Motoring journalists don’t often buy new cars for themselves. Usually, they’ll spend cash on some clapped-out “classic” – yours truly included – and only ever venture near a new car showroom and actually go through the buying process when it involves their spouses – again, yours truly included.
I’ve done this twice now. A few years ago, due to some particularly baffling requirements from wifey-dearest, I ended up buying a Daihatsu Charade when I had believed that we were on our way to buy a Kia. Nevertheless, I really came to admire that Charade. I adore small, simple cars and the Charade certainly fits the description, though it packs an almighty amount of features in that cabin – which, by the way, has more rear legroom than some large saloons. Our first Charade had two airbags, ABS with EBD, a radio/CD-player, remote central unlocking, power steering, electric windows all-round and even a clock.
A clock, you may wonder? Yes indeed, it’s quite an important standard feature… The Charade’s successor, which I purchased recently, does not have one, no matter how much I fiddle with the (supposedly better) sound system.
Logic dictates that every new model should be better than the one it replaces. In the Charade’s case, however, I suspect this has not happened. Another example is a speedometer that is virtually unreadable compared with the previous model’s simple dial. Daihatsu has also stretched the wheelbase of the current Charade and I have no idea why they did that. The previous model already had sufficient legroom, but a very tiny boot. I’ve always imagined they’d do the logical thing by fitting a sliding rear seat so that one can properly use the space. But no, instead there is now enough rear legroom for Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, yet you won’t be able to fit their mouth guards into the boot.
Improvements? Well, there is now an auxiliary input socket for the sound system and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. Personally, I’d rather have proper central locking – at the moment you have to deactivate the alarm from the remote, then insert the key and manually open the door. On the previous car the two operations were linked automatically. Furthermore – and this is not Daihatsu’s fault… apparently they can’t apply a darkened film strip at the top of the windscreen (as was done to my previous car) because the law doesn’t allow it.
I’m not entirely surprised by all of this though. A few years ago, when I still owned my previous Charade, I attended the launch of its successor and was dismayed to note that the entire marketing campaign was built around it being “sexy”. Now, the Charade is many things, but it ain’t sexy… Once again I fear marketing departments were allowed to be far too involved in the development process of a new car…
But it’s not only Daihatsu that manages to design and build a new car that’s worse or less likeable than the old one. Certainly, given the choice (and money), I’d prefer a previous generation A8 to the new one, simply because I can’t get comfortable in the new model due to footwell intrusion and, in some aspects, downright unfathomable ergonomics. The previous car was far more elegant and simple. Even Honda – I admire the current Accord, but for some unknown reason I’d prefer the previous-generation model, which I drove for a year as a long-termer. Same goes for Subaru – the new Legacy/Outback has grown too bloated and American, compared with their elegant predecessors, and I think the previous Legacy had a better interior design, too. And though Nissan’s X-Trail has been improved again recently, I still think the design of its predecessor was better, certainly in terms of packaging.
So, by now it may appear that I don’t like my new Charade at all. So, why did I buy it, then? Well, it’s called brand loyalty. I loved the first one so much I basically bought the second one over the ‘phone. Even my wife agreed to the extent that she sacrificed her usual demand that the interior can’t be black (previous Charade was available with beige, but the new one isn’t). And in all honesty, I still like the new Charade as well, and often prefer jumping into it when we’re going somewhere, rather than one of the more expensive test cars. It offers good power, great economy, comfort and truly the ability to turn on a 5c coin. All that said, I hope you’re listening Daihatsu. Next time the brand loyalty may not be as strong.