KIA'S PICANTO IS GIVING THE KOREAN GIANT AN IMPRESSIVE FIRST SHOT IN THE COMPACT CAR MARKET – HERE, IN THIS SEGMENT, EVERY DOLLAR IS PRECIOUS.
And the Picanto is sharply priced at $14,990 driveway - which it needs to be. Kia was late to the dance with its compact hatchback and its competitors here have a decent head start. (There's an all-new model rumoured to be heading to our shores early 2018).
Strangely, despite new arrivals like the Kia Picanto and Holden Spark - with impressive specifications to underscore their value - light car sales in Australia are continuing to retreat this year (in the seven months ending in July, Micro cars were down by 21.5 per-cent and light cars were down by 16.1 per-cent).
Overall though, Kia is a standout performer in 2016 with sales up by over 28 percent and is now one of our top-10 best-selling automotive brands.
Vehicle Style: Light Hatchback
Price: $14,990 Driveaway
Engine/Trans: 63kW/120Nm 1.2 4cyl | 4sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.3 l/100km | Tested: 6.6 l/100km
The Kia Picanto is a car for the European market – where it sells well – and for a long time was a ‘no-go’ for Australia. Fortunately, we now have the current model European Picanto - made in Korea, incidentally - to kick things off until the all-new model’s projected arrival (it launches in Europe next year).
Nevertheless, the current Picanto, a four-door hatchback sold in just one model grade, delivers contemporary looks inside and out, points and steers very well, has the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating and is certainly in the elite team when it comes to value-for-money.
On the downside, the 1.2-litre petrol engine/four-speed automatic transmission combination isn’t real fresh and some newer rivals deliver more features in their infotainment systems.
But none – and we mean none – offer the peace of mind and potential huge savings in running costs of Kia’s seven year/unlimited kilometer warranty… we’re talking the best in the industry here and when you consider buyers in this segment are often young first-time car buyers or retirees on fixed incomes that counts for a lot.
- Standard features: Cloth trim, ir conditioning, remote central locking, power mirrors, LED footwell lights, steering wheel audio controls, trip computer, silver trim highlights, 14-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers
- Infotainment: Four-speaker aidio, radio/CD, AUX and USB input with iPod functionality, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity
- Cargo volume: 200 litres minimum, 605 litres maximum
A smart combination of black cloth trim, silver highlights for the dashboard and steering wheel and a compact, conventional-looking instrument cluster provide a welcome entrance to the Kia Picanto.
No reach adjustment for the steering is a minor setback - some others in this league are similarly lacking - but notwithstanding we were soon reasonably comfortable behind the wheel.
Controls for the audio and air-conditioning are straight-forward (well you can’t fine-tune a simple radio/CD player too minutely) and the gear-lever for the four-speed automatic shifts without complication.
The TMR teenagers were comfortable in the back seat which provides leg-room on-par with segment rivals but this is a compact hatchback after-all.
Similarly luggage space isn’t massive with 200-litres (rear seat in-place) or 600-litres (rear seat folded). Note to retirees: with the rear seat folded and parcel tray removed, we did fit our full-size golf bag and electric buggy in the Kia Picanto (our mates chuckled but we used less fuel than their SUVs for the 90-minute round-trip to the gold club).
Like all Kia vehicles, the Picanto interior is nicely put-together, won’t offend anyone, and is impressively devoid of squeeks and rattles - in that department noticeably better than a later-designed, made-in-Japan people mover we had in the garage the same week.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 63kW/120Nm 1.2 litre four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Four-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: Macpherson strut front/torsion beam rear
- Brakes: 252mm ventilated front discs, 180mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion
Kia Picanto gave us our first surprise exiting the dealership: automatic European-style one-touch turn indicators.
That was offset a few minutes later when we entered Melbourne’s Eastlink freeway: no cruise control. Again in this league the Kia Picanto isn’t alone there but, gee, cruise control is old technology now and can’t be overly expensive.
On the freeway the Kia Picanto is impressively stable in crosswinds from the semi-trailers but when shifting down a ratio to overtake you'll find some harshness from the four-speed automatic transmission.
And we must admit beyond 100km/h, noise from the 1.2-litre engine becomes a little intrusive - certainly a five or six-speed automatic transmission would improve things on those fronts.
No local suspension tuning for the Kia Picanto (we expect the all-new model will get some) but, to be honest, when the going gets twisty, the Kia Picanto packs another surprise with excellent steering response and crisp turn-in followed by great mid-turn grip and very little body roll.
This from a car with 14-inch steel wheels and 165/60 R14 tyres (dare we say a car calibrated for European tastes?).
Of course it’s in town and the ‘burbs where most Kia Picantos will live and we were not disappointed during our working week - nice suspension refinement over cobblestones/potholes, good all-round visibility and a tiny 9.6-metre turning circle.
ANCAP Rating: 5-stars
Safety Features: Six airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, stability and traction control, hill-start assist, reverse parking sensors
Warranty: Seven years/unlimited kilometers
Servicing: Service intervals are set at 12 months/15,000kms (whichever comes first), with prices set between $272 and $415 depending on the interval.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Like the Kia Picanto, the Holden Spark is the latest compact to hit the market; unlike the Kia, Holden’s compact is an all-new model and so includes up-to-the-minute features like a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with compatibility for apps like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – so with your smartphone connected you even have satellite navigation.
Holden Spark delivers plenty of go thanks to its 73kW/124Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine which drives the front wheels via a CVT automatic transmission. And thanks to local ride/handling tuning by the Holden engineering team, the Spark points, steers and corners just a smidge better than the Kia Picanto.
Spark similarly secured the maximum five-star safety rating from ANCAP. However your Holden dealer will need you to empty $2,000 more from your pocket than your Kia dealer - the Spark LS listed at $16,990 driveaway.
It’s the same price for the Mitsubishi Mirage LS ($16,990 driveaway), but you get one cylinder less under the bonnet. Good as the 57kW/100Nm 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine is, its pairing with a CVT auto isn’t the best match and the whole package is just that bit more harsh and uncouth compared to the Kia Picanto.
Mirage also loses points for its ride/handling (steering isn’t precise and the suspension gets jittery) and its interior doesn’t match the class of the Picanto.
Suzuki Celerio wins the bargain race with its $14,490 sticker (automatic transmission) but its 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is outgunned with only 50kW/90Nm on-tap. Surprising space inside the compact Suzuki but its driving dynamics aren’t on-par with Picanto or Spark and it is only rated four stars for safety by ANCAP.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Here’s the thing: buyers in this league aren’t bothered with the intricacies of aerodynamics, oversteer or understeer, or indeed the smell of the leather seats… here they’ll squeeze the dealership to slash a couple of hundred off the price, toss-in free floor-mats.
So Kia Picanto’s $14,990 ‘Driveaway’ price and the real consumer benefits of that industry-best seven-year warranty are the crucial elements here.
It loses out to the Spark on the smart communication technologies, and is feeling it's age, but it is still good buying and a smart-looking little car.
Sure, as you would expect from a vehicle coming to the end of its product cycle, the Kia Picanto is lagging behind some rivals for ‘nice-to-have’ goodies like touchscreen infotainment and cruise control and while it points and steers very impressively, it still isn’t quite the segment’s best for ride and handling.
Are those items a setback?
Nope, probably not. And that’s the bottom line in a segment obsessed with the bottom line.