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It is pitching the boxy new funkster straight at twentysomething women who want a lifestyle car that's compact, easy to park, economical and a bit of fun.

No one is saying it, but Daihatsu hopes the car will take over from the Hyundai Excel, which became a favourite car for thousands of young Australian women.

Daihatsu says the Sirion, born-again after seven years as the brand's best seller in Australia, will take the action right up to rivals, including the Toyota Echo and Suzuki Swift.

It has even teamed with Portmans, a youth-focused clothing brand, to push the message to women with a range of joint promotions.

"Our primary target is 20 to 30-year-old women. Women 45-plus are the secondary target," marketing manager for Daihatsu in Australia Adam Gowans says. "Our tag for the car is 'Uncramp your style'."

So it's not for blokes, though Daihatsu thinks it will attract some men aged 20-30 who want the flexibility of a baby box at a value price.

The new Sirion is priced from $15,490 and has made important moves everywhere, from a bigger body to a 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine and twin airbags.

It still looks like a Sirion, but park it side by side with the old car – as we did this week – and you see one is the past and the other the future.

The new model has a longer, taller, wider body that translates into a much bigger cabin. It looks more substantial. Distinctive styling, from giant headlamps to pumped-out guards, will help it stand out.

The price is not as sharp as some of its rivals, but Sirion is a five-door hatch in a class in which budget specials all have three.

DAIHATSU points to everything from standard aircon and CD sound to electric windows and mirrors as reasons for the $15,490 starting price.

It also says quality is up in every area and the vital measure of its youth appeal – the number of storage nooks – hits an even dozen.

The Sirion ends Daihatsu's emphasis on three-cylinder motors, a company signature since the original Charade. It has switched to a bigger four from the Toyota Echo.

Toyota owns Daihatsu and is moving to bring the brand forward in Australia and around the world.

The engine comes with 64kW and 120Nm for solid sprinting ability and fuel economy as low as 5.8 litres/100km in official tests.

There are two basic Sirion models, the SX and the Sport, but the number rises to eight with gearbox choices and optional safety packs.

The Sport, from $17,990 and about 25 per cent of sales, gets alloy wheels, anti-skid brakes, a body kit, foglamps and chrome door handles.

The safety pack on the SX means anti-skid brakes, side and head airbags for $1980.

Daihatsu says the Sirion has always been in the top six in the light-car class and predicts sales will stay steady at 2500 cars this year.

"We will be happy with the same result. Because of production restrictions, stock will be tight at first," Daihatsu Australia sales manager Andrew Phillips says.


THE new Sirion is a much nicer drive.

Then again, it needs to be a lot better to survive in the baby-car melee.

It gets along more briskly, feels more substantial and has plenty of space.

It also looks a lot funkier, inside and out, particularly with the Sport pack's alloy wheels and body kit.

But it's impossible to drive the Sirion and not compare it with the Echo and the Swift.

How's that? Well, the Sirion has more than a touch of Echo around the cabin, even coming with the Echo engine, and the Swift is our new benchmark in the class.

It scores ahead of the Echo in some important areas, including cabin space and doors that open super-wide for easy access, and even drives a little nicer than we remember from our last run in a three-door model.

But you'd expect that, because the Echo is about to get a total make-over and the new model will be in Australia in the second half of the year.

Measured against the Swift, the Sirion loses.

It's not as quiet, comfortable or refined, and the Japanese emphasis – against European for the Suzuki – shows in the narrower front bucket seats and cheaper-style trim. The Sirion is a traditional Japanese compact, whereas the Swift is a mini Volkswagen Golf.

Still, the boxy Sirion is very practical and that will be important for people who want a practical car that's easy to park, light to drive, and doesn't need to stop too often for fuel.

It's a big step forward for the Sirion, and a solid sign Daihatsu is finally moving away from silly little baby cars into something more substantial and sustainable.

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