The Avanzato. Or, to give it the full name treatment, the Daihatsu Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4. A huge name for a car of miniscule proportions.
I can trace my obsession with the Avanzato back to the first week in February 2010. At the time I was just starting my search for a Defender 110 and so, naturally, one’s attention would turn to a 660cc Kei car. I probably spend far too much time trawling the classified for cars I neither need or have the means to buy.
Normally, as I excitedly pass the MacBook to Mrs MajorGav, I’m either greeted with a flat “no”, an intolerant laugh or stone-cold silence. But on this occasion, as I gleefully presented an ad for an Avanzato, the response was markedly different. I immediately emailed the seller, but woke the next day disappointed to see the word ‘SOLD’ accompanying the ad. Dammit.
But like a dog with a bone, almost as if my life depended on it, I decided I’d find another. As my unfortunate followers on Twitter will testify, I made no secret of my desire to find one. But weeks of fruitless searching almost had me considering other options, so I placed a wanted ad on PistonHeads.
Within 24 hours, I was amazed to receive three emails from prospective sellers. But there was one which stood head and shoulders above the others. A one-owner, 22k mile Avanzato, in white and in excellent condition. From that moment on, I had to get that car. So, to cut a long story short, almost a week to the time of placing the wanted ad, I sit here with a one-owner Avanzato sat in my garage. This is the story so far…
Collecting the car from West London meant a train journey on the Cornish Riviera. Being a Saturday, I took advantage of the option to upgrade to First Class for an extra £9. Brilliant decision: a quiet and relaxing experience sat in extremely comfortable leather seats. Although to be fair, they did remind me of the kind of seats you’d get in a mid- to late-80s Vauxhall or Renault luxo-barge. Comfy, squeaky and totally inept at holding one’s posterior when travelling around corners.
It was about the time we passed through Frome that a feeling of horror washed over me. As I glanced at the countryside thundering past me, sat in calm comfort, armed with coffee, I realised that I’d be doing each and every mile of the return leg in a 660cc Matchbox toy. Should I change at Reading and head straight back home? Like hell I should.
I was picked up from the station in the Avanzato and immediately treated to a display of the car’s talents. As test drives go, I was probably smitten by the time we reached the first mini-roundabout. A deal was done and I tentatively made my way into the Saturday afternoon traffic to begin the 200-mile journey home.
In all honesty, first impressions weren’t all that great. Like a first date, there was an almost uncomfortable feeling as I got used to the car. Indicating left resulted in the wipers coming on. Flashing a bus out a junction resulted in an impromptu wash of the windscreen. I needed to get used to Japanese spec motoring once again.
Once the miserable Saturday afternoon traffic was cleared and the fuel tank filled with V-Power, it was time to hit the M3. Things were about to get worse as the heavens opened and I entered the seemingly endless stretches of 50 mph limits complete with evil yellow tripods housing cameras watching our every move. Lorries either side of the Avanzato, a ‘giant’ k5 Golf in my rear wheel – all in a car I’d only owned for 10 miles.
As I pulled into Fleet Services, the rain eased off. A couple in a German registered Hyundai Atoz promptly took photos of my new purchase. Now they’ve either never seen a fun-size Impreza before or they were simply amazed at the sight of a 6ft 3 man unravelling himself from one of the world’s smallest cars. I guess I’ll never know.
Venturing on, I exited for the A303 at Basingstoke. It was about this time when something seemed to click. Free of motorway traffic and with rain making way for welcome sunshine, the experience totally changed direction. This was highlighted in no greater way than the first roundabout you come to just past Amesbury. The way this car devours roundabouts is delightful. Imagine yourself being 2cm tall and strapped into a Scalextric car as it takes a bend. This must be how it feels. As you plant your right foot before exiting the roundabout, the Avanzato digs in and catapults on to the next circle of fun. I was beginning to enjoy myself.
It’s at this point that I feel I must apologise to any other drivers on the A303 between the hours of 5pm and 7pm Saturday evening. If you were put off by the sight of a gormless idiot grinning like a Cheshire cat, that was me. But not just any Cheshire cat. No siree. A Cheshire cat that got the cream, lives in a world made totally out of catnip and has just found out that a Home for Female Cats is moving in next door. To say I was enjoying myself as much as my first weekend in my VX220 is probably over egging it a little, but bear in mind the difference in price, specification and performance. This Avanzato is brilliant.
Prior to February, my knowledge of the Daihatsu Cuore Avanzato could have been written on the back of a fag packet. I knew nothing. I’m guessing that I might not be alone here, so let me give you some facts. The Avanzato has a tiny 660cc engine, but this engine is coupled with a turbo and intercooler that produces some 64bhp. Not a huge number, but bear in mind this car weighs just 650kg and has permanent four-whee-drive and LSD. Things start to get interesting, especially when taking into account the fact that this thing redlines at 8,500rpm!
Some 80 to 120 Avanzatos were officially imported by Daihatsu UK between 1997 and 1998. Some of these were immediately converted to rally spec and competed in numerous British events. At the time of release, Car magazine likened the standard Daihatsu Cuore to the original Mini. This subsequently led them to the conclusion that the Avanzato could have been the modern-day equivalent of the Mini Cooper.
As I made my way across the Blackdown Hills as night fell, I could quite believe the comparison. What it may lack in genuine feedback, it more than makes up for through a willingness to deliver an outright joyful driving experience. Switching between left and right hand bends with aplomb and delivering a tenacious appetite for acceleration. Based on the figures, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Avanzato is so capable at off-the-line acceleration. What is surprising though is the way it delivers acceleration between 50 and 70mph. Without even thinking of dropping a cog, the Avanzato rockets away even in fifth gear.
As the journey drew to a close, the long and dull stretch along the A30 towards home had me thinking that the fun was over. How wrong could I be? My short but engaging eight mile trek off the A30 and across the Moors has never been so much fun. My jaw was aching through the permanent grin delivered through a stretch of road I know so well.
The frantic, hilarious, rewarding and downright captivating experience can perhaps only be summarised by the performance of the lead singer in the Dutch prog-rockers Focus in the early 70s. Watch and listen and you will see what I mean. Just wait until the first minute for the full effect.
Barely a day into ownership and with just 202 miles under my belt, I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to life with the Avanzato. Waking up this morning, I wasn’t overcome with a feeling of “what have I done?”, but a feeling of happiness that a car like the Avanzato exists. The sheer pointlessness of it should be applauded. Furthermore, even at standstill, it makes me smile and I like that. Thank you, Avanzato.