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Daihatsu Materia 1.5 5-door

Click to view picture galleryThe ‘F’ words can, quite politely,
  be used to describe Daihatsu
  boxy five-door Materia mini-MPV —
  Function over Fashion; and even,
  as Daihatsu in the UK chooses to
  to describe it
, Funky...”

'MARMITE' CAR: car buyers will either love it or hate it. If you asked a young child to draw a car, the Materia is exactly what they would sketch. A box for the passengers; a box at the front for the engine; and a wheel at each corner. Simple, but very effective when it comes to making the best use of space within a car. Functional it most certainly is, but pretty… the jury's still out on that one.

The Japanese have been building Kei-Class (as these small mini-MPVs are labelled in Japan) cars for years — tiny city cars well able to cope with the congested roads and little or no parking spaces that define Japan's driving environment. Some of these cars have become popular in the UK because of their size as they make ideal commuter cars. One class up from these is where the Daihatsu Materia comes from: as such it uses little space on the road but can accommodate a larger family.

On the face of it, the Materia is relatively cheap at £10,995 with the manual transmission or £11,795 with an automatic gearbox. But there is only one engine choice — a 1.5-litre petrol unit. In reality, the Materia is not so much of a bargain because it has to compete against more sophisticated European models of the same size that are more acceptably styled for European tastes. The Renault Modus, Vauxhall Meriva, Ford Fusion, Nissan Note, Skoda Roomster and Peugeot 1007 all do the same job as the Materia but, for roughly the same price, look better and offer a wider choice of engines.

With a compact overall length of just 3,800mm but with a good usable width of 1,690mm, and with plenty of headroom thanks to a height of 1,635mm, the Materia can accommod-ate five people. And because of the relatively long 2,540mm wheelbase, there is plenty of rear legroom for the three back seat passengers. With the split 60:40 rear sliding seats in their furthest rearward position, there is 181 litres of luggage space. Slide the rear seats forward a little and this increases to 294 litres. Fold the rear seats away, and the cargo area jumps to 619 litres.

Being tall, the Materia also has a high waistline, so vision out of the small side windows is limited and, to make matters worse, the rear windows have privacy glass. Combined with an interior finished in black, it's all a bit gloomy. The flared wheelarches, sports-style extended sills and flashy alloy wheels combine with the dark windows to add, shall we say, a 'distinctive' appearance to the boxy lines. Even with the 'bling' the Materia is going to definitely be a Marmite car.

If you like the looks you'll find that the equipment levels are good, with anti-lock braking, much needed rear parking sensors, driver and front passenger front and side airbags, air-conditioning, stereo radio/CD player with six speakers, alloy wheels and fog lights. However, there's no electronic stability programme as standard or even as an option and these days, especially for a family car, that is not acceptable.

The interior plastics feel hard and look pretty basic although it all looks well put together. But there's nothing that brings the car to life: there's no sparkle — it just does what it is supposed to. Which is to carry people, luggage or both. But it is very sterile.

The engine is a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol unit with variable valve timing. Power output is 102bhp at 6,000rpm and torque is 97lb ft at 4,400rpm — this engine has to be revved
to keep it in its power band. Around town it is flexible enough, but on the open road or motorways it is rowdy and pretty unsophisticated. Added to the engine noise there is too much road and wind noise intrusion, so expect not to be having meaningful conversations with your fellow passengers on faster journeys.

Working the engine hard does not help the fuel consumption or indeed the now very important CO2 rating. Officially, the Materia (with the five-speed manual gearbox) will return 39.2mpg as an average. My experience was much worse — barely 30mpg. The 169g/km CO2 rating also means a road tax bill of £170 a year as it falls into the new
Band E rating — much too high for a car of this size.

For such a tall car the body roll is well contained but it is prone to side wind gusting and driving into a headwind takes the edge of what performance the engine can offer.
The suspension cannot easily absorb the UK's poor road surfaces, so the ride is at times uncomfortable. The steering, although light in town, is vague at cruising speeds.

In its favour, the Materia is functional, carries five passengers, is generally well equipped, seems well made and has distinctive styling. Not so welcome is the poor mpg, high CO2 emissions, a noisy lacklustre engine and the fact that there's no electronic stability control or curtain airbags. While the Materia might just be odd enough to become a fashionable 'cult' motor for some people, or sell because it can manage five people in its compact bodyshell, I fear that the Materia is not likely to 'materia-lise' as a common site on British roads. — David Miles

Daihatsu Materia 1.5 5-door
| £10,995
Maximum speed: 106mph | 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 29.8mpg
Power: 102bhp | Torque: 97lb ft | CO2 169g/km