These days buying a turbo charged car is par for the course, but in the early 80’s it was a rare thing, and usually associated with a performance vehicle. And that is exactly what the Daihatsu Charade Turbo was – a genuine hot hatch at a bargain basement price. The Nissan EXA
beet the diminutive Charade to the turbo party by launching first at an astoundingly low A$12,600, the "blown" 1.5-litre fuel injection package shattering the myth that hi-tech meant hi-price. But when the Charade hit the showrooms it was asking just A$9195 – and it was almost as quick as the EXA
The performance was little short of amazing from the 992cm3 three-cylinder engine. The Nissan EXA
was a tad faster, but zero to 100 km/h in 10.42 seconds was, for the time, faster than Toyota's Supra, the Nissan 280ZX, Mazda RX-7 and the Saab 900 Turbo
. Over the standing 400 metres the average was around 17 seconds – and that put it within a whisker of the Supra, 280ZX and RX-7
and only 3/10ths of a second slower than the $3450-dearer Nissan EXA turbo and 6/10ths of a second slower than the potent Mitsubishi Starion.
The Secret To The Performance
The secret to the Turbo Charade's performance was not solely to do with the fitment of a turbo. Low gearing and small wheels helped account for snappier standing-start acceleration, well beyond what the power to weight ratio, on paper at least, would have suggested. The EXA was quicker than the Charade Turbo over the standing 400 metres (16.85 seconds versus Charade's 17.22s) and the 1.8-litre fuel injected Mitsubishi Cordia was quicker again, covering the distance in just under 16.0 seconds.
But the Daihatsu had bragging rights in two main criteria. At the time, it was the cheapest production turbo car in the world and it was also the most economical. It is true that, when it comes to performance, not too many are similarly concerned about fuel consumption. But at some point you would need to get yourself to a petrol station, and with the Charade that not be something to fear. Road testers of the time flogged the living bejesus out of the thing, yet not one was able to record figures above 6 litres per 100 kms.
The single overhead three-cylinder engine featured a number of mechanical changes that boosted its power 20 percent and raised its torque by more than 50 percent. Chief among them was the remarkable RHI turbo (maximum boost 7.2 psi or 2.8 kg/cm2), which feed through a pressure carburettor from a cartridge-style air filter. Its turbine was only 39mm in diameter and employed new-shape, highly-efficient, turbine blades that span to a maximum 230,000 rpm.
The tiny turbo was bolted directly to the exhaust
manifold so it gained maximum exhaust
gas velocity, helping to reduce turbo lag to almost unnoticed proportions and giving the little car impressive lugging abilities and general engine flexibility. The transverse engine sat snugly under the sharply sloping bonnet and the red crinkle-finish tappet cover and matching plenum chamber added an appropriate note of sportiness. The engine developed a maximum 50kw power at 5500 rpm and 106Nm torque at 3200 rpm, compared to the standard Charade's 38.2kW at 5600 rpm and 71.5 Nm torque at 3,200 rpm.
On the Road
Revved out to the standard tachometer's 6000 rpm red-line the Daihatsu pulled just over 40 km/h in first, 70 km/h in second, 86 km/h in third. In fourth, pulled to the same revs, it was capable of a genuine 158 km/h with a theoretical potential top speed in fifth (downhill with a tail-wind) an amazing 193 km/h at 6000 rpm. A more realistic and definitely achievable 5000 rpm on the flat with no wind assistance would see the Turbo Charade run a true speed in the low 160s.
An unpleasant characteristic of the little car is the noise of the engine when it was being punted hard. It 3 cylinder engine was a fairly loud motor with a fussy, and at times unpleasant, throb. It was acceptable until about 5000 rpm, but then you would have needed earplugs, or at least a well performing sound system, to be ready for any sustained high speed run. But then, given the draconian speed limits in this country, who really would have had the chance to run the car for prolonged periods at high speed. Not many is our guess. So it was that the beauty of the Charade Turbo was in its acceleration, and ability to take the fight up to more powerful, and much more expensive cars at the traffic lights.
Behind the Wheel
The turbo made an enormous difference to the tractability of the car. In traffic you could lope along in fifth yet pull away smoothly and jerk-free from exceptionally low speeds. It was the same story on inclines - no need to change-down, simply put the foot down. The gearshift was light and pleasant. The only flaw was the possibility of finding fifth when you were looking for third in a hurry. With familiarity, that chance evaporated. Ratios were well spaced too, with first a low 3.090 to 1, second 1.842 to 1 and third 1.230 to 1, which, with a final drive of 4.642 to 1, explained its spirited sprint off the line. Fourth was an overdrive ratio of 0.864 to 1. With the turbo it remained a gear for acceleration. Fifth was a very tall 0.707 to 1 and its usefulness was similarly due mainly to the blower.
The rack and pinion steering was always light, fairly direct and quick. There was plenty of feel through the soft-rimmed, small diameter plastic four-spoke wheel. The steering displayed typical front-drive traits. There was positive self-centring when exiting corners and, under throttle, a bit of torque steer as you felt the front wheels skipping as they fought for traction. Like most of the lighter front-drive brigade from Japan, the Charade suffered from an inherent shudder or vibration as the clutch took up the engine load in first. It required concentration and delicacy to slip away from rest smoothly.
Handling The Extra Grunt
To cope with the extra get up and go the suspension was re-tuned with heavier coil spring rates front and rear and a hollow 21mm diameter anti-roll bar
was added on the rear. The front MacPherson strut set-up used a solid 24mm anti-roll bar
and at the rear the hollow beam axle had four-link and Panhard rod location, with hydraulic dampers and an anti-roll bar
. Fairly orthodox, it was also pretty workable. The stiffening up process led to noticeably more thump and bump at slower speeds when rough patches were struck. And it also accentuated the Charade's natural inclination to pitch; a trait that, admittedly, would have been hard for the Daihatsu engineers to eliminate when they were dealing with a wheelbase of just 2320mm.
Up-grading continued in the wheel and tyre area with the turbo Charade benefiting from the fitting of good-look-ing 4.5-inch alloy sports wheels shod with 165/70 SR x 13 steel radials. The rim size didn't increase over the stock Charade
, but the tyre change made a difference. The little car was basically predictable in the handling department, if a shade skittish when pushed towards its limits. Perhaps the biggest problem was its low weight, only 700 kg. While its weight to power ratio wasn't outstanding by turbo-car standards (14kg per kW, compared to the EXA's 11.7) there was more than enough poke reaching the driving wheels to send them spinning in a wild search for grip when the throttle was opened with too much exuberance through a tight corner.
But the situation could be easily fixed by the driver if they simply came off the power, the Charade would then tuck its nose in nicely and retain its normal controllable understeer stance. Used sensibly, the throttle could point the car very nicely. The ride quality was on the lumpy side on all but the smoothest road. While suspension
firmness was obviously demanded to cope with turbo-style speeds, it seemed the Daihatsu engineers put handling considerations above those of the occupants.
On the Inside
The foot controls were light and nicely spaced and the driving position was comfortable for both short and tall drivers. The servo boosted front disc and rear drum braking system worked well, resisting fade and locking up at the front first and pulling the car up straight and in acceptable distances. The tall and boxy shape of the Charade provided lots more interior room than its 3550 mm length suggested. The design took full advantage of the transverse-engine and rear hatchback and fold-down rear seat layout to provide generous dollops of head and leg room front and rear for four adults.
The Charade Turbo was pitched at the youth market with a paint and trim dress-up that was a little garish. Australian versions came with a loud colour scheme, that with charcoal blackout treatment applied to door sashes, centre pillars, drip mouldings and under-door rocker panels. A chunky, egg-crate grille with a Turbo badge, a similar badge on the side protection ^mouldings and the rear hatchback identified it as not being the stock Charade. The word "Tubro" was also woven into the reclinable squabs of the red and charcoal cloth upholstered front bucket seats.
The buckets themselves had adjustable head restraints and offered fairly good support - thanks to well defined lugs that held the occupants in place. Some taller drivers might have found there was insufficient thigh support for true long-distance comfort. The instruments were set high in a raised pod ahead of the driver on the moulded urethane dashboard. Orange coloured and lit in soft orange from behind at night, the main 180 km/h speedometer
lined up either side of a small combination gauge that covered fuel, warning lights and a green-light Turbo indicator. The space behind the rear seat was large enough to cope with shopping, a small amount of luggage or even a baby stroller. If you need more space, the seats folded flat.