This is my 2005 Daihatsu Copen (JDAL880K)(KMVZW, aka UK spec) which I have owned for 2 and a half years now. I have done a review on this car before, but I wanted to elaborate on some things and add some more to what I’ve said in the past.
I will first give a brief history on the Copen, then talk about the exterior and gradually make my way to the inside, and then I will end with some sort of conclusion.
If you would like to read the full history of this model, you can do so here
A brief history
The Copen was revealed as a concept at the 1999 Tokyo motor show and it received positive feedback. It featured double wishbone suspension, disk brakes on all 4 corners and a electric hard top.
In 2002 the car was put into production mostly unchanged from the concept.
(Chassis code ABA-L880K) The most notable changes were the absence of disk brakes on the rear, and lack of double wishbone suspension. The interior was also changed.
The Copen was initially only available in Japan as a Kei car. If you are unfamiliar with what a Kei car is, I’ll quickly explain.
After the war, Japan introduced a new class of vehicle called “keijidosha” these cars had limitations on engine displacement and physical size. These cars were designed to be cheap, compact and economical. Over time the restrictions were adjusted, allowing for bigger engines and more power.
Today the engine displacement is capped at 660cc and power output is capped at 63HP. They are also speed limited to 140KM/H and have a max dimension of 3.4M long, 1.48M wide and 2M tall.
The Copen had a 659cc inline 4 called the JB-DET. The J series was the engine Daihatsu would put in their higher end Kei cars such as the Move Custom and Mira Avenzato TRXX.
The Copen was initially available as “Active top” which had the folding metal roof, and “Detectable top” where you had to manually lift the roof of the car, similar to a hardtop found on earlier MX-5’s. At a later date the Detectable top was no longer produced, making these one of the less common versions of the Copen.
In 2003 the Copen was exported to Europe and Australia with the same engine and right hand drive only. (Chassis code JDAL880K) It is pretty much identical to the Japanese version. Just slight electrical changes to meet regulations. (inclusion of rear fog light, ECU changes for emissions etc..)
In 2007 they fitted all Euro Copens with the 1.3L K3-VE engine and made them available in left hand drive. (Chassis code JDAL881K)
In 2009 they stopped exporting outside of Japan.
and finally in 2012 they stopped production of the 1st gen Copen.
During the 10 year production run, the Copen had very minimal changes and was the only sports kei car you could buy new, until Honda introduced the Beat successor in 2014 called the S660.
The Copen is 3.4M long, 1.47M wide and 1.2M tall, so it’s quite tiny. It has a very symmetrical shape to it with lots of round curves and features. It has 15” 6 spoke alloy wheels, projector headlamps and a funny antenna that sticks out the rear fender.
The Copen looks really cute and happy in my opinion. From a distance if you squint you can maybe see a bit of 1st gen TT in there.
There is a subtle hood bulge and that shape is repeated inside out on the boot lid. It also has a dual exit chrome tipped exhaust in the centre.
There is a long body line that starts in the grille, goes up to form the bonnet and flows along the door then curves around the rear to where the exhaust is. I think this long gently flowing line is quite pretty.
My Copen has the silver metallic paint (S28) which I think looks really nice, despite silver being a boring common colour. When clean on a bright day, it sparkles and shines nicely and I think it suits the car very well, especially in contrast to the optional red leather seats.
There is a optional spoiler (standard on 1.3L) and body kit which I think looks really good.
There are some people who think it looks ugly like some weird bug, but most seems to like it. It’s unique and cute. People tend to smile when they see it.
As for more objective points, the body is mostly steel which rusts like crazy inside and out, however it does have a aluminium bonnet, boot and roof, so at least those wont rust…
The reason for the rust problem is likely due to the panels being very very thin in order to reduce weight, so it doesn’t take much for the rust to punch a hole through it, and unfortunately most Copen’s that die, die due to excessive rust that usually forms in the front edge of the sills and the rear arches which can quickly stretch into the rear bumper and boot floor. I would also check behind the front wheel arch lining as I have seen one that had a huge hole hiding there.
Well, at least the car is very light, weighing in at 830KG with the active top and 659cc engine with 5 speed manual gearbox. (Copen’s range from 800KG to 850KG depending on gearbox, engine and roof type)
The Copen has a simple interior, with 2 seats, and a rounded dash. My Copen has the optional leather pack, which gives you red leather seats, red door cards, and a Momo steering wheel. I also have the optional alloy air vents which I think help brighten the dash and make it look a tad less plasticy.
There are other options available such as alloy gear knob and Recaro seats.
All Copen’s have air conditioning as standard and chrome gear knob and roll hoops (roll hoops absent on some detachable top’s) with a wind deflector in the middle. There are plenty of round features around the climate controls, vents and gauge cluster to bring in some exterior features to the inside.
The interior is surprisingly spacious (considering how tiny the car is) due to the FF layout and everything is easy to use and reach.
The seats hug you in place nicely and the gear lever has fairly short throws. The sun visors rotate backwards, which is weird, until you discover this is because they can also be used as a wind deflector if you rotate them up above the windshield. This quirk works somewhat.
Some pieces are a bit loose and cheap feeling, and the roof tends to rattle a lot, but over all it’s a nice simple place to be.
There are some nice storage places, like the pocket behind the passenger seat, and the net between the seats, but really, this isn’t a practical car, but you’d expect that from a sports car.
Visibility with the roof off is brilliant, obviously, but with the roof on it’s a mixed bag due to the nature of the car. The rear window is as big as it could reasonably be, and there are tiny additional windows to reduce a blind spot, but because the car is so short, it feels like you’re looking through a letter box as you can often see the bottom half of whoever is behind you, but not the top half. This can be an issue when in hilly areas as you wont be able to see very far into the distance.
Otherwise, visibility is very good, the side mirrors do a very good job of showing your surroundings.
Boot space with the roof up is better than you’d expect, not to say it’s good. It’s just better than you’d expect for the first time. The opening is almost pickup truck like as it’s as wide and as long as the car. The boot lid opens very wide. But due to the Copen’s shape, it is quite shallow.
When the roof is lowered, there is only space left for maybe at a squeeze, a loaf of bread.
Engine and gearbox
My Copen has the JB-DET engine. It is a chain driven inline 4 cylinder with a twin scroll turbo and 16 valves per cylinder. It is transversely mounted and connected to a 5 speed manual gearbox.
In EU tune, it makes 67HP, 100NM and 8,000rpm rev limiter using fuel cut.
This is 4HP more, 9NM less and 500rpm less than the JDM version. My theory is the adjustments to meet our emissions regulations caused problem at higher rpm, so they reduced the rev limit, lower torque due to poorer low rpm performance with this tune, but higher performance above 6,000rpm causing a slight increase in HP.
But that’s just my theory. This engine does not have variable valve timing or variable anything really. It’s a pretty basic EFI system.
The engine is a closed deck cast iron block with aluminium pistons, and silent type timing chain.
The turbo is supplied by IHI and is the VQ50 RHF3 model. It has a tiny tiny little baby intercooler and air box.
The engine has been very reliable for me, but there are some things owners should do to keep it reliable.
The weak points are the turbo and potentially the timing chain.
This engine requires very frequent oil changes, even though it doesn’t appear to consume any oil.
This is because the turbo is working very hard at all times. The microscopic bearings in that thing have to deal with very high rpm and temperatures, so there is a lot of strain on the oil. The littlest bit of dirt in there will reduce the life span of the turbo quickly.
Probably lesser known is the timing chain. This is lubricated with the oil and poor oil will cause this chain to stretch. This will cause a noisy engine and potentially permanent damage to the engine.
There is a blog post by Copen mechanic and enthusiast about this. It is quite surprising how dirty it can get in there, so please change the oil regularly. The manual says to change it every 3,000 miles or 6 months which ever comes first. But I would make 3,000 miles the MAXIMUM you can do on one oil change, change it before the trip computer hits 3k.
As actually driving, this engine feels great. It sounds decent and it just wants to rev and rev and rev. It’s not particularly powerful but it gets the job done and is very fun.
At low rpm’s the exhaust makes a deep burble and as you accelerate through 2k to 3krpm you get some turbo sucking noises, and once you lift of the throttle you can hear a faint, psh sound. It’s so much fun around town. Below 2k rpm the engine is pretty dead as the turbo doesn’t kick in until after 2k rpm.
but once you’re in boost, there’s enough torque to move this little car.
In the mid rev range (4-6k) there is definitely more pickup, the engine starts to wake up.
But the magic starts to happen after 6k.
It starts to sound more energetic and it becomes very responsive. It looses the turbo noises (probably because the waste gate is open by this point) but the sound of an engine at 8k rpm always sounds great. (my mic didn’t pic that up so well since the gasses were blasting it at a high velocity)
It’s a very fun and playful engine designed for sporty driving.
The gearbox has a short final drive ratio, so you go through the gears pretty quick. The shifter has a rod rather than a cable like modern cars tend to have. It has a strong mechanical feel to it, and it is easy to find each gear.
I quite like the gearbox in the Copen.
The suspension setup is pretty pedestrian. Mc Pheason in the front and semi trailing arm with torsion beam in the rear, but it works pretty well.
From factory the Copen is fitted with 165/50 R15 73V Bridgestone Potenza RE040.
It hasn’t got crazy amounts of grip or anything, and I doubt the max g forces on paper aren’t that great, but it feels confident and playful.
It loves to change direction and it has good feedback. It holds the road well considering the tire and suspension type.
It is very stiff, especially in the rear, and there is very little body roll, pitch and squat. I know it’s a cliché but it does have a go kart feel to it.
When you drive it you feel kinda heroic, like when you drive one of those rental go karts around an indoor track, but when you watch the video your mom made, you realise it doesn’t look anywhere near as epic as you thought. Still great fun tho. Just don’t watch the video.
It’s a lot of fun and has a progressive transition into understeer. No matter what, it is always ready to dart in the opposite direction.
The Copen has an open diff (LSD optional only in Japan with the 5MT) and the car can rotate around it’s axis nicely off throttle and is easy to control. When you do feel a bit of understeer, just reduce throttle a bit and the understeer instantly goes away. I find it to be very controllable.
The sense of speed is also great. 70 mph feels like what you’re doing in kmh but in mph (so 70mph feels like 112mph)
It is pretty much impossible to break traction under power, unless you’re doing an aggressive steering and throttle manoeuvre, and the breaks work well enough.
I haven’t had any issues with brake fade on some of the steep downhill roads I’ve driven on and the ABS+EBD works well enough.
I feel as though most people under estimate the driving character of the Copen when they see that cute innocent smile. It really is a true sports car in its behaviour despite of the basic suspension and FWD.
As for comfort, well, it’s a sports car, so of course it isn’t comfortable. Your butt cheek bones will be smashed to bits on a rough road and cobbled streets are a definite no go. Seriously. Do Not drive this on cobbled streets. I did it once and never again will I drive on a road like that. It is seriously uncomfortable on those kinds of roads.
On a smooth road however, I find it good for comfort. It has a smoothness to it. Perhaps the frequency of the front and rear is good when on smooth roads.
Japan did also get optional Bilstein suspension btw.
Conclusion and closing thoughts
The Copen is a very fun little thing. It’s not necessarily the best at anything. The boot is useless with the roof down, the body rusts like mad and it is very slow in reality (11.7s from 0-60) although it does feel faster than that.
But what it does do very well is make you fall in love with it.
The cute happy face is so lovable. It’s like a puppy. You can’t hate it.
The high sense of speed and fun driving character makes you just want to drive it all the time.
And the rarity of it makes the car unique and fun to own.
It feels special.
However, the Copen may not be for everyone.
If you are bigger than 6” tall, you probably wont fit.
If you are looking for a cheap weekend toy, then this does look like a good option, but it can quickly become expensive if you need rust repairs or a new turbo. Parts are also a pain to find if you are living anywhere outside of Japan. tbh, this car isn’t really supposed to exist outside of Japan, but it does, so I’m happy at least.
If you want something that actually has speed and grip, then this doesn’t, it just makes you feel like it does. For autocross it could be pretty good, but anything else, no, unless you do quite a lot of modifying (which these can do surprisingly well. See Mo Fac, they have a seriously fast Copen)
My Copen has become my best friend. I even gave mine a name. Sachihiro has his flaws, but he has so much character. I have really fallen in love with him. I plan on owning him forever and ever.
10/10 my new favourite car
( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/ Thanks for reading!
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