Winner: Kia Picanto S
As the entry point into Australia’s new car market, the micro car class is all about affordable city-focused motoring. The Kia Picanto S is the reigning class champion and embodies what it means to be a micro car.
Starting at just $14,190 plus on-roads, with a manual transmission, it’s affordable to own, easy to drive and has the bonus of a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and roadside assist.
However, despite a five-star ANCAP safety rating when it first launched and the new Picanto clearly offering improved safety features, it doesn’t meet the revised ANCAP requirements necessary to attain the latest five-star rating.
A 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol engine powers the little Picanto and is paired with an easy-shifting five-speed manual gearbox. It’s also available with an auto transmission for $15,690 drive-away. With such little weight to propel, it’s surprisingly perky and a well-tuned European suspension set-up complements the performance. This allows the Picanto to be agile in low-speed conditions, and the combination is perfect for a city/suburbs runabout car.
It’s a lively, entertaining drive and, even on the open road at 100kmh, it’s a competent enough performer, while recording outstanding fuel economy. However, while topping its class in smoothness and quietness, it’s a little noisier than those in the larger classes.
There’s no denying the Picanto is tiny, but 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. Seating three across the back, even if they’re quite small children, is going to be a real squeeze. Two adults, however, will find there’s more rear leg room than expected and the head room is good.
Boot space is modest, but the split/fold rear seat adds a little extra versatility. Much like the other vehicles in this class, it’s evident the Picanto has been manufactured to a price, but on close inspection it’s solidly constructed and the trimming has a neat, durable appearance.
While a somewhat barebones vehicle for this budget-focused arena, when you add up the Picanto’s high scores for economy, environment, repair costs and warranty it has all the right fundamental ingredients.
Second place: Mitsubishi Mirage ES
Mitsubishi’s Mirage ES is a well-proven model that continues to appeal to buyers in this class. A slightly smaller 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine powers the Mirage, which gives it a little less oomph but the trade-off of equal best-in-class fuel economy. Despite the smaller engine capacity, it still has a very capable performance in its intended urban environment.
In ride and handling, the Mirage offers a slightly more compliant package and, despite being a little floaty at times, it’s a bit better at absorbing rough roads. While the Mirage does have a five-star ANCAP safety rating, this was only achieved in 2013 when the model was first tested.
The car offers a little more useable cabin space than its competitors, which is handy if you need to carry three or four people. It can also claim to be the cheapest in class, at $12,250 plus on-roads, although it feels a little more budget conscious in the cabin than its competitors – perhaps this is understandable for a vehicle that allows entry into the new car market at such a low price.
For peace of mind, the Mirage also includes a five-year/100,000km warranty, and it’s equal best-in-class for running and repair costs and retains its value a little better than its competitors on the used car market.
Although the Mirage hasn’t been upgraded for some time, it remains competent and reliable, and an attractive alternative to a used car.
Third place: Fiat 500 Lounge
The Fiat 500 Lounge stands out from the crowd with its bold approach to styling, for which it is unrivalled in the micro class. This edgy styling gives it more of a fun factor than the others, complemented with a wide range of interior and exterior colour options and the possibility of a soft-top roof.
On the inside, large buttons and controls are surrounded by a series of colourful, shiny plastics and chrome highlights, and the instrument cluster is combined into one big wheel. The flamboyant interior could be unappealing to some, and extremely attractive to others.
To say the Fiat 500 Lounge is small is a gross understatement. As a three-door hatch the inclusion of back seats seems like a formality as they most likely won’t be used, and the boot isn’t much bigger. The small size means it’s great for tight and narrow inner-city streets, and parking won’t be an issue.
Underneath the hood is a 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with a five-speed manual transmission, which is the better combination. A Dualogic automated manual transmission is available as an option, but it’s less common and somewhat less desirable as shifting can feel slow at times.
The Fiat’s chassis feels nimble and stable turning into a corner, but bumps are felt a little more than in the others. At $19,990 plus on-road costs, the major drawback of the Fiat 500 is the high entry price relative to the segment, combined with a higher insurance price.