You could be forgiven for mistaking the latest edition of the Daihatsu Terios for its cousin, the Toyota RAV4, and once you'd driven it you'd be equally hard-pressed to recognise its relationship to predecessor.

Daihatsu points out that it is very different, not in looks but also because it has more space and more power.

The original Terios was the first compact SUV with permanent all-wheel drive in South Africa but the recent strengthening of the link with Toyota is a boon for Daihatsu.

Just last week a would-be buyer approached me when I parked the Terios at the local grocery store and queried Daihatsu's continued presence in this country.

I reassured him that importers Associated Motor Holdings, part of the huge Imperial Group, had always been serious about the brand.

"What's it like?" the inquisitor wanted to know. "Very, very capable," I had to respond, "perhaps still a little underpowered for my liking, but nevertheless willing and certainly able."

It's well put together and with all the bits and pieces of luxury extras you could want - and permanent all-wheel drive, in the case of my example.

Like the RAV4, the Terios is tall and has an in-your-face front and large, wraparound headlights above big foglights in the deep plastic bumper. The rear end also owes much to the RAV4; indeed, the similarities are legion.

Its buzzy, 1.5-litre engine with variable valve timing revs easily to put out a claimed 77kW at 6000rpm, with 140Nm at around 4400.

The five-door Terios isn't going to run away from the rest but will smartly deal with suburban runs to pick up kids and groceries and cart that surfboard to the beach so junior can pick up the dolls... er, waves.

Show the Terios a hilly road, however, and the little lad will balk - unless you use the notchy gearbox properly and let the engine find its sweet spot.

The interior is accessed using the "old" route: the key. No remote here but it does have central locking. The doors close with a solid clunk and the seating position is high and upright on rather firm cloth-covered seats.

Firm ride

I mention the firmness because the Terios's ride is quite hard, courtesy of Macpherson struts at front and a five-link rigid rear suspension set-up providing a useful 200mm ground clearance.

With permanent all-wheel drive - and 215/65 rubber on 15"alloys - the Terios will tackle just about anything you're likely to throw at it.

And without using too much fuel; you should get about eight litres/100km - about 600km from a 50-litre tank - in general driving.

The brakes - discs in front and drums at the rear - have anti-lock with electronic brake pressure distribution and emergency pressure assistance - reassuringly high spec at this level.

Well-appointed interior

The interior is similarly well-appointed, with power windows and external mirrors, air-conditioning, radio/CD player in the brushed aluminium-look centre console and a bit of a storage space behind the gear shifter.

All very solid, very... um... Toyota-like, right down to the switch indicators on the radio, the three-spoked steering wheel and the deep wells housing the speedometer, rev counter and fuel gauge.

There's no temperature gauge - it's the new thing - but a light that blinks off when the engine's up to running speed. It might all be Toyota stuff, but in any case that's a sign of reliable motoring.

The R179 995 price is pretty steep but the Daihatsu Terios has the features and cuteness - and the élan of Toyota's backing - to warrant it.