some people the Materia
is a cult car. But dont
let that put
you off because beneath its
funky, edgy lines is a five-seat,
fully functional mini-MPV...
DAIHATSU'S FUNKY MINI-MPV COULD BE JUST THE THING FOR MADONNA, but
would she herself as a 'Materia Girl'?
There's an outside chance that she might. In Japan, similar compact city
cars such as the Materia perfect for Japan's congested
roads and near-absence of parking spaces are known as Kei-Class
cars. And very popular they are too.
We drove a Materia down to the Goodwood Festival of Speed and found that it
attracted its air share of attention. No, really it does. The first question
about the Materia is "What is it?" And
like "Are we there yet?" you find yourself reiterating the same reply over and
Their curiosity satisfied, many people expressed an interest in the Materia
exactly like the one we were driving. Finished in lustrous metallic black, it
really did look the business. The colour was perfect for the Materia's wheel-at-each-corner
bluff, boxy and angular styling. Flared wheel arches wrap around polished 9-spoke
15-inch alloy wheels wearing 185/55 Bridgestone rubber, adding to the Materia's
strong road presence.
Body-coloured bumpers, side skirts, door handles (these, by the way, have a
very slick action and feel great to use!) and door mirrors and interesting taillight
units that curve into each wheel arch are polished, finishing touches.
While it carries off an undeniably clever bit of 'eye-candy' design on the outside,
the Materia's boxiness works even better seen from the inside, where space is
maximised with a capital 'M'. Headroom is amazing perfect for outings
to Royal Ascot; the men won't even have to remove their top hats in the car!
Entry is easy, through deep wide-opening doors.
Thanks to a generous 2.54-metre wheelbase, the Materia can accommodate a five-a-side
football team or a complete nuclear family (two adults and 2.4 children). When
you look around, the sheer amount of interior space really takes some beating.
Notably, there is plenty of rear legroom for the three back seat passengers
in fact, in their rearmost position they offer more legroom than in many
big saloon cars. To give you a better idea, one of our passengers was a stockily-built
6' 3" and he fitted in with room to spare. Moving the split 60:40 rear sliding
seat (in total, it has 160mm fore/aft adjustment) to its furthest rearward setting
maximises passenger space.
In this configuration, there is still 181 litres of boot space. However, slide
it to its most forward position and you have 294 litres for luggage. Go one
step further and fold the rear seat and you have 619 litres of space in the
load bay. The high-opening rear tailgate, incidentally, opens flush with the
load floor for easy loading and unloading. The boot floor is just the right
height for sitting on either for picnicking or to remove muddy wellies.
And under the boot floor is a large full-width multi-section storage tray with
Privacy glass comes fitted as standard but, surprisingly, visibility out remains
good. The driver sits tall thanks to a command driving position (seat and steering
wheel height adjustment) and both front seats offer good support and comfort.
Sitting behind them, the lot of rear passengers is much improved by the multi-adjustable
backrest that offers ten different inclined settings from near upright to approximately
45 degrees. And should you ever have need of it, it can, like the front seats,
be fully reclined to form a bed!
Cabin ambience is enhanced by the swooping, stadium-shaped arc of the fascia
and the high-gloss black finish to the central audio unit and side air vents
and the acrylic instrument panel all look particularly smart. We liked the centrally
placed instrument arrangement it was easy to take in information at a
glance and it's neatly done and doesn't dominate the cabin like the MINI's dinner-plate
sized set-up. Cabin 'design' touches include speaker surrounds that glow blue
when live and acrylic black panels but overall the interior is sensibly laid
out and functional witness the abundance of bottle/cup-holders: no less
than nine. Other nice touches include the wide, cloth covered outer armrests
on both front doors, a handy pull-out coin drawer in the centre stack and the
foolproof, easy-to-use audio controls.
Standard equipment includes air-conditioning, electric windows and door mirrors,
Radio/CD player with six speakers and MP3 capability, rear privacy glass, rear
parking sensors, driver and front passenger front and side airbags, ABS with
Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, alloy wheels and Isofix child-seat mounting
points on outer rear seats. Note that should a child seat need fitting on the
front passenger seat the airbag can be easily switched off using the ignition
So much for the basics, but how does the Materia drive? Under the bonnet lives
a four-pot 1.5-litre petrol engine that puts out 102bhp and 97lb ft of torque
at 4,400rpm. The twin overhead camshaft unit features variable valve timing
and it's a game and gutsy unit, although power drops off a bit after 5,000rpm
(it's red-lined to 6,500rpm). Our regular test route includes a really steep
and twisty hill add a few straw bales and it would make a great hill
climb. The Materia scored well there: working the revs and gears, it really
flew up the hill. Despite the longish throw, gear changes are accurate and you're
never in any doubt as to which gear you've just selected.
Officially, it takes 10.8 seconds to reach 62mph from standstill and the top
speed is 36mph above the UK's legal limit. Cruising along at legal motorway
speeds is most certainly not a problem and progress is very smooth and quiet,
with 80mph equating to 4,000rpm.
Driving controls are light and responsive and the manual five-speeder shifts
smoothly and the brakes (ventilated disc up front) do their job unobtrusively
but very effectively, providing quick straight-line stops when needed. All-round
visibility is first class in spite of wide C-pillars; the rear screen is almost
full body width, so rear visibility is actually very good. The short bonnet
means the driver can see both front corners, so placing the Materia is easy.
And, particularly useful, all three rear headrests drop down low when not in
All of which makes driving it around town a hassle-free experience and underscores
its commuter car suitability. And on the motorway and out on the open roads
it gets along quite nicely, thank you. Over a week's testing we recorded an
overall fuel consumption of 36.1mpg.
Priced at £10,995 with the five-speed manual 'box (there is a four-speed automatic
version at £11,295), the Materia won't break the bank. Although the lack of
a diesel engine option would not so long ago have been seen as a handicap of
sorts, with the price of diesel pulling well ahead of petrol at the pumps, a
petrol engine is now something in demand. Official consumption figures are 31.7,
39.2 and 46.3mpg respectively.
Daihatsu lists the Materia's key competitors as the similarly-sized but more
conservatively styled Renault Modus and Vauxhall Meriva. Physically, the Materia's
length of 3,800mm falls between the Modus (3,792mm) and the Meriva (4,042mm)
while its width of 1,690mm is almost identical to the 1,695mm of the Renault
and the 1,694mm of the Vauxhall. At 1,635mm tall, the Materia trumps them for
height. However, when it comes to interior dimensions the Materia's 1,420mm
cabin width far exceeds that of the Modus which can only muster 1,280mm. This,
combined with the 1,950mm interior length of the Materia's squared-off passenger
compartment (Vauxhall Meriva 1,825mm) offers excellent usable space. For the
record, the Materia's passenger space matches that of a large family car.
Driving the front-wheel drive Materia is no hardship. It is quite tall but from
behind the wheel there is no sensation of height body roll is well under
control and it handles tidily. Our test car's ride, put to the test on the country
roads from Kent to Goodwood (a 200+ mile round trip), was firmly damped but
smooth enough most of the time it's not troubled by speed humps but really
bad road surfaces are felt! We arrived at the Festival of Speed in good humour
and, unlike an 007 cocktail, not shaken.
The Materia's power-assisted steering is easy on your arms around town
where you appreciate the minimum overhangs and tight 9.8 metre kerb-to-kerb
turning circle (and the parking sensors!) yet not so light that it caused
us any problems outside of urban areas. The only caveat it really shouldn't
be unnecessary to mention is that the Materia is a mini-MPV, not a mini-GT.
So don't expect it to attack your favourite B-road like a trackday special.
That said, it's game enough and we did have fun through some narrow, windy Sussex
roads on the way to Goodwood and back.
So, £11K well spent? Well, there aren't that many £11,000 cars that will turn
as many heads as a Materia, and for some buyers that alone will be enough. If
you're coming to it with your head rather than your heart, you'll appreciate
the mini-MPV functionality and the family-friendly roominess afforded by its
wide cabin, as well as its five-year unlimited mileage warranty with UK roadside
This style of car is currently enjoying a cult following in both Japan and the
United States. In the UK it will probably be driven by a cross-section of buyers
from 18-year-olds to mothers with an eye for design right through to young-at-heart
retirees. Buyers and passengers will, without doubt, appreciate the Materia's
easy-to-live-with and 'just get in and go' character. MotorBar
Daihatsu Materia 1.5 | £10,995
Maximum speed: 106mph | 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds
| Overall test MPG: 36.1mpg
Power: 102bhp | Torque: 97lb ft | CO2 169g/km