The racy new Daihatsu Materia Turbo proves that it really is hip to be square, writes The Wheel Deal.
Though many people seem to take an instant dislike towards the Daihatsu Materia, there’s something within its boxy proportions that just does it for me. It’s kind of like a modern, Japanese throwback to those dropped-and-chopped hotrods that used to terrorise the streets of California back in the 1950s. And that, for someone with retro tastes, makes it irresistibly cool.
Unfortunately, fitted with a lackluster engine, this unusual looking machine has never had the performance to back up its bold looks; a travesty amplified by the car’s capable chassis and surprisingly sweet handling characteristics. But thankfully its potential has now finally been unlocked because Daihatsu SA has just cooked up a special, turbocharged edition of this box-on-wheels.
Of course on the outside there’s not much hinting at this model’s improved performance, but once you look closely you’ll notice a subdued set of matte-black alloy wheels and some unusually dark window tinting. Subtle in anyone’s books, the only thing that gives the game away, that shouts speed, is a stout little air scoop protruding from the Materia’s stubby bonnet lid. Not to be confused with the cheap stick-on variety seen on old Citi Golfs native to Boksburg, this wind-sucking accessory serves a purpose here and feeds the intercooled IHI turbo with all the air it needs to work its magic. Huffing out a useful 0.4 bar worth of boost, this blower consequently transforms the Materia into a proper junior hot-hatch with the sort of point-and-squirt acceleration that puts a massive smile upon your face. It’s not rocket ship fast, but there’s enough punch available to surprise considerably more expensive machinery when charging out of the blocks. What’s more, thanks to variable valve timing and an eerie lack of turbo inertia, the Materia feels on the power and tractable no matter where you are in the rev-range. But perhaps the most entertaining thing about this Daihatsu’s trick engine is its turbo waste-gate that expels unused compressed air with a Darth Vader-like whoosh! every time you change up a gear. Kind of makes you feel like Ken Block behind the wheel of a highly tuned WRC racing car. Nice!
Undeniably rapid when scooting through city streets or romping along some forgotten country backroad, the Materia also comes up trumps around corners due to its Eibach Progressive Racing Springs. Dropping those side-skirts 30mm closer to Earth and being considerably firmer than the coils lurking under the arches of the standard model, this sporty set-up allows you blast between asphalt loops at speeds that seem at odds with the car’s lofty profile. Bodyroll is incredibly well contained, the ride remains fairly subtle and, endowed with plenty of grip and an optional limited-slip differential, swift changes in direction can be done accurately and with confidence. What a pity then that the standard seats aren’t supportive enough and fail at keeping your body in place when you do decide to get really stuck in.
Regardless, away form the life of racing starts and bravado you’ll be pleased to hear that the Materia Turbo is just as practical as its lesser sibling. The interior may be a little low rent in places – that dashboard certainly isn’t the last word in quality – but it does pack an unbelievable amount of both passenger head and legroom. Those rear seats are of the clever shape shifting variety too, which means they can be folded down to accommodate larger articles of baggage too big to squeeze solely into the boot. Topped off with an optional and unruly 1000-watt JBL subwoofer/amp combo that’s loud enough to set off car alarms whilst cruising the strip, this all makes the Daihatsu Materia Turbo a truly useable performance car that’s chock full of character. Sadly only 40 have been made so if you’re after an individualistic machine destined for cult status, best you hurry and track one down ASAP.
Daihatsu Materia Turbo Fast Facts:
Engine: 1495cc turbocharged four-cylinder
Power: 110kW at 5750rpm
Torque: 190Nm at 4800rpm
0-100km/h: 8.9 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 200km/h (limited)
Fuel Consumption: 7.1/100km (claimed combined)
Price: From R219 900
The boxy exterior of Materia may seem to make it look as if it’s hard to drive but they say that MAteria is really easy to drive in town. It really has good reviews and you seldom see a vehicle with few repair complaints. I’ve only read one complaint on Daihatsu repair questions and it is about the fuel consumption but I think this is justifiable because of its body.