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The town of Hakone, located high in the mountains of Kanagawa Prefecture, is one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations. Visitors come to enjoy its soothing hot springs, beautiful views of Mt. Fuji, and art museums focusing on outdoor sculpture installations and Venetian glass.

Hakone also happens to be home to some of the best driving roads in east Japan, too, which is why Daihatsu picked the site to show off its new compact convertible, the Copen, to fans and press.

While very few are exported, Japan produces an entire class of ultra-compact automobiles called kei (Japanese for “light”) cars. Just how small are they? Under current regulations, kei cars have a maximum allowable length of just 3.4 meters (11 feet, 2 inches), and must be no more than 1.48 meters (4 feet, 10 inches) wide.

Still, kei cars are an attractive transportation choice for many drivers. Their small size means a lower purchase price and better fuel efficiency, and they’re also easier to navigate and park on Japanese roads, which tend to be crowded in the city and narrow in the countryside. Many can even haul an impressive amount of cargo, as a result of the nearly ubiquitously boxy styling of cars in the segment.

▼ The kei-class Daihatsu Tanto Custom

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As practical as kei cars are, though, they don’t exactly set drivers’ hearts on fire. If you can criticize most comfortable yet dull full-size sedans for feeling like a living room on wheels, you could call most keis a motorized walk-in closet.

Until 2012, though, there was one kei car that was actually built with the objective of being fun to drive, Daihatsu’s two-seater convertible, the Copen.

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The Copen won over a large number of fans during its 10-year production run, and no sooner did the last roll off the assembly line than rumors began to spread that Daihatsu had a successor planned. Last fall, the automaker even showed off a concept for a new Copen at the Tokyo Motor Show.

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Building on that momentum, this month Daihatsu invited a group of fans and photographers to come out to Hakone and go for a spin in an early prototype of its second-generation sporty kei.

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Like its predecessor, the new Copen is a two-seater drop-top. While we don’t know exactly how much power its engine produces, kei regulations stipulate a maximum displacement of 660 ccs, so if your first and only motoring desire is neck-snapping acceleration, this probably isn’t the ride for you.

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On the other hand, the Copen’s compact dimensions, and therefore tight turning radius, make it suited for a mountain pass run, which is exactly why Daihatsu selected Hakone’s Toyo Tires Turnpike for this event.

▼ Yes, the road is sponsored by a tire company.

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As car after car in the still-camouflaged fleet buzzed past, we didn’t spot any drivers whose sprits seemed dampened by the engine’s small size.

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After all the cars had pulled back into the parking lot, the attendees offered opinions and feedback to the Daihatsu staff. For many, combining the size and affordability of a kei with the convertible joy of feeling the sun on their faces and the wind in their hair was the best of both worlds.

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Daihatsu is expected to formally announce the new Copen next month, at which point we’ll probably know a little bit more about the upcoming cars exact specifications. Judging from the reactions we saw in Hakaone, we think they’ve got at least a few people who’d like to drive one home from the dealer as soon as possible.

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Top image: RocketNews24
Insert images: Daihatsu, Goo, RocketNews24
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