Kia sold more than 21,000 cars in the UK last year. It out-performed Mitsubishi, Saab, Alfa and Subaru at the forecourt, and grew a massive 71.5 per cent. Arguably, that’s the biggest automotive success story of 2003, especially when you consider that seven years ago Kia nearly disappeared.
The Korean-based outfit, now part of Hyundai’s growing empire, wants to keep that giant snowball rolling. It’s targeting 30,000 sales this year, which would put it among marques like Jaguar, Seat and Hyundai itself. A lofty goal, you might think, but it looks like an achievable one.
The most crucial car to that expansion plan is the one you’re looking at. If Kia is serious about shifting cars in numbers, it needs a strong A-segment entrant – a cheap and cheerful alternative to the Ford Kas and Vauxhall Agilas of this world.
Enter the Picanto. This is the car that needs to alter the Kia brand’s position in the market: buyers of the mid-sized Magentis saloon have an average age of 67 years.
The Picanto is the first A-segment car Kia has ever developed on its own. It’s the first car Kia has ever aimed squarely at Europe, and it’s marketed at buyers who’ve had a much less ‘decent innings’ – specifically 25- to 30-year-olds. Something of a departure, then.
At launch, it will be available in 60bhp 1.0-litre L and 64bhp 1.1-litre LX and SE trims, the latter getting a four-speed auto ’box. A 1.1-litre diesel is currently under development at the company’s Russelsheim R&D centre and arrives next year. Anti-lock brakes with EBD, twin airbags, remote central locking and a CD player will be standard throughout the range.
Buyers will be able to choose between nine colours including Lemon Yellow, Blue Diamond and Liquid Silver. Whichever you choose, it coats the car almost completely, from chunky bumpers to bite-size rear spoiler. There are recognisable influences from other cars here and there, but they’re well resolved and create a character that is anything but anonymous. It’s just a shame about the grille.
And the less inspired interior. The dash is a confused mix of black, dark grey, light grey and silver that would benefit from a bit more simplicity. That said, it felt solid and well finished, let down only by flimsy door handles and door lock stalks that look like leftovers from the early ’90s.
There’s good cabin space front and rear. Despite what Kia may have you believe, though, five doors plus some strategically placed cubbies do not a mini-MPV make. There’s no sliding rear bench or folding passenger seat, but the rear seats are split 60/40, pushing storage capacity to an 882-litre maximum.
The driver might not find it that easy to get comfy. The steering wheel budges for rake, but not reach, and though there’s plenty of legroom, the seat offers little support laterally or for the thighs and it doesn’t adjust for height.
Thankfully, the Picanto’s no mini-MPV to drive. Around town it’s capable, with a compliant ride that smoothes out bumps and conveys little into the cabin by way of rumble and thump. At idle, the 1.1-litre engine is so quiet you could mistake it for a hybrid and it remains unobtrusive around town.