KIA is boldly going where few carmakers dare – to the bottom of the market. Targeting youngsters and empty nesters, the Picanto is a Micro Segment hatch with massive value appeal and a host of surprise-and-delight features.
WHAT IS IT?
The smallest Kia to date, and a play for value shoppers. The Picanto arrives in just one specification: a 1.2-litre auto with five doors, a five-star crash-test rating, and a seven-year warranty, fixed-price service, and roadside-assistance scheme. All for under $15,000 driveaway.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The Kia Picanto has been specified and priced to make a massive splash in the Australian Micro class, and it is expected to boost the segment significantly as a result. Sadly, most of the good ones have failed (namely, the deceased Volkswagen Up and Fiat Panda), and what remains bar the Suzuki Celerio and Holden Spark just aren’t good enough. We’re hoping the new Korean entrant will change all that.
Fiat 500, Holden Spark, Nissan Micra, Mitsubishi Mirage, Suzuki Celerio
THE WHEELS VERDICT
It may be five years old elsewhere, and an all-new version might be just around the corner, but don’t let these facts blind you to what is a stylish, fun, and – above all – incredibly good-value city car package. The Kia Picanto is jam-packed full of comfort and convenience features, scores highly for safety, and is a hoot to drive. Yes, the unavailability of a manual transmission (for now) is terribly disappointing, but at least the four-speed auto is up for fun if you’re willing to manipulate that lever. With unbeatable warranty and ownership coverage to boot, this bouncing little baby deserves to succeed.
PLUS: Styling, agility, pricing, value, dashboard, compactness, agility, dynamics
MINUS: Jittery ride, unsupportive driver’s seat, no manual option, no AEB
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IF THIS Kia cannot reverse the slide of the Micro Car segment, then nothing can.
That’s our verdict after three intensive days behind the wheel of the new-to-Australia-only Picanto.
Released in Europe during 2011, this second-generation sub-B supermini has long been regarded as one of the South Korean company’s better offerings, and we’re glad to see its pert rump on local soil at last.
To ensure maximum impact, Kia has brought in just one spec, at a headline price of $14,990 driveaway – and that’s including automatic transmission. That might not sound so sensational, since the Picanto’s two closest rivals – Suzuki’s Celerio and the Mitsubishi Mirage – both offer their respective equivalents for up to $1000 less.
However, no competitors can match the newcomer’s combination of features (including four-wheel disc brakes and reverse parking sensors), five-occupant packaging, five-star ANCAP safety, and seven-year aftersales care (for warranty, roadside-assist, and fixed-price servicing). Throw in six airbags, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, four power windows, remote central locking, electric mirrors, and funky cloth trim, and this little baby is lacking for nothing.
Keeping in mind its compact and very city-friendly dimensions, the Picanto’s cabin does a fine job accommodating four adults front and rear, with ample headroom, sufficient space for knees and legs (rear-sited feet can tuck underneath the front seats), and enough width. The dash is cheerfully presented, with very old-school Mazda 3-style recessed dials, pleasing contrasting colours and trim, and a spunky little steering wheel complete with remote audio and phone controls. Excellent ventilation, a plethora of storage solutions, and an efficiently sized cargo area (ranging from 200 to a low and flat 605 litres with the split-fold backrest and cushion tilted forward) further boost the practical and inviting cabin’s appeal.
Unfortunately, while the right driving position is possible despite the absence of telescopic steering, an oddly angled seat-height adjustment, which seems to tilt only the front half of the cushion, meant that this particular tester could not find it. Aching thighs after even a short stint also highlight a possible lack of proper support.
That’s a pity, because the Picanto’s ride around town is cushy, with plenty of suspension travel over bumps. Throw in well-weighted yet fast steering and a tight turning circle, and it is clear that this hatch is very well matched to city and urban environs.
Yet it is the Kia’s open-road handling and roadholding that is most likely to surprise and delight, thanks to a European-developed chassis that revels in tight turns and fast corners alike. This ought to come with a caveat, actually, because the sub-B supermini’s tuning might seem too ‘nervous’ and responsive for owners not expecting the tail to loosen up mid-corner, or for the resulting oversteer that might result. Of course, the traction and stability nannies step in early to mitigate that, but this is set up for keen drivers, so beware. We had a hoot over snaking country roads, and that’s a great result for something so cheap and out of its big-city comfort zone.
Note, though, that the downside to all this dynamic alacrity is an unsettled (if strangely quiet) ride, wearing Kumho Solus 165/60R14 rubber.
Finally, and this is the elephant in the room, what of the 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine’s performance and economy when paired with a very outmoded-sounding four-speed torque-converter automatic transmission?
Okay, on finding out about the sweet five-speed manual gearbox’s non-availability for Australia after enjoying it so much in the UK at the first drive event there last September, we wanted to hate the self-shifter.
However, the engine is a zingy and lusty sweetheart of a thing that’s keen to rev and pulls reasonably hard doing so, and so it seems to mate surprisingly well with the auto ‘box. Left in Drive around town, the Picanto steps off eagerly, reacts to throttle inputs quickly, and is utterly unobtrusive doing so.
And yet again we were won over on the open road, where the auto’s sporty character endeared it to us. The driver can slot the old-fashioned indented lever into 3, 2, or L, where the gearbox will hold each ratio to the rev limiter – or downshift quickly as needed – for some indecently fun squirt-and-point mountain-road apex clipping. So much more involving than a CVT! Yep, in a $15K auto baby buzz box from Korea.
That we averaged 7.0L/100km thrashing it around underlines the package’s overall efficiency to boot.
All-up then, there Picanto turns out to be a good little thing, appealing well beyond its obvious low pricing and high specification attributes. Better front seats, a more settled rural ride quality and a manual gearbox option would be welcome, but Kia ought to be applauded for providing us with such a charmer. The next one – also earmarked for us – ought to be a blinder.
If Aussies don’t snap up the anticipated 300 units each month, don’t blame the baby.
Model: Kia Picanto
Engine: 1248cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v
Max power: 64kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 120Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 4-speed auto
Fuel economy: 4.3L/100km
Price: $14,990 driveaway
On sale: Now
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