Daihatsu took just about everyone by surprise last week at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show where it unveiled a conceptual Copen. Not the adorable front-wheel-drive kei car we've known since 2002 when the first generation was unveiled but a much larger vehicle with rear-wheel drive. Moving away from its kei car origins also meant the engineers were given the freedom to install an engine larger than the 658cc used by the current production model.
Output was not disclosed, but with a 1.3-liter engine under the hood, one can safely assume it had more grunt than the puny 0.6-liter turbo engine producing 63 hp and 68 lb-ft in the kei car. Extra power is a necessity considering the Vision Copen is 151 inches long and 66.7 inches wide, therefore making it about 18 inches longer and nearly 9 inches wider than the JDM-spec kei car. It's still smaller than the Mazda MX-5 Miata but not by much.
Daihatsu Vision Copen
But why did Daihatsu decide to make its pint-sized sporty car substantially larger? Japan's Best Car magazine asked this question to the person in charge of the development team, and the answer they got was rather interesting: "The idea behind the Copen was that if it were to be a full-fledged sports car, away from a light car, demand would increase, including the possibility of export. That's it."
In other words, a bigger Copen with a more powerful engine and rear-wheel drive would make it more appealing compared to exporting the current kei car. Lest we forget Daihatsu is a wholly owned Toyota subsidiary, so it wouldn't be all that hard to sell the model outside of Japan. Best Car even speculates it could become a Toyota-badged coupe with a fixed roof to slot below the GR86 but it's wishful thinking at this point.
On second thought, perhaps that isn't such an outlandish idea considering Toyota's own S-FR concept from 2015 was also a petite sports car. Pictured below, it was 157.1 inches long and had the exact same 66.7-inch width as the Vision Concept. It had a 1.5-liter gasoline engine with 130 hp routed to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual. Sadly, Daihatsu's new concept has only two pedals.
We'll have to wait and see how this plays out but the time is ticking for the current Copen taking into account it has been around since 2014. It's the last of the performance-oriented kei cars, following the demise of the Honda S660 last year.