The time has come to say goodbye to our Daihatsu Terios project vehicle. In an attempt to give it a proper send-off, we took it to the most fearsome pass we could find
This is it – the final verdict on Project Terios. The stamp of approval before it passes through our gates for the last time and on to its next – very lucky, we might add – owner.
Before writing this swansong to the smallest member of our fleet, we did some research on the stock standard vehicle, to understand it better. What we found was quite interesting. Did you know, for instance, that the Terios is bought by a predominantly female customer base? It’s also the only car in SA to offer a stand-alone model aimed specifically at the fairer sex. It’s called the Terios Diva, and it has heel protecting carpets! We don’t know what those look like, and our car doesn’t seem to have them. The carpets in this Terios are actually caked in mud at the moment, and that’s how we like them. It’s a clear indication that the car has been places.
We recently took our Terios to the most fearsome place it’s been to yet – Bezuidenhout’s Pass in KwaZulu-Natal. We had no idea what to expect. Reports about it were confusing, to say the least. One person described it as extremely tough while another said it would take a mere 20 minutes to complete.
On our way up, we met a friendly man in a Land Rover Discovery 4 who said he’d had to use “rock crawl mode” for the metre-high steps, bathed in mud. He told us how he almost rolled the Disco travelling down the mountain. Gulp. All we had was a modified Terios with a measly 1,5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
We turned around and decided to tackle the pass from the top. The Terios had more than enough ground-clearance for the task, but we weren’t so sure that its naturally aspirated engine would deliver enough power to get it over the rough parts. As it turned out, we were wrong, but more on that later…
At least our project vehicle was modified for rough terrain, but it’s not as though the Terios was a bad off-roader to begin with. The SWB model is surprisingly capable in standard format. It has a 77kW/140Nm engine, which sends power to an all-wheel drive system via a five-speed manual gearbox.
In normal driving conditions, the power is split between the two sets of wheels with a 60% front bias, but once the mechanical centre differential is engaged, power goes to the wheels in a 50/50 split. This makes the Terios very capable on a gravel road and enables it to tackle easy to moderate off-road obstacles from time to time. But not the kind of stuff we expected to face on this pass.
Luckily our Terios had come a long way since it was first delivered to our offices. The most obvious upgrades were done by Maniac Manufacturing in Cape Town. These well-known boffins in the 4×4 community lifted the Terios a good few millimetres by fitting an aftermarket suspension kit. To increase the approach angle, an aluminium replacement bumper, with room for a winch, was mounted to the front. A heavy steel plate was welded in place for protection underneath, while a set of rock sliders was slapped on in case the ground-clearance proved inadequate. As it turned out, these rock sliders were never even needed. The winch, supplied by Safari Centre, also went unused the whole time the Terios was in our possession.
The suspension lift left enough space for some serious rubber, which Cooper Tyres happily provided. A set of Discoverer AT3s wrapped tightly over some A-Line alloys from Autoquip gave the Terios an aggressive stance, with the spare wheel adding that extra dash of beligerence to the vehicle’s posterior.
The Terios was finished off with a 120W Lumeno LED light bar from Fox & Sons and a stellar wrapping sponsored by Wrap Vehicles.
As readers will know, the upgrades to the engine were less successful. In the hopes of doubling the horsepower, a turbocharger was bolted to the engine. Daihatsu had previously turbocharged the 1,5-litre engine in its Materia hatch, which resulted in an insane little car, which still fetches a tidy sum on the second-hand market a few years after its launch. No failures were reported on those units, so it seemed like a good idea. Why would it work in a Materia and not on a Terios?
Unfortunately, the angle at which the engine is mounted in the Terios proved to be a problem. The turbocharging worked initially and with a proven 140kW on tap, we almost reached double the initial figure. It was a beast… for a short while.
On its way down to Maniac Manufacturing, the engine developed some serious problems, so we decided to leave well alone and make do with the standard engine. It wasn’t the Daihatsu’s fault, but rather a case of one upgrade too far. Live and learn, they say.
Back to the final testing ground. But before we tell more about the trip down the pass, let’s focus on how the modifications altered the day-to-day abilities of the Terios.
The interior was kept stock-standard, so there’s no real difference in that regard. The suspension, although able to cope with heavily corrugated roads, is a bit bouncy, but it isn’t so bad that you wouldn’t want to live with it. When the car is fully loaded, this problem goes away.
The other downside is a lack of performance, because of the added weight of the modifications, but once again, not to the extent that we couldn’t live with it. Yes, it struggles its way up a mountain pass and the top-speed is barely 130km/h, but the four-cylinder engine has a certain can-do character and the noise to go with it. It may be doing only 80km/h most of the time, but the high-revving engine makes it feel like it’s doing a million!
The only problem we weren’t expecting was a drastic increase in fuel consumption. On a full tank, the Terios can travel only 370km. This is not mucvh fun when you are traveling long distances, and your wallet takes a serious knock as well. On the other hand, a project vehicle like this one is unlikely to be used as a daily drive.
On the gravel roads on our way to Bezuidenhout’s Pass it was impossible not to fall in love with the Terios. The suspension upgrades and those big fat tekkies make the ride quality impeccable. Out there, we were also happy with the non-turbocharged engine. The power delivery of the 1,5-litre unit is very linear and you just can’t beat a naturally aspirated engine when it comes to responsiveness.
As we approached Bezuidenhout’s Pass we felt a bit duped, because it looked like every other gravel road we’d driven on in KwaZulu-Natal. After another 5km or so, however, it became apparent we were in for one helluva good time.
The trip down the pass starts with a slight 50cm drop, which we sorted in no time. We hoped this little step wasn’t the epic obstacle the man in the Disco had spoken about earlier. Now that the first obstacle was completed successfully, we were in the mood for some serious fun.
We were rewarded with a few other steps a few hundred metres later. Suddenly, a Terios on steroids wasn’t just a funny description anymore. We were now attempting risky stuff in a car that’s normally found outside a Jimmy Choo shop.
We took one of our siblings along for the ride and at this point he decided that the magnificent views and 4×4 action could be better experienced from outside the vehicle. One could argue that he was perhaps imtimidated by the thought of being inside a car pushed to its very limits, but since the views were out of this world, we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Not that we’d blame anyone for wanting to jump ship. Bezuidenhout’s Pass is a beautiful place, but it makes you work hard for the rewards. It threw absolutely everything it had at the car, including massive rocks, mud, loose gravel and – to top it all – a steep 100m drop lurking to the left, which would result in a horrible outcome if the driver lost control.
We expected Boromir to come running out of the woods to deliver his famous line, “One does not simply drive down Bezuidenhout’s Pass.”
Suffice to say that we took the task rather slowly. The ground clearance proved more than adequate and we were quite surprised by the Terios’s feisty engine. In most cases nothing more than a slight burst of power was needed and the car was more than happy to provide it. When things got a bit muddy, we just kept up the momentum and the magnificent four-wheel drive system took care of the rest.
The centre differential was needed only once on our journey down the mountain. Our SWB car was caught in a serious axle twister and refused to budge. At the push of a button, we got moving again.
Soon after that the drops became less ferocious and we could coax our extra passenger back into the car. We were happy to be alive and that the Terios had made it, but also saddened that the moment had passed. Completing those obstacles in a car that was never designed for such hardships had done wonders for our egos.
Bezuidenhout’s Pass proved to be a tough adversary, but the little Terios gave it a proper beat-down. It’s actually astounding when you think about it. A small, city-bound SUV with heel protecting carpets for the ladies took on a mountain and won, thanks to a few modifications.
That evening we parked the Terios right next to the campfire. It felt like a friend and it deserved to be part of the conversation. It was there, in the warm glow of the fire, that we decided that we could have taken the Terios up the mountain as well. We would have needed more time and we would have had to work the engine really hard, but we remain 100% convinced that it would have succeeded.
We’ll miss the Terios – its looks and the comfort it provides on a gravel road, but most of all we’ll miss its can-do attitude.
Everyone loves it when an underdog emerges victorious from a tough battle, and that’s exactly what happened when the Daihatsu Terios took on the fearsome Bezuidenhout’s Pass.