- Attractive appearance
- Improved level of refinement
- Fun to drive nature
- Added features and infotainment technology
- Changes in noise levels noticeable
The reigning Australia’s Best Cars winner in the Micro Car class, Kia Picanto, adds to its appeal with a fresh new face, upgraded in-car technology and connectivity, improved suspension dynamics and a higher level of refinement overall. Although the new model is still only available in one spec level, a five-speed manual version has now been introduced. However, Kia predicts the four-speed automatic will dominate sales.
The Picanto five-door hatchback epitomises what the Micro Class is all about. It is small, very easy to drive and affordable to own and operate. There are also, not surprisingly for this budget-focused class, a few relatively well-disguised signs of cost savings.
Pricing is critical, so it’s interesting that Kia Australia has taken such a convoluted approach. The automatic version, with all its improvements, is $15,690 drive away; a modest increase of $700 over the old model. On the other hand, the all-new manual is listed at $14,190 plus on-road costs. At full retail, this would make the manual’s drive-away price (approx. $17,427) significantly higher than the automatic. Kia Australia management has said, however, that they expect buyers will negotiate with their dealer and pay less for the manual than an automatic.
Solid and refined feel
With an increased use of high-strength steel, the cabin has a solid feel and the general build quality is very good for a car of this price. Plenty of work has also been done to make the cabin quieter, which gives the little car a greater sense of refinement. Inside, the textured finish on the hard plastic trim also makes it look a little more upmarket, while the new seven-inch touch screen in the centre of the dash is a highlight of the layout.
Picanto has a fresh, youthful appeal with a range of new features for the tech-savvy buyer and five vivid new paint colours (making eight colours in total). Additional equipment includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, cruise control, dusk-sensing headlamps and reversing camera. It does, however, come with 14-inch steel wheels and plastic hubcaps, as well as only a temporary-use spare wheel.
Although the new model’s overall dimensions are no bigger than the previous car, a longer wheelbase and increased rear overhang, plus a redesigned dashboard inside, provide fractionally more leg room and extra boot space. There’s no denying the Picanto is still tiny, but for its size, the available interior space is used efficiently. The front seats provide better-than-expected comfort and support, while all the controls are conveniently placed and simple to use. Having no reach adjustment on the steering column (only height adjustment) could be a problem for some drivers.
Seating three people across the back, even if they are small children, is going to be a squeeze. Two adults, however, will find there is a little more rear leg room than expected and the head room is good. Kia is claiming the boot space is now class leading, while split-folding rear seats add to the load-carrying versatility.
Under the bonnet is the same basic 1.2-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine with minor tweaking to improve the refinement. Producing 62kW and 122Nm, it is not the most powerful engine in the class but it is well proven and more than up to the task for everyday use. Combined with the conventional four-speed automatic, it delivers a pleasing mix of relatively nippy performance and respectable fuel consumption that is well suited to the everyday requirements of a primarily city-centric car.
While the automatic delivers relaxed driving ease, the smooth-shifting five-speed manual and light clutch operation adds a little more driver involvement and makes the car feel just a touch sportier. Open-road cruising is comfortably taken in its stride but hills and winding roads show up the engine’s small capacity and a lack of strong pulling power, as frequent gear changing is required to maintain a steady speed. This is more a reflection of the class than a criticism of the Picanto.
ADR fuel consumption for the automatic version has climbed slightly to 5.8L/100km, possibly due to the new model being a touch heavier and revised gearing designed to give the car a more refined feel. The manual version achieved a more impressive 5.0L/100km.
Local steering and suspension tuning delivers a noticeable improvement in road manners. The steering is sharper and provides better feedback. The low-speed handling has a nimbleness that is well suited to the everyday requirements for this type of car, while the ride is more compliant. Even at higher speeds on second-class country roads there is a new-found surefooted feel to the road holding. Mediocre-quality tyres are no doubt the limiting factor. Kia employs disc brakes all round for the Picanto, whereas most other Micro class cars, and many in the Light Car category, have stuck with the older-style front disc/rear drum combination.
End of the ‘buzz box’
The days of Micro class cars being considered noisy little ‘buzz-boxes’ have well and truly gone. The Picanto is surprisingly smooth and quiet. This quiet cabin, however, does tend to accentuate the changes in operating conditions, such as increased tyre noise when the road surface becomes coarser or greater engine noise under hard acceleration.
The value and reassurance of Kia’s lengthy seven-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and emergency roadside assistance, as well as low servicing and repair costs, should not be underestimated.
Price: Manual $14,190 plus ORC; automatic $15,990 drive away
Price range: $14,190 to $15,990
Capacity: 1.2 litre
Power: 62kW@6000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual / 4-speed automatic
Fuel consumption (ADR figure): Manual 5.0L/100km; auto 5.8L/100km
Fuel type: 91 RON regular grade petrol
Fuel tank capacity: 35 litres
Not yet ANCAP tested, 6 airbags, rear parking sensors, reversing camera
7-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay / Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, dusk-sensing automatic headlights