Winner: Kia Picanto S*
It might be a cliche, but the expression ‘punches above its weight’ succinctly describes the Kia Picanto S. With the abolition of the Micro Car category this year, the Picanto was elevated into the Light Car category. It handled the transition with ease, topping the points score and, in so doing, usurped the well-credentialled Mazda2 and big brother Kia Rio S.
While understandably lacking the space and performance of a light car, the Picanto dominated value-for-money scoring, finishing category leader in standard features and insurance cost, and equal best for pricing, depreciation, and warranty and dealer access. It also scored consistently high in running and repair costs, fuel consumption, safety and braking.
At $16,790, the third-generation Picanto delivers more than could reasonably be expected of a new car with a drive-away price (including automatic transmission) this low. The outstanding value proposition is further enhanced with an equal industry-leading, seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing. And if you want to drive your dollar even further, there’s a five-speed manual transmission version for $1500 less.
The Picanto’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine has been carried over from the previous generation and holds its own in the city commute or zipping around the ’burbs. Kia’s four-speed auto might seem a little old school in an age where six or more ratios are common, but it’s fit for the intended purpose of an urban runabout and consistent with the budget price. As might be expected, venturing out on the open road takes the little powerplant out of its comfort zone. Cruising at the 100kmh speed limit sees more than 3000rpm dialled up on the tachometer.
Kia Australia has tweaked the latest generation’s suspension and steering, with input from their local chassis tuning team. The result is a surprisingly mature ride and handling setup, with a comfortably firm and settled ride, while steering and handling offers confidence and security. For better cornering stability, the Picanto boasts torque vectoring.
Inside, there’s quite a bit of hard-looking plastic trim, as you might expect at this price point, but it’s all neatly finished and assembled. Panel fit and paintwork are well executed, too.
Six airbags, stability control, four-wheel disc brakes, a reversing camera, rear park sensors, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cruise control, dusk-sensing headlights, daytime running lamps, and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system are among an impressive list of standard inclusions.
However, despite a five-star ANCAP safety rating when the Picanto was first launched some years ago, and the addition of several improved safety features on the latest generation, it doesn’t meet revised ANCAP requirements necessary to attain the latest five-star rating. Other downsides are few: the engine can become noisy when worked hard, there’s no steering-reach adjustment and only a space-saver spare wheel.
While the Picanto took the win, the runners-up also offer buyers in the category plenty to consider. On the road, the Mazda2 Maxx rules. It topped the category for fuel consumption at 4.9L/100km (0.9L better than the Picanto) and in smoothness and quietness, as well as being judged equal best for environment, seating comfort, ergonomics, performance, ride, handling and braking.
And don’t discount the Kia Rio S. As well as boasting Kia’s seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, it measures up as equal category-leading in terms of safety and braking, and above average in running and repair costs, fuel consumption, insurance cost, environment and space.
* While the Kia Picanto S topped the score sheets, its four-star ANCAP rating meant it was ineligible to win a trophy.