Daihatsu is a company that has become synonymous with cheaper, reliable, and of course smaller vehicles that are primarily designed for the Asian market, where the cities are dense and fuel economy along with reliability is a key factor. Daihatsu is also known for doing a lot of rebadging and for using a different name for a slightly modified version of an existing model in their lineup. In this case, we are talking about the Daihatsu Atrai, which is the passenger version of the Daihatsu Hijet truck.
Introduced in 1981, the Hijet/Atrai is a key truck or microvan that is intended to fulfill more cargo-oriented consumer needs. It features a longer wheelbase than one would expect from your typical Daihatsu entry and is by standard powered by a 547 cc two-cylinder engine. More powerful three-cylinder options were made available as the generation went on as well as a turbocharged version of the original. No automatic transmission was offered, but a choice between a four and five-speed manual was available. The different engines were not intended as just your standard variations, but also to accommodate the slightly different emission requirements of various markets.
The basic cargo model came in both a flatbed variant and a high roof variant, but for the Atrai a more van-look was settled on. The final result was a simple sliding door van that had an adequate amount of seating and would be great for passenger transportation or even larger cab services.
Features are pretty standard for a car of this price and design. There are power windows, a radio, and an adequate cabin. When inside, most of the materials are noticeably cheaper looking and in general you get a very rugged vibe from the whole vehicle. Most of the instrumentation and panels do not feel polished or even that much thought went into it. The overall feeling is that the designers wanted to do the bare minimum for this to be a serviceable vehicle on the market, without going the extra mile in any department.
Most of the engine options deliver just enough power to allow for this vehicle to function as intended but don’t expect any surprises. They manage to get your cargo or passengers from point A to point B, but that’s about it. Passenger space is decent in terms of legroom and headroom. The seats themselves, just like the rest of the cabin, are nothing to write home about. They are not the worst ever put into a vehicle, but they do leave a lot to be desired.
In the next few generations, Daihatsu would improve on a lot of these issues, but not by a lot. The exterior would get progressively sleeker, but the majority of the interior problems never get fully addressed until the eighth generation. This is where passenger comfort was greatly improved by having the designers almost fully rework the chassis and suspension, resulting in a much more pleasurable ride for everyone involved.
For the generations after that, improvements would slowly become available, but Daihatsu relied more on the different special editions that each had some minor issues addressed rather than just making the base model more appealing. Regardless, the Atrai sold decently enough as it was still a very economical option for passenger transportation. It became a staple of some cities where a cheaper solution goes a long way. It also helps that just like with a lot of what Daihatsu has to offer, the Atrai is reliable enough and cheap to maintain to allow a lot of consumers to overlook the negatives. The Atrai is still in production and it remains to be seen if these issues would receive a major rework or if Diahatsu would remain mostly uninspired.