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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.
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.