Daihatsu’s cute and timeless Copen sports car has just become considerably more desirable with a punchy yet more frugal new 1.3 litre engine, higher gearing to enhance refinement and a sharp new price of only £10,995 on-the-road.

This is a full £2,500 less than the original model introduced for the ’04 model year which rapidly attracted an enthusiastic fan club seduced by its cute, timeless looks, effortless electric metal folding roof and nimble handling.

Originally conceived for the Japanese Kei-car market only, the UK’s importer, Daihatsu Vehicle Distributors Limited, persuaded the factory to re-engineer the tiny 660 cc turbo petrol engine to comply with European Whole Vehicle Type Approval.

Now, the Copen’s appeal has been drastically widened thanks to the fitment of the same 87 PS engine as the Sirion supermini which not only boosts performance and economy but allows higher gearing for more relaxed cruising.

Visually, the only difference to the pure uncluttered shape of the previous Copen is a small rear boot spoiler and a range of new colours.

Daihatsu Managing Director, Paul Tunnicliffe, said: “We are all car enthusiasts here at Daihatsu and were instrumental in bringing the original model to market in the UK.

“With this lively new engine and a highly competitive price, we are delighted not only to have a ‘halo’ model in our range but to be able to offer fellow enthusiasts such a characterful and affordable fun car.”

The Copen’s new 1.3 litre petrol engine totally transforms the small car’s appeal while providing even better fuel economy and lower exhaust emissions – a Daihatsu speciality.

For example, the revised sports car now has a 112 mph top speed (up 6 mph), 0-62 mph time of only 9.5 seconds instead of 11.7 seconds with stronger, more responsive throttle response throughout the rev-range.

Equally importantly, fuel economy is outstanding at 36.7 Urban, 56.5 mpg Extra Urban and 47.1 mpg on the Combined Cycle (was 35.8/50.4 and 44.1 mpg). Meanwhile, CO2 exhaust emissions drop from 151 g/km to 140 g/km.

And because of the 19 PS increase in power and 14.5 lb ft boost to torque, the gearing has been raised with 4th, for example, being the same as the previous 5th at 15.9 mph/1,000 rpm and the new 5th pulling 19.4 mph/1,000 rpm. This improves both refinement and fuel economy.

The engine itself is highly-advanced and is essentially the same unit fitted to the Daihatsu Sirion supermini.

Featuring Dynamic Variable Valve Timing (DVVT) which enhances low-speed pulling power and high-rev response, the twin overhead camshaft unit is compact and light, with an alloy head and block.

In fact, the new Copen is only 27 kg heavier than the previous 660 cc model and now weighs a nimble 850 kg.

Power is 87 PS at 6,000 rpm with torque of 88.5 lb ft at 4,400 rpm. The engine has a 10.3:1 compression ratio and features a bore and stroke of 72 x 79.7 mm.

It also features durable chains for its camshaft drive which require no maintenance and cannot snap like belt systems. Oil change intervals are now 9,000 miles instead of the previous 660 cc model’s 3,000 miles.

The new Sirion 1.3 litre launched in 2005 featured the world’s first self-regenerating catalyst. This innovation is also shared by the new Copen.

It effectively extends the life of the catalytic converter, reducing maintenance costs and is kinder to the environment as it keeps the catalyst ‘healthier’ over a higher mileage meaning the already low 140 g/km does not increase as the engine becomes older.

This revolutionary technology works by providing a self-regenerating capability in the particles of the precious metal which normally degrades.

Using nanotechnology, the intelligent catalyst incorporates metallic ions of palladium, the most heat-sensitive of the metals used in a catalytic converter.

According to temperature and available oxygen, the particles turn in and out of a crystalline state therefore regenerating and prolonging the cat’s ability to clean exhaust gasses.

The Copen’s disarming, cute looks perfectly express its fun image, with a rounded, teardrop design, minimum overhangs and oval front and rear lamps.

Its cockpit is especially inviting and intimate without being cramped. In fact, despite qualifying as an official Japanese mini-car (Kei-Car), the Copen has ample interior width and space for those exceeding six feet in height.

The Copen’s major ‘party-piece’, of course, is an electrically-operated folding hard-top – very similar to that on a Mercedes SLK – offering excellent security and weather protection.

All the driver has to do is unlock two windscreen catches and press a button on the centre console. The lightweight aluminium roof then folds into the boot in less than 20 seconds.

Luggage capacity with the roof up is sufficient for a weekend away. With the roof down, there is space for a soft sports bag.

The front-wheel drive Copen measures 3,440 mm long, has a 1,475 mm width excluding mirrors and is 1,245 mm high. Its wheelbase is 2,225 mm, overhangs are tiny and the driver sits perfectly between front and rear wheels for extra handling intimacy. The engine is transversely-mounted in the front.

Anyone expecting the Copen to be a shallow style-statement will be in for a surprise. The power-steering is especially direct and informative and the handling taut and agile.

Firmly damped with minimum body-roll and a low centre-of-gravity, the Copen also has a particularly low polar-moment-of-inertia. This means most of the weight is between the front and rear wheels, avoiding the pendulum-effect of large overhangs.

The result is that the car tracks especially straight at speed yet can be minutely adjusted by throttle and steering inputs – just like a prestige sports car.

Front suspension is by MacPherson struts with high caster angles for stable straight-line running and a firm, informative feel through the steering wheel.

This is further helped by radial ball-bearings in the suspension supports which reduce friction and give clearer messages. Gas/oil shock-absorbers are also fitted for consistent damping – even under severe conditions.

The rear features a conventional torsion beam and coil springs with separate monotube gas/oil shock absorbers. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear and there is substantial cross-bracing reinforcement under the floorpan for extra structural rigidity.

The Copen has a conventional hydraulic power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system as opposed to the growing trend towards electric power-assistance. The benefits are greater feel and sensitivity which is more in keeping with a sports car.

Safety is given high priority in the Copen which – despite its small size – has all the latest life-saving and injury-reducing initiatives.

For example, both front seats have seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters. These are designed to provide just the right amount of restraint for the level of retardation. Auto-locking restraints (ALR) are also fitted which keep the belt in its most effective position.

Twin front airbags are also standard as are dual side-impact door beams and extensive underfloor bracing. The floor panel itself benefits from three different steel thicknesses for progressive, energy-absorbing deformation.

In fact, not only are the sills reinforced but also the front side-members and front sub-frame. For enhanced body rigidity, a cross-member is fitted linking the right and left centre pillars, behind the front seats. In addition, twin roll-over bars are mounted on top of the cross-member for extra protection in the event of a roll-over accident.

The braking system features servo-assisted front ventilated disc brakes measuring a generous 246 mm with 180 mm rear drums. Anti-lock is also standard as is Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) which further avoids the locking-up of individual wheels during severe braking.

Finally, Daihatsu’s much-admired impact-sensing system acts as an emergency-alert device by automatically unlocking the doors following an accident, activating the hazard flashers and cutting off the fuel supply.

The Copen was first displayed as a concept car at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show. It appeared again in 2001 and finally went on sale in Japan in spring 2002 virtually unchanged in appearance from the original car. Since then, the Copen has developed an enthusiastic cult following – even in Germany where it was originally only available in right-hand drive.

The steel monocoque bodyshell features an aluminium roof panel with lightweight mechanism and the entire car is effectively hand-finished in a special section of Daihatsu’s Osaka factory.

Like all Daihatsus, the new Copen is provided with a three year unlimited mileage warranty plus three year roadside assistance and six years’ anti-perforation cover.

The new Copen 1.3 litre – which costs £10,995 on-the-road – boasts an especially high specification. The three options are metallic paint at £325, Recaro seats costing £895 and a £500 leather pack comprising heated leather seats, leather door trim and leather Momo steering wheel.