Daihatsu's Copen, no bigger than a Frogeye Sprite and with aluminium body panels and composite plastic bits keeping its weight down to 850kg, most definitely has a presence of its own - all 3.4m of it.

Problem is, it's about R50 000 too expensive at R190 000. It's a tiny, two-seater that can only be for the very well-heeled. Two-hundred grand is not a lot today but it is a lot for such a Noddy car. The Copen is sheer indulgence at South African prices.

But it is cute, laden with spec, and turns heads wherever it goes no matter if the all-aluminium, power folding hard-top (and you thought only very expensive German cars had them!) is up or down.

Indeed, it caught the eye of a fellow journalist and her similarly employed husband. However, with both of them well over 1.8m tall, the Copen would have been hard-pressed to - um - cope.

If you can afford it, then, the Daihatsu Copen certainly is fun. At sea level it's nippy and more than quick enough as it connives its little way through just about any situation thrown at it. I hear you asking: what about safety, especially as it's only 1245mm tall?

Fear not. Daihatsu and its owner Toyota had that aspect high on their priority list. The front and rear sections fold in a collision to leave you and yours in the rigid cabin; there are also rollover bars and side-impact beams, pre-tensioned seat belts and two crash bags.

This lightweight also brags with anti-lock brakes - though it's a discs/drums set-up behind the 15" spoked alloy rims and 165/50 Bridgestone Potenza tyres - with electronic fluid pressure distribution and emergency braking pressure.

Which means the compact Copen stops quickly and with plenty of confidence - a boon when you're sitting that close to the black top and having some great fun as the sports-tuned suspension lets you really push the it.

Sitting with bottie on fine leather, one is cocooned in the tight cabin behind the three-spoked, hide-bound Momo steering wheel, which adjusts for height and reach. The seats, however, have little forward-aft movement because there's no room behind for said seat to go. The spec includes power windows and mirrors, air-con, radio/CD and that power roof.

Ahead of you, under the short bonnet - the Copen uses a cab-forward design - is an east-west 1300 with two overhead camshafts and four valves for each of the four cylinders and it pushes out a dinky 64kW at 6000rpm.

The five-speed gearbox is notchy (but topped by a classy chromed knob) and keeps the 120Nm at four thou on the money providing you let the unit rev.

Compact by choice

Daihatsu, by the way, used to use a 660cc turbocharged engine, such is the company's "Compact by Choice" credo. The unit's willing and has a great exhaust note when the engine's allowed to operate up where it has to if you want it to cover ground quickly.

Quite obviously it's frugal on the gas and the little (again?) 40-litre tank should take you about 400km.

Two aspects, however, have me believe that the Daihatsu Copen is a little out of its depth in South Africa.

First, it's too expensive; second it's just too small for our generally large locals. It's great fun, though, so if you've folding stuff to burn it will make an entertaining runabout.