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Welcome To Mad World Of The Materia

A boiler crossed with a hearse? A stretched hotrod crossed with a large box? It's just so hard to come to terms with Daihatsu's wackiest car - the Materia.

There's really nothing like it on the road, though the closest you'll come is the Chrysler PT Cruiser or Nissan's rather wonderful retro roadster, the Figaro.

Whatever your view of this splendidly eccentric supermini MPV (or however you want to define it), there aren't many £11,000 cars that turn as many heads as the Materia.

So what is it and what is it for? Obviously, it fits in with Japan's tall box car culture, but basically it's a high-roofed, five-door supermini with wildly eccentric styling - and it's pretty funky inside, too.

Like all Daihatsus, the Materia is well screwed together, with no squeaks or rattles, though some of the inside plastics aren't the nicest to touch.

That said, the dashboard has real design flair, and it themes in well with all the car's other foibles.

And one thing is never in doubt - space. Materia, which viewed from the side can look a little like MINI that turned into a stretched limo, is simply vast inside, with cavernous areas of flexible room.

Headroom resembles an aircraft hangar and space behind the front seats is totally selectable - you can choose whether to give rear passengers an embarrassing riches of legroom (they could almost lie down) or slide the rear seat forwards on runners to free up your own warehouse of luggage space.

The luggage floor is bumper level, which is a bonus when loading and unlooading, but rear seats don't fully tumble, so you end up with an 'almost flat' floor.

Materia also has an ultra-low floor, which makes access easy for oldies and kiddies.

Seating is comfortable all round,the front ones being contoured and well padded but suffering vague lever adjustment for rake.

The dashboard features sci-fi shapes and shares the Materia's double-groove styling that catches the eye from a side view of the car, but it's all very simple and minimalist.

The imposing, sculpted fascia has piano-black-rimmed double vents each side and a matching glossy stack housing a user-friendly CD-tuner.

I'm not so keen, though, on the main displays being sited in the centre of the dashboard and apparently angled slightly towards the passenger side. A potentially useful information panel in the top left corner of the displays also loses its effectiveness by pointing away to the nearside.

There's only one engine on offer - a powerful and zesty 1.5-litre petrol which ensures the Materia is always on the boil and storming around in style.

Powerful and smooth, it has plenty of get-up-and-go, with everything orchestrated through a rubbery and slightly sloppy five-speed gearbox with a light, easy action.

Handling is much as you'd imagine for a tall, boxy vehicle with small wheels - it does its best but is obviously happier around town rather than being thrashed around the lanes or through corners.

As an urban hipcat, Materia attracts plenty of interest and its huge glass areas means that everyone gets great views and that parking isn't a problem.

Although it has obvious road presence and sits solidly on the road, particularly in the straight-ahead position, Materia's steering is set a little light, so there's some lack of involvement for the driver and the clutch can be a bit jerky.

But for the 'look at me' factor and sheer fun involved, nothing comes near it. And it just might pick up a cult following that inevitably accompanies the quirky.

Factfile:

* Daihatsu Materia, priced from £10,995-£11,795 - option of manual or auto gearbox.

* Funky, distinctive design with mini-MPV practicality.

* Sliding and reclining rear seat with 60/40 split.

* Interior passenger matches large family car.

* Similar in size to Renault Modus or Vauxhall Meriva.

* Lively 1.5 litre engine gives 46.3mpg extra urban and 169g/km (manual).

* Off-the-wall interior features acrylic black panels, central instruments and blue lighting for armrests and circular front door speakers.

* Outstanding standard equipment includes power steering; ABS with EBD; driver, passenger and side airbags; air-con; four electric windows; CD-tuner with six speakers; remote central locking; driver's seat height adjustment; sliding and reclining rear seat; alloy wheels; foglamps.

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