First DriveThe latest version of Kia's popular city car gains crossover styling. Will that broaden its appeal further?
First DriveThe new Kia Picanto gets lashings of style and a good 1.2-litre petrol engine to make it a compelling choice in the city car market
What is it?
It’s a tiny car, and a huge one. Because while Kia has been making strides in other segments with vehicles like the Cee’d and Sportage, the baby of its range, the Picanto, remains a crucial model for the firm.
The Korean manufacturer shifted more than a million examples of the outgoing Picanto over its seven-year life span and believes this new, more mature incarnation has the potential to build on that success.
Kia is said to have smarted over the glowing reaction to the Hyundai i10’s chassis set-up, so it has given the new Picanto’s settings a few revisions. Apart from the slight increase in wheelbase, there’s now more castor angle in the MacPherson strut front suspension, along with 12 per cent softer springs and 20mm shorter bump stops.
The rear torsion beam set-up gets a more thorough rethink. The beam axle is 60 per cent stiffer, with 29 per cent softer springs and 15mm shorter bump stops. Kia claims the settings reduce understeer but improve stability and compliance.
What’s it like?
The Picanto certainly looks like it’s grown up. Gone are the cute but unmistakably Far Eastern curves of the original, replaced by Peter Schreyer-influenced sharp lines everywhere. The main cues are the Kia ‘family face’, widened bumpers that give the car an unusually chunky head-on appearance and particularly neat, angular tail-lights.
Based on the Hyundai i10, the new Picanto is a longer car than before (by 60mm, with a 15mm hike in wheelbase), delivering a modest increase in legroom over the old car and a decent gain in boot space (up by more than a quarter, at 200 litres).
There will also be a three-door version for the first time; it’ll turn up before the end of this year, with more sporty styling helped by redesigned bumpers. But in the meantime, the five-door will launch this summer equipped with two engines: a 1.2-litre, four-cylinder unit producing 84bhp, and the 1.0-litre triple tested here.
This 68bhp motor can deliver CO2 emissions as low as 95g/km when fitted with stop-start, although in this price bracket we’d quite understand if Kia elects to offer the three-pot only in regular, 99g/km form.
Inside, the Picanto feels modern, airy and considerably more high end than the i10. The plastics are still hard, but the texture patterns employed on the dashboard – and a strip of brightening chrome that runs across the centre of the fascia – give it a more classy air than you’ll find in its stablemate. The driving position is comfortable, despite the fact that you sit a little high and the seats are short on lateral support.
On the road, the Picanto isn’t rapid. But the three-pot produces its peak torque at 3500rpm and provided you don’t push it too far beyond that point, it’ll pull quite sweetly. The engine note is more of a mechanical grumble than a metallic rasp, and once you reach a motorway cruise of 70mph it fades to a surprisingly low level anyway. Wind and road noise are quite well suppressed too, the latter helped by tall 14in tyres on more lowly models.
The handling is also geared towards comfort – which is to say that the Picanto does a decent job of soaking up bumps, at the expense of some of the direct purity of the i10. That car’s amusingly pointy front end has gone; push on here and you’ll be greeted by steering that’s a bit vague around the straight ahead and a chassis that’s keener to roll than to turn. Behave yourself, though, and the Picanto feels composed.
Should I buy one?
Yes. Kia’s latest can’t quite offer the i10’s level of on-the-edge entertainment. But it does feel more grown-up, more refined and much better finished, offering road tax-free, economical motoring if it’s not rushed. With that in mind, the probable starting price of around £8000 has a distinct whiff of a bargain about it.
Kia Picanto 1.0
Price: £8000 (est); Top speed: 95mph; 0-62mph: 14.4sec; Economy: 67.2mpg (combined); CO2 emissions: 99g/km; Kerb weight: 845kg; Engine 3 cyls, 998cc, petrol; Installation: Front, transverse, FWD; Power: 68bhp at 6200rpm; Torque: 70lb ft at 3500rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual</p