Daihatsu’s newest baby SUV is as nippy as a small car, but has the room of a bigger vehicle
Cheap Jeep Photo: CY Chew

WE HAVE a love-hate relationship with sports-utility vehicles (SUV).

We like their tall, macho build and that sporty, go-anywhere image they project. But we loathe their fuel inefficiency, their awkward road manners and their owners’ seemingly cavalier attitude towards the environment.

Which is why an SUV like the Daihatsu Terios goes down like warm milk. It has an inoffensive design and is compact enough to be driven like a hatchback.

Weighing no more than a Toyota Corolla, its fuel economy is not half bad. Better, if you pick the two- wheel-drive manual version.

When a litre of fuel costs nearly as much as a bowl of bak chor mee (with liver) in the heartlands, the timing of the 1.5-litre Terios’ arrival could not be better.

Besides, the other Japanese SUVs have gotten too large and too expensive.

Toyota’s 2.4-litre RAV4 is a wonderful ride, but costs some $20,000 more than the Daihatsu (and is somewhat thirstier).

For a compact car, the Terios has lots of interior space. The rear seats flip and fold forward to release a sizeable flat bed that will swallow a full-size bicycle. As a people carrier, the Daihatsu will please folks who cast long shadows.

Access is great for a car that has enough ground clearance to mount curbs with impunity. You are unlikely to strain your back getting stuff in and out of it; and even your grand-aunt will be able to climb aboard with ease.

On the go, the Terios is more refined than the previous RAV4. Sometimes, its autobox behaves like a continuously-variable transmission, and vibration on the steering wheel during idling does not go unnoticed. But it rides exceedingly well and the vehicle is planted despite its height.

It manages expressway speeds in a rather laid-back way, with the tacho seldom spinning above 2,500rpm. It needs a bit of coaxing to go beyond that, though. And around 3,000rpm, its engine note begins to intrude.

Large wing mirrors give it excellent rear visibility, but you can start to make out the wind turbulence around them as you approach three-digit speeds.

This Daihatsu is essentially a city car. As long as you manage your expectations of it on high-speed jaunts across the Causeway, you will be happy with it. And there’s little not to be happy with.

The cockpit is well laid out and easy on the eye. And although it displays a huge dependency on plastics, the cabin does not feel at all cheap and crusty.

It is actually the most competent model Daihatsu has made in a long while.

In fact, the company makes this car for its shareholder, Toyota Motor. The Toyota version is called Rush, and is sold by parallel importers here.

So, if you are looking for something a bit more exciting than the regular three-box car, something that has huge stowage and lets you sample offroad driving without having to visit a petrol kiosk every two days, this is it.

The all-wheel-drive even has a button on the dash to activate its centre differential lock should the car be stuck in mud.

But if you are unlikely to venture beyond kerb-climbing, ask for the rear-wheel-drive.

SPECS

DAIHATSU TERIOS 1.5 AWD AUTO

Price: $63,500 with COE

Engine: 1,495cc 16-valve inline-4

Gearbox: Four-speed automatic

Power: 105bhp at 6,000rpm

Torque: 140Nm at 4,400rpm

Top speed: 130kmh (est)

0-100kmh: 12.3 seconds (est)

Fuel consumption: 8.5 litres/100km (city-highway)

Agent: Sin Tien Seng