IT'S BEEN ON THE RADAR FOR SOME TIME, BUT FINALLY THE 2016 KIA PICANTO HAS ARRIVED IN AUSTRALIA. While Kia understands the microcar segment in Australia is small, it remains confident of making a big impact with its new little box.
On looks, there is a certain charm about the Picanto, and Kia has simplified the buying process with just one variant, one engine, one transmission. All you’ll need to do is choose a colour.
Vehicle Style: Micro hatchback
Price: $14,990 (including on-roads)
Engine/trans: 63kW/120Nm 1.2 4cyl | 4sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.6 l/100km | Tested: 6.8 l/100km
Kia’s goal with the new Picanto is for it to become the best selling car in its segment. It's predicting 300 sales a month where the current segment leader, the Mitsubishi Mirage, has averaged less than 200 per month this year.
Kia plans to grow the segment, hoping to steer potential used car buyers into a Picanto by touting 5-Star safety and a seven-year warranty as major draw cards.
It faces some tough competition, particularly from the new Holden Spark, which offers segment-leading infotainment and a range of personalisation options. Beyond the Spark, there's also competition from segment faves, the Nissan Micra and Mitsubishi Mirage.
- Standard equipment: Cloth seat trim, manual air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, remote central locking illuminated glovebox, steering wheel audio controls, trip computer, satin silver trim highlights, 14-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers
- Infotainment: Four-speaker CD/AM/FM/MP3 player, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB and Aux inputs
- Cargo volume: 200 litres minimum, 605 litres maximum
It might seem a little odd to describe a car that's pitched at young buyers as ‘mature’, but the interior of the Picanto is just that.
Not in a 'pipe and slippers way' though, it’s more that the Picanto’s fittings feel more like something you might find in the larger Kia Rio.
There’s the same reasonable-quality plastics, same liberal application of silver trim to lift the tone, and the same impressively tight fit and finish.
There are a few limitations owing to the Picanto’s more compact size, of course. There’s not a lot of cabin width, and the front seats have been slimmed down to suit, seat travel is just a little limited too, but both short and tall drivers can find the right position with a bit of jiggling.
The steering wheel offers tilt adjustment, but does without reach adjustment, and the wheel can feel 'a reach too far' for short drivers (or the short-armed ones at least).
While it’s less likely to be used frequently, the rear seat still provides good headroom, and decent space for two - provided front seat travelers don’t mind shimmying forward just a little.
As a sign of the Picanto’s age, the audio system is an old-fashioned push-button unit, just like you’ll find in a Micra or Mirage, and not the techy touchscreen with smartphone connectivity like Holden’s all new Spark.
That’s okay though, because you can still USB your tunes from your phone or iPod, plus there’s Bluetooth phone and audio to keep you connected.
The glovebox is a useful size, but the cupholders, with their push-to-deploy mechanism, are of particularly high-quality for the segment. There’s no center armrest, but plenty of storage in the centre console.
Behind the tailgate is 200 litres of boot space, and we were able to fit in a pair of ‘weekend away’ bags without a problem; drop the rear seats and there’s 605 litres, with a flat floor for carting bigger items.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 63kW/120Nm 1.2 litre four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Four-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: Front MacPherson strut, rear torsion beam
- Brakes: 252mm ventilated front discs, 180mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, turning circle: 9.6m
Just like the interior, the oily bits underneath are better than you may be expecting.
That is, the Picanto drives a lot like the larger Rio - stable, mostly smooth and refined, you could easily mistake the Picanto for a bigger car.
Under the bonnet beats a 1.2 litre four-cylinder engine that’s at the larger end of the micro car class. It produces 63kW of power at 6000rpm and 120Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
In its natural environment of city and suburban streets, the Picanto will really kick up its heels away from traffic lights. It can bolt out of the blocks, but acceleration then levels off.
It has enough to keep the pace, but this smallest Kia model isn't overloaded with urge once up to road speeds.
With one or two occupants the Picanto feels just fine, but load it up with three or four adults, and it starts to show signs of stress. The more you're carrying, the duller it can feel, especially once you hit a reasonable incline.
Drive it sedately and there’s very little noise or vibration to complain about - it really isn’t until you near the top of the rev range that the noise and vibrations grow. You’ve got to get past 4500rpm for that though, and you’ll probably rarely need to.
The somewhat surprising decision to offer only an automatic transmission makes sense when you consider that most of these little guys will spend the greater part of their time stuck in the mind-numbing peak-hour crawl.
While the four-speed automatic may not sound like a technical highlight next to newer CVT automatics, it offers smooth gear changes and generally has its wits about it in town.
It feels a little reluctant to kickdown under load, and, on the freeway, sits at near 3000rpm at 100 km/h. It feels like it's working a bit, yet it's not unpleasant or coarse (beyond a little extra noise, common to the segment).
Unlike the rest of Kia’s range, the Picanto’s suspension hasn’t been specifically tuned for Aussie conditions, however Kia Australia has specified the Picanto’s European-market suspension set-up.
The result is stable road-holding and a slightly firm but not uncomfortable ride. It actually handles quite well for such a light, cheap little car, and you'll enjoy poking it briskly around a flowing stretch of bends.
Really though, the Picanto delivers its best work as a city-slicker, particularly thanks to steering that gets very light at high speed, and an ever-so-slight vibration through the steering column on freeway runs.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the Picanto scored 34.26 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), electronic stability control, traction control, ABS brakes, 2x ISOFIX and 3x top-tecther child seat anchorages, front seatbelt pretnesioners with load limiters, and reverse park sensors.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Despite a shrinking market share, there’s been a stir of action amongst the micro car class. The new Holden Spark offers impressive cabin technology, a sharper looking Mitsubishi Mirage has just arrived, and the staid but solid Suzuki Celerio is certainly worth your attention.
Equip the Spark or Mirage with an automatic however and they push past the Picanto’s sharp pricing, while the Celerio sneaks in under, but offers slightly less standard equipment.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
From inside, the Picanto feels a more substantial car than we're used to in this light city-car segment.
The interior might lack the flash of a central touchscreen, but it offers high quality fittings and a feel and finish that will keep honest some from the class above.
No doubt, the driving experience has been tailored for suburban cruising and choked city streets. The Picanto, in fact, feels pretty much at home in the gritty crush of peak hour.
It isn’t quite as convincing on the open road (perhaps just one more gear in the transmission would help) but, at the same time, it’s hardly out-of-place doing the occasional cross-country short-haul..
In the end though, it’s the $14,990 drive away price lure that’s hard to beat. It's one of the cheapest automatic micro hatchbacks, and yet the overall quality feels far from bargain-bin.
Kia may have a winner on its hands after all.