In the early 2000s, there was one baby hatchback that rocked the establishment. Forget GSI, RSI and Citi - if you wanted the quickest hatch on the block, you needed to get a Daihatsu Sirion.
In fact, if you started off your ‘driving career’ in Gran Turismo 3, you would be very familiar with the Sirion’s talents. While it was never going to win any beauty pageants, the 3.7 metre long Sirion was a genuine retro cool car at a time when the bubble car was the “it” design.
It might have looked awkward, but those in the know, knew that it featured 1950s industrial Japan design cues all around the car, making it certainly an individualist proposition. Under its curvy bonnet was a 1.3-litre 16V 4-cylinder motor that boasted Dynamic Variable Valve Timing that made use of hydraulic pressure to open a separate oil control valve, which in turn operated vanes that varied the camshaft phase and adjusted valve timing.
Maximum power output was a whopping 75kw that was achieved at 7,000rpm, with 120nm of torque available at 4,400rpm. In a hatch that weighed just 910kgs, this equated to a 0-100kph sprint time of around 9 seconds - embarrassing 1.6-litre hatches like the Opel Corsa GSI, Ford Fiesta RSI and the Volkswagen Citi Life in a straight line race. The 5-speed Sirion ran to a top speed of 190.5kph – also class leading.
It punched far above its weight too – especially at the coast. Scoring wins in the TLGP against much more powerful rivals like the Golf GTI, Kadett 200iS and Corolla RSI. As an offshoot of Toyota, there was no disputing the build integrity of Daihatsu, even though it was a budget brand.
While the exterior was bold, the spacious cabin was a typically 90s Japanese design. The only hint at its performance being the tachometer that was redlined at 7,500rpm. It was surprisingly well specced though, with standard features included air-conditioning, power steering, electric windows and mirrors, and central locking to name a few. There was even ABS and EBD!
Handling was never the Sirion's strongest point – there was loads of body roll, and precious little steering feel, but it was quite capable if you were prepared to thrash it around. The Sirion did offer a price advantage over its better known competitors, coming in at R104 980 in 2002 – whereas the smaller, much slower Corsa GSi was priced at R112 300.
This shape was discontinued in 2004, and was replaced by a much boxier Sirion in 2005. Along with the Sirion, Daihatsu introduced the turbocharged YRV, but it never managed to win buyers over the way the Sirion did. Daihatsu unfortunately pulled out of South Africa in 2015, to concentrate on Eastern markets.