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Small, cheap and still fun

We should all love small cars. Apart from the fact that they are much cheaper to run and maintain than bigger cars, they are also quite cheap to buy and insure. If at the helm of a Renault Kwid you crashed into Chris Kriubi’s Maybach Mercedes, you’d obviously be distraught at your loss but probably even more so for the billionaire, and whichever insurance company happens to handle his matters. Small cars are also mighty fun to drive.

The engines may be small but they have very little weight to move. Their thin tyres squeal when you corner at legal speeds, and as I discovered when testing a Duet two years back.

Said vehicle at 4am at a left bend had its rear left wheel in the air at the very same time I had my heart in my mouth. It was all legal fun being had, something that would have been impossible in any larger car.

Design

The 2010 model, the second generation of the Passo, is much softer to the eyes than the first.  The design is more of an evolution than a revolution. The headlights are roughly the same shape, but more rounded, the lower lip now has a smoother chin and a more welcoming fascia courtesy of its deliberately cute face.

If you park it side to side with its more angular predecessor it looks like a fat happy baby carved from a used piece of soap. Like the Duet, the Passo was born of the nocturnal dealings between Daihatsu and Toyota.

The former taking advantage of the latter’s expertise in making small cars feel big on the inside. For 2010 the interior gets improvements like a hook before the passenger seat, which allows you to conveniently hung grocery bags and the like.

The interior is pretty much the same as before, surprisingly voluminous with the split folding rear seats increasing luggage capacity to 22 cubic feet. Thankfully it doesn’t make pretensions of being more upmarket than it really is.

The plastic feels hard wearing but economical and that’s about it. A nice enough place to sit as you go about your business in the urban jungle.

The Drive

You can get the Passo with either a 1.0 litre or a 1.3 litre engine.  Best of luck trying to get the 1.3. Unless you specifically import it, most dealers will have the cheaper 1.0 that they can sell for a higher price. Clean examples are currently retailing for about 650,000 shillings.

That said the smaller engine is not that bad, it comes with a seemingly paltry 71 horsepower that’s sent to the front wheels via a 4 speed CVT automatic. But the good news is that this is a super-mini and it weighs in at 20 kilos shy of a ton. This means that your visits to the pumps will be few and in between, returning 20 km to the litre.

That’s all well and good but the Passo is more than just an econo-box. Turn the very light but communicative steering wheel in and unlike the rivals who suddenly pitch and roll, the Passo comfortably turns in.

It’s wider and slightly heavier than its predecessor and turns in almost nonchalantly. You can feel the front wheels grappling for grip at 7O kph. If you’re inclined to treat it as more than just a shopping basket you’ll love driving the Passo.

It embodies everything a small car should be; sure footed, economical no matter how much you push it and rewarding when you actually do. It’s nimble and turns in sharper than before to manoeuvre tight situations better.

I felt a respectful bond develop as I powered up steep hills in the back roads of Kitisuru having heaps of fun but all below the speed limits. The CVT is mostly alert to whatever your right foot is up to but I felt that the 5 speed manual would have been better.

Constant churning of the shifter would be much more rewarding in such a small car especially if it came with the more powerful 1.3 litre engine. But nobody gets a Passo for the driving dynamics, which play second fiddle to its economy.

Despite the heavily softened look and the soon to follow reputation as a girly car, the Passo still retains its straightforward demeanour. It’s a practical little car that’s cheap to buy and run. It will ferry four, normally sized people comfortably and when you step on it, it will put a smile on your face. What more could you want in a small car?

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