As a motoring journalist it is imperative to be objective and impartial when evaluating a car, and to evaluate a car’s strengths and weaknesses on merit and not be influenced by external or subjective factors.

That said, there is a reason why test vehicles are normally as close to brand new as possible. It creates a lasting first impression, subliminally influencing you to believe this is how the car will appear, behave and feel at all times and under all circumstances. In Daihatsu’s case, first impressions are apparently not that important.

The Terios they supplied me with for this Mambaonline test came straight from the second-hand dealer’s floor, seriously driven-in at almost 24 000km (the deteriorated pedal rubbers are a dead give-away). It had the price tag in the boot, a noticeable chip in the windscreen, no driver’s mat and no fuel. But this is where journalistic objectivity kicks in, because besides these tiny irritations, the (very short) time I got to spend with the Daihatsu Terios 4X4 was a blast.

Daihatsu is not a new name in the South African motoring context, and has in recent years become a serious contender by offering cars that won’t cost you an arm and a leg and offer a good value for money. Even in the fictional world of television’s Egoli you can buy a Charade, Sirion, Materia and Copen from Walco, or, like Koert did before setting off on a cross-country holiday, a Terios.

The Terios comes in at the upper level of the Daihatsu model range and is also one of its more expensive offerings. As a full affiliate of Toyota, it comes as no surprise that the Terios is based on the previous generation Toyota RAV4. It aims to provide an SUV alternative on the lower end of the market where not many of the more established SUV manufacturers are competing. As such, the Terios is a winner.

At just over 4 metres long, the Terios succeeds in hiding its compact dimensions. There are distinct design cues that remind of the current RAV4, and this has definitely helped in the sales department. The higher ride-height, rear-mounted spare wheel and neat alloy wheels complement the off-road image, although it must be said that body colour makes a huge difference. The lime green metallic of the test unit was definitely not as flattering as the darker options like grey and black metallic.

By placing a wheel at each corner of the vehicle (as can be seen by the very short front and rear overhangs), the interior is surprisingly large, especially considering its compact dimensions. There is more than enough space between the two front passengers, and two large or three average-build individuals should fit on the back seat with a fair amount of comfort. Head and legroom is also more than sufficient, the marginally higher cabin making a big difference in this regard.

The interior is basic but isn’t lacking that much either. The seating position is high and comfortable, and the seats are covered in a high quality black cloth. The plastics are of the harder variety and there are no obvious quality or durability issues. Silver accents on the door panels and the centre console also do much to break the somberness of the interior. The centre console does however seem out of place: It looks very dated, especially the design of the radio/CD-player and temperature control knobs.

Fitted with a 1.5-litre engine that develops 77kW of power and 140Nm of torque mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox, the Terios at times felt underpowered, especially when I attempted rapid acceleration from one traffic light to the next. In its defence, this is a highly subjective characteristic. However, once you have a feel for the gear ratios the Terios is more than willing in picking up speed and impressed me both in heavy traffic and on the open road.

At the end of the day, the Daihatsu Terios is a vehicle I would recommend to anyone who is in the market for a compact car with limited SUV capabilities. (Let’s face it: the Terios is not a serious off-road vehicle.) It handles like a car with little body roll even under spirited cornering. Its higher ride is also a definite plus in traffic, especially considering the sorry state in which many of our roads are in.

So why would you buy a Terios 4X4 at R186 995 if you can get a bigger, just-launched Nissan Qashqai 1.6 Vista for R183 900? It’s simple really: The Terios isn’t too big for its engine, has some off-road capabilities and is an equally viable (and clever) alternative to a car, especially if, like me, you don’t like the look of many of the vehicles it competes against.

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