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Daihatsu Copen Teased; Japan's Latest Tiny Sports Car

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If you've heard of the Daihatsu Copen, you've either got an impressively geeky level of car knowledge, or you're a regular on the PlayStation--where Daihatsu's kei-class sports car has been a regular in Gran Turismo games for years. Now there's a new one on the way, and the Japanese firm has released the first teaser images and details of the new car. On first impressions, the new Copen is very similar to the trio of Kopen concepts unveiled at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show--and the production car should feature their customizable body panels, too. Thirteen composite panels on the concept's exterior can be chopped and changed to suit the owner's tastes.

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Like the original Copen, a tiny two-seat sports car produced between 2002 and 2012, the latest car is built to Japan's kei jidōsha regulations. Designed to curb congestion and pollution in Japan's busy cities, kei-cars have strict limits on size and engine capacity. While this normally results in box-like minicars designed to maximize interior volume on the tiny footprint, several automakers have experimented with kei-class sports cars too. Once again, PlayStation regulars will be familiar with cars like the Honda Beat, Suzuki Cappuccino and Mazda AZ-1 as examples of the type.

The latest Copen is front-wheel drive like its forebear, but features a stiffer chassis, hugely improved aerodynamics (with 60 percent less lift at the rear) and a turbocharged 660-cc gasoline engine, producing the usual kei-limited 63 horsepower. That isn't a lot, but the Copen should be as light--if not lighter--than its sub-1,800-lb predecessor. Mercifully, Daihatsu has seen fit to offer a five-speed manual gearbox, as well as the expected CVT--a bold but welcome move in a country that buys far more automatic cars than it does manual ones.

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A folding hard top roof and acoustically-tuned exhaust system should boost excitement when the chance permits, but as with all kei cars economy is a major factor too--on the city-biased Japanese test cycle, the CVT model hits 59 mpg, the manual 52 mpg. This helps the CVT hit a "duty free" tax band in Japan, and the manual gets a 50 percent reduction on usual automobile taxes.

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