In the past, if you wanted an affordable runabout you had to compromise; refinement, cabin quality, performance and equipment levels were never great. Recently things have started to change for the better. Factor in buyers downsizing and it’s good to see manufacturers upping their game.
By Iain Dooley
Some have responded more quickly than others, with Korean firm Kia surprising industry observers with its all new Picanto. The outgoing car has been a huge success, but it remains a genuine budget car - there’s a big step from this to Kia’s family hatch C’eed, for instance.
Not anymore, as the company has delivered a new Picanto boasting greater levels of refinement, a more dynamic on-road performance, improved cabin and boot space, family car-levels of safety kit and economy and emissions low enough to rival anything with a Bluemotion badge.
Essentially this latest generation Picanto is a mature and sophisticated interpretation of the classic city car. It’s still small enough to drive around town and slot into those impossibly small parking spaces, but now it has the ride and handling qualities of something much bigger.
The same is true of the car’s cabin, which is now more accommodating - thanks to a fractionally longer wheelbase - and furnished with noticeably higher grade materials. It’s also a more stylish environment, which does much to distance the Picanto from the unadventurous stereotype of Korean cars of old.
Style-wise this Picanto could never be described as unadventurous. Clearly influenced by Kia’s Sportage SUV, the Picanto’s bold looks demonstrate the newfound confidence of the firm’s design team.
There will be no mistaking this car’s fuss-free sheetmetal and bold nose treatment for anything else in the supermarket car park. Getting younger buyers into the Picanto is priority right now, and Kia executives make no excuses for the car’s striking appearance.
At the Picanto’s core is a duo of small capacity petrol engines and impressive headline economy and emissions figures. UK buyers will get a choice of 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre units with a five-speed manual gearbox and the option of a four-speed auto. In standard trim the three-cylinder 1.0 motor emits just 99g/km CO2, with the bigger engine emitting 105g/km. Power output is 69 and 85 horsepower respectively while economy for 1.0-litre lump is 67.2mpg and 62.7mpg for the 1.2
The inclusion of stop-start technology knocks four points off the three-pot engine’s rating, and although impressive don’t expect to see the technology on all the cars. The Picanto already breaks the magic 100g/km figure, and the cost of the stop-start kit could be used to offer a different alloy wheel choice or other similarly priced creature comforts.
In practice the 1.0-litre Picanto will surprise many with its ability to keep pace with traffic, hold its own at motorway speeds and tackle corners with the maturity of something produced closer to home. Kia’s little city car is now all grown up, and its overall performance is easily a match for anything in the same class from Europe.
What’s most impressive is that three-cylinder motor. A willing performer that never becomes raucous even when pushed hard, its flexible nature ensures smooth progress at urban speeds and there’s always enough in reserve for the occasional traffic light grand prix and out of town adventure.
The 1.2-litre car offers a little more power and might be suited to anyone who regularly ventures outside the city limits. In practice the performance gain is a small one and, besides, the plucky three-cylinder motor sounds nicer.
For many the ownership experience will be just as important, and with Kia offering three trim levels it’s unlikely that you’ll be short of choice. Aside from the usual suspects - power steering, remote locking, anti-lock brakes - depending on the trim level you can expect to see the likes of electric windows and mirrors, air-con, alloy wheels and an audio unit including MP3 player connectivity.
Kia’s now famous, and generous, warranty is another plus that shouldn’t be forgotten, and there’s the Picanto’s seven - yes, seven - airbags. Granted, you hope to never use them but that’s still a few more than most and enough to rival a £60,000 BMW.
For a small car Kia’s Picanto makes a big impression. And while that’s partly down to its looks, on closer inspection you’ll see a mature city car with the ability to travel much further than just to the shops and back.
Bang up to date in terms of kit and performance, emissions and economy couldn’t be better. With the Picanto, Kia’s desire to make waves in the European small car market has only just begun.
Facts at a glance
Model: Kia Picanto, from £8,000 to £11,000 on the road (estimate). On sale May 2011.
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol unit developing 69bhp.
Transmission: 5-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 95mph, 0-62mph 14.4 seconds.
Economy: 67.2mpg.CO2 Rating: 99g/km.