ market, it was very popular but it wasnt quite the 3 box style and got named a liftback.
The Mazda6 recently offered this feature, as well.
With most sedans now taking on a fastback form, you’d think more manufacturers would offer it. It may be cost and weight that keeps it out of the marketplace. I’d imagine more structure is required to compensate for the larger hole in the tail end, in addition to the beefier hardware needed to support the larger door (versus a trunk lid).
Continuing the trend of “Japanese car names that seem really silly in English”. I can’t help but picture a really awkward Japanese car commercial involving this vehicle.
The red velvet curtain raises unveiling Daihatsu’s new compact sedan in a lovely silver color in front of an auditorium full of conservatively dressed 90’s Japanese business people. The camera cuts to panning shots of the audience and zooming closeups of their smiling faces as they extol praise of the vehicle and applaud vigorously, glancing to one another for acknowledgement as models smooth their hands over the car’s curves. The camera cuts again to a montage showcasing the vehicle’s spartan but functional features and it’s low low price, narrated in Japanese by a calm soothing female voice-over with bright text overlays and a conservatively dressed female model highlighting the comfort and practicality of the vehicle with a pasted smile. The screen then fades to black and the vehicle pulls into the shot on a black backdrop. The Diahatsu logo fades in and the narrator comes back to breathlessly announce the name of the vehicle. “AHPRAUSUU”
The only Daihatsu I ever drove was a Rocky SUV, on my honeymoon in 1991 on St John, US Virgin Islands. Being a US territory, it was a US-spec vehicle (read: left-hand drive) but for historical reasons, in the USVI they drive on the left. As St John isn’t (or at least wasn’t) very developed, there were lots of small windy roads with awesome views and trucks barreling along in the other direction. An, um, interesting drive, but fun for me. (For my wife, not so much…) However my one regret about driving that day is that driving meant I couldn’t (over) imbibe at Shipwreck Landing, way out in Coral Bay. I really expected Jimmy Buffet to be sitting at the bar as we walked in. (From their website it looks like they have transitioned to being a restaurant with drinks, rather than a bar with food. Oh well..)
“The only Daihatsu I ever drove was a Rocky SUV,”
Hell its the only ‘hatsu I ever cared about. I kinda liked them back in the day…sure they were dinky little wannabe Jeeps, much like the Suzuki brothers, but they looked a bit more beefy and well thought out. I especially liked the removable composite targa roof over the front seats paired with a removeable separate hardtop or soft top out back. Theyre supposed to be decent little offroad scrappers.
I certainly wouldn’t call a Daihatsu Rocky “dinky”. They had a (legal) towing capacity of 3,500 kg
(7,700 lbs). The same as contemporary Land Cruisers, Patrols and Pajeros. It was a mastodon compared to a Suzuki LJ.
It had that nice mini-scenicruiser roof….
These were also badged Toyota Blizzard or some such moniker like a mini Landcruiser.
…the Daihatsu Feroza on the other hand….Its color wraps it up.
Maybe our Feroza was your Rocky ?
Yup that’s the one that was our rocky. That first one looks about the size of a Wrangler give or take. But in Europe that’s a big truck, I suppose.
Everybody calls that a 4×4. And a smaller one, like a Suzuki LJ, is called a “jeepke”. 🙂
A big truck here weighs 110,000 lbs and has 5 axles.
Yup, your Feroza is our Rocky. I’ve only ever seen a few of them. That and the Charade were the only Daihatsus sold in the U.S.
Thanks for the link !
Meanwhile Daihatsu has left our continent entirely. “Our” Rocky was considered as a low-budget Land Cruiser. It had a 2.8 liter 4 cylinder turbo diesel engine.
One of my relatives had a 1980’s Daihatsu Rocky pickup, with a non-turbo version of the 2.8D, it was know as the boneshaker because the leaf springs were so stiff
I once rode a moped from one end of Bermuda to the other (another ‘drive on left’ island), in the dark, with my wife hanging on for dear life and trying not to look too hard. The seat cushion was in a different shape by the time we got back to the hotel.
Back in the day this was the only small family car in Holland to offer 100hp standard and for little money too. It was in a class of it’s own. Too bad I have my Autovisie Yearbooks in storage so I cannot check this “fact” right now.
I don’t think this is what Lady Gaga was talking about when she sang: “I live for the applause, applause, applause…”
Tied dead last with a Daewoo? If that isn’t writing on the wall, you are truly illiterate.
I still see the occasional Daewoo in traffic and it always makes me do a double take. Almost all of them are clapped out wrecks but maybe once a year you’ll see one that is fully loaded (leather and the works) that will be maintained as if the owner thinks they own a Rolls Royce.
Every time I see a Daewoo, I’m sure it’s the last one I’ll ever see… but they keep popping up!
Sean, did you perchance snap any other photos of that Nubira?
William, sorry – missed this comment (I need to enable that “notify by email” thing). I’ve got one other shot from the rear 3/4 but that’s it. If you’re thinking of doing a Daewoo Nubira article, I’ll try to keep my eyes peeled – I do see them around every so often (there was one on the Taco Bell drivethru line behind me just a week or two ago). I’ve got several pictures of a Daewoo Lanos somewhere, too.
The one I haven’t seen in a long ass time is the Leganza, and I don’t remember seeing many when they were new either. Or the wagons, those were always extremely rare.
Its worth noting that the AMC Concord was never sold in Australia. Daihatsu had trouble building non-boring cars, but the Charade wasnt occasionally, nor was the Terios that was probably mildly frightening if you werent careful and the Sirion had some interesting styling. The Applause is only notable for the three-box hatch gimmick, in the same era that the Toyota Sera had the gullwing door gimmick, which carries on today along with a sales-preventing name on the Skoda Superb!
Being relatively unfamiliar with the Australian car market, I had never heard of this car before now. The brochure pic of the green Applause from earlier years actually makes it look like a nice little early-’90s sedan, but I can’t believe they made them through 1999. That’s also really interesting to know that Australians see sedans as old people cars and that younger drivers prefer hatchbacks.
That tacky chrome-look waterfall grille on the 1997 revision reminds me of when Kia decided to stick one on the 2003 Optima. I believe they also made a fake woodgrain steering wheel available. They both look ridiculous. At least in the Optima’s case, it has become a very competitive sedan.
I’ve seen that face before. Like all big Korean and Japanese cars back then its depreciation was higher than its purchase price. Well…not exactly of course, but you know what I mean.
An ex GFs stepmother had one of those hatch sedans it could swallow quite large objects but was a droning heap to drive on the highway being auto without overdrive, Daihatsu still has a presence in NZ but it seems to be the ex JDM used junker kind, and I keep forgetting that Aussie doesnt have all the rebadges and badge swaps Toyota and Daihatsu went thru, shame coz its truly entertaining.
I think Toyota unwittingly killed its little brother, Daihatsu, between 2000 and 2006. Toyota were very supportive (apparently) of Daihatsu but the wonderful Echo and Yaris swamped Daihatsu’s territory in small, cheap hatchbacks.
The Terios 4×4 is fondly remembered by just about everyone, but when new, it was seen as a joke. The really tiny Daihatsu’s (Cuore, Mira) were death traps.
Like I said, if Toyota had stayed out of Daihatsu’s game, we might still be able to buy Daihatsu cars in Australia today. If we wanted to.
The A- and B-segment Toyota models (iQ, Aygo, Yaris) still have that unkillable naturally aspirated
1.0 liter 3 cylinder Daihatsu engine. For the A-segment Aygo it’s the only engine choice.
The manual was no better. My cousin had one, and it was awful on the highway. We were travelling four-up to a family reunion, and to make matters worse, she didn’t shift down for hills. That was one miserable journey.
A small car with absolutely no redeeming features. If they wanted to use an English word for the name, it should have been the Daihatsu Boredom. Pity, as their other cars were mildly interesting.
I shudder when I think of the Kia Shuma. As great as Kia is today (the Optima still makes my eyes pop with its beauty and quality) the Shuma and Mentor are reminders of the early years of Kia in Australia.
I don’t think I’ve seen so many flaws in one vehicle. A truly, desperately, crappy transportation unit.
William – it might be worth doing a piece on the early years of Kia Motors, just to explain how far that company has come, not just in quality, but in public image as well.
My neighbour over the road worked for a Kia dealer. He’s long since moved on, but I still see a Shuma in town – and not always parked.
I recall only a little about Daihatsus except that they had a reasonably strong Kei presence in Japan in the 80’s (when I was living there ) and that they made an attempt to break into the American market with the Charade. Their angle was,as I recall, the idea that small cars don’t have to be cheap cars; the Charade was (in the U.S) nicely appointed and therefore expensive compared to the competition. This was a good niche in Japan where the small car was sometimes a necessity because of parking considerations rather than financial concerns. Owning a Mini to run around New Orleans or Manhattan might be comparable. That is a pretty small niche in the U.S. but Daihatsu didn’t study their market enough.
As the company learned the hard way, the market for small cars in the U.S. generally means cheap cars. To introduce an unknown small car more expensive than other small cars with nothing more to recommend it than a nice interior turned out to be almost impossible no matter how reliable the company promised the cars would be.
I often condemn Toyota for building the world’s most reliable AND hugely boring vehicles, and I would have thought no one in the car building business could top them….so I was right and wrong.
Daihatsu…..when a “real” Toyota isn’t boring enough.
As the photo by fellow compatriot Order242 shows, the Applause was fairly common here in Chile.
The Applause certainly didn’t receive much applause here, although I still see the odd one around. Seeing one with its hatchback open always gives me a double-take.
Fun fact: New Zealand was one of the last export markets for Daihatsu cars, with new car sales finally stopping here in late 2013. Having said that of course, they’re still turning up new/near new as ex-JDM imports.
Looks like “fake 5-bolt” wheel covers on 4-bolt wheels in the top photos.
If the Applause was more popular, there could have been after-market fiberglass “camper shell” that replaces the hatch and turns the car into a wagon.
The Skoda Superb sedan does the Applause one better, with a “Twin-door” that can be opened either completely as a hatch, or partially as a trunk lid.
Because I’ve primarily been exposed to Daihatsu through the internet and video games, I’ve made the mistake of assuming they only build funky turbo 4WD kei cars and trucks. Clearly, that isn’t the case. Aside from the trick hatchback, this may be the most whitebread thing on four wheels. Applause! I’m actually kind of shocked that the chromey grille version even came from Japan; it looks way more like an in-house Chinese “re-style” of some castoff Mazda from the early ’90s.
It’s original styling isn’t unattractive, just remarkably plain, and the green/silver one with the alloys and spoiler actually doesn’t look too bad to my eyes. Dressed up like that, it also reminds me of the Suzuki Esteem (aka Cultus Crescent or Baleno in your part of the world) – a car that earned a similar reputation in the U.S. Like the Applause!, the Esteem was poorly named, uncharacteristically behind the times and completely invisible… unless it was totally decked out with similar two-tone paint and wheels.
Here’s Suzuki’s little wallflower at its most handsome, looking something like a baby Subaru Legacy:
Ah the Applause, always known around my way as “The Clap”!
My former employer had two as company vehicles, one of which was constantly getting into accidents (the company was formerly owned by the local Daihatsu importers). I remember Russell Bulgin writing in Autocar and Motor about the Applause’s debut at a European motor show, where he noted that “nobody clapped the Applause”. There are still a few running around here, but its predecessor, the KE70 Corolla-based Charmant, was much more popular. I don’t think the market was ready for a big Daihatsu in light of the other cars mentioned above available at a similar price (Toyotas, Nissans, Mazdas and those upstarts from Korea, the Elantra and Sephia).
Also sold in notchback-loving Israel, just the kind of car that that market, at that time, wanted but by then all of the Japanese (and the Korean) manufacturers were represented there and hence it was not selling more than reasonably; if I recall corectly, the most poular car back them was Mazda’s 323…