Daihatsu X-021: What if Miata Wasn't Always the Answer?
After the launch of the immensely popular first generation Mazda MX-5, any new lightweight roadster was always going to be judged against it. While not exactly the first manufacturer you think of when you think ‘lightweight roadster’, in the early '90s Daihatsu decided to have a go at this MX-5 rival thing. Despite the daunting challenge they were taking on board, Daihatsu made one hell of an attempt.
Debuting at the Frankfurt Motorshow in 1991, the Daihatsu X-021 was the result of this project. The X-021’s design was fairly simple, and certainly didn’t have the appearance of a car intended purely as a concept. Daihatsu's effort was rather small, even in comparison to the MX-5. This was not solely in terms of dimensions; it was also considerably lighter. The NA MX-5 isn’t exactly a heavy car, but the X-021 weighed only 700kg. That’s over 200kg lighter than the Mazda; a huge difference in any car, let alone cars this size.
The X-021 was powered by a 1.6 litre, 16 valve inline 4 that produced 140BHP, and could reach a top speed of 125mph. The lack of weight was achieved via the use of fibreglass for the body and a spaceframe chassis underneath. A version of the car with no bodywork was displayed alongside the completed car, although this second car would later be completed for future display. Wheels were a 15 inch affair, wrapped in Dunlop Performa 8000 tyres. Beneath the body panels the X-021 was impressive; along with the aforementioned space frame the X-021 featured pushrod suspension, and all together the car was an impressive package.
Inside the X-021 didn’t exactly cater to anyone with much physical presence, be that vertical or horizontal. The cockpit was small with limited leg room and, when paired with the Recaro bucket seats, there was somewhat of a lack of wriggle room. If you really, really wanted to cram yourself in and were on the taller side, there was at least the benefit of being able to remove the roof. You'd just have to hope things stayed dry, I suppose.
After the 1992 Geneva Motorshow, the X-021 even made it onto the cover of Road & Track and was reviewed positively. The prototype made a solid impression, and was praised for its aesthetics and handling. It seemed the real driving experience matched up with the impressive numbers, and it looked like Daihatsu had a winner on their hands. Naturally this increased interest in the little Daihatsu, and it looked like the certain next move would be to head for production. Perhaps this would be the car that allowed Daihatsu to make their mark on the international scene.
Unfortunately, that never happened. The X-021 was left as nothing more than a concept. Daihatsu decided it would be a better move to focus on their domestic market, and began developing a similar car, but in the Kei car bracket. This would become the Copen, and while the Copen is a nice enough car, it really has nothing on the X-021. Supposedly elements of the X-021 were used in the Copen and reference was made to it during the Copen’s development, but the X-021 could, and perhaps should, have been so much more.
Since then, Daihatsu has never really established itself to any major extent outside of Asia, and no longer sells cars in Europe or America. The MX-5 continued to develop its huge following, and the X-021 was promptly forgotten about. Like so many other promising concept cars that oh-so-nearly made it, we’re only left to imagine what it would be like to have the X-021. I’m fairly confident if it had been brought into production, the MX-5 wouldn’t be the only well-loved 90’s Japanese roadster.