No, now stoppit now! Cars, given that they're generally referred to in the feminine, are sensitive to unkind remarks about their shape and size so those way less than four metres long and, well, kinda square in the beam tend to get a trifle hot under the bonnet if people point.

Daihatsu's new Materia crossover (that translates into a hatchback crossed with a community taxi that's shrunk in the car wash) is one such and, given the feminine reference, could be called a Materia girl. OK, as the real Materia Girl's friend Dolly Parton (also way less than four metres) might have said, I'm glad to have got that off my chest…

I've been humming the damn tune since yesterday when a dozen or so Materia Grils (no, it's spelled like that to pre-empt a lawyer's letter from Madonna) made their debut in South Africa and the Daihatsu people had the balls to let us chuck the cars up, over and down two of the Western Cape's most daunting passes - Franschhoek and Houwhoek.

Those who know these two roads well will appreciate that they demand the best of braking, acceleration and grip and in return will deliver two of the most exhilarating rides on the planet. Now, look again for a moment at the picture of Materia Gril at the top of this item - we're not talking excitement there, hey? We're talking Mommy Materia Gril on the school run, Mr Materia Gril commuting, Miss Material Gril on her sales-repping round in the city, right?

Wrong! First, a reminder that Materia Gril is only 3.8m long and her ample beam of 1.69m and height (without heels) of 1.64m would seem to defy the natural physics of good cornering. Two - no, three - more reminders: her wheels are so far into each corner that any further and they wouldn't be attached to the axles, she weighs (pardon me, Materia Gril for telling) not much more than 1000kg and her preferred footwear is fat takkies - in our case, 185/55 low-profile Potenzas from the House of Bridgestone on rather snazzy 15" alloys.

The Materia Gril's nose that looks like she kisses a Mack truck goodbye every morning hides a four-cylinder, quad-valve 77kW/132Nm engine/five-speed manual gearbox combo (four-cog auto optional) that could do with a small turbo on the upgrades but touched an indicated 183 on the flat.

But why am I still humming MG's theme tune…? Well, I drove the Franschhoek pass bit on Monday (rather well, I thought, with a lot of input from the Gril) and levelled out alongside Theewaterskloof dam wondering why all minicars don't handle this well. I wasn't humming yet…

You don't need lots of power...

Then colleague John Cotton took the wheel. Bit of a dark horse, is Cotton; not generally known for chasing wild women or trying to wring a speedometer needle twice around the dial, but the Materia Gril did something to him as she and he crested Houwhoek pass and headed down towards Hermanus.

You don't need a high-powered car to have fun, merely one that handles as well as Materia Gril and an empty one-way two-lane down from a mountain peak, which was when I started to hum to focus on something other than Cotton and Materia Gril waltzing through the curves in a series of very well controlled slides.

Under the circumstances, the melody from "Material Girl" seemed apt and now I can't get the bloody woman out of my head.

The Materia takes Daihatsu for the first time into a sector of the market that scores 20 percent of South Africa's new-car sales - five-door hatchbacks - and is only one of a likely 300 new models and facelifts likely to reach SA during 2007.

...to have lots of fun

Given its level of standard equipment - air-con, four crash bags, anti-lock brakes with electronic pressure distribution, six-speaker radio/CD that will take MP3 and WMA (Windows media applications), power windows and external mirrors, electric power-steering, collapsible steering column and retracting brake pedal, 60/40 split rear seat and fold-flat front passenger seat (think surfboards) - then the prices of

  • Daihatsu Materia 1.5 - R139 995

  • Daihatsu Materia 1.5 a/t - R148 995

    seem distinctly threatening to the opposition, especially as the price includes a three-year or 75 000km service plan.

    The car will also score on cabin space; headroom is cathedral, rear legroom beats a lot of luxury cars and the whole thing will turn into a mini-panel van for those days when you get the urge to move a fridge or washing machine - maybe your whole house.

    But remember, Material Gril likes to play, to make passes at passes, to shake her booty at the boring cars on the freeway. Just make sure she's home by two and in bed by three... somewhere.