Once we were warriors. It could be a film about the micro hatchback segment that used to be brimming with action but today has taken a background position in the marketplace. Thankfully the 2017 Kia Picanto S arrives with one very sharp sword.
As Australia became more affluent, shoppers started looking beyond $13,990 driveaway deals in the same way everyone began buying SUVs over Commodores. The irony is the micro and large classes improved out of sight since way back when.
Today’s micro-hatch Picanto aims to be as good as previous generations of larger light hatchback, which are still dominated by the Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris. The trouble is, they start from $14,990 and $15,190 plus on-road costs respectively.
This virginal-white Kia with a manual transmission starts at $14,190 (plus orc) – only $800 below the bigger Mazda. It certainly needs some fighting spirit from the start.
Vehicle Style: Micro hatchback
Price: $14,190 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 62kW/122Nm 1.25 four-cylinder petrol | five-speed manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.0 L/100km | Tested: 6.2 L/100km
The new Picanto is less than a year old and, stretching 3595mm from its stubby nose to its pert tailgate, it firmly remains a micro hatch. The bodies of most light hatches start with a ‘4’.
Kia isn’t doing driveaway deals on the five-speed manual version, which means $14,190 (plus orc) becomes $17,479 driveaway in Sydney, for example. At $15,690 (plus orc) the four-speed auto asks $1500 extra … but includes driveaway pricing.
Buyers shouldn’t take notice of this confusing case where an auto is cheaper than a manual, though. From the off, several dealers are selling this manual for between $14,000 and $14,500 driveaway.
Either way every Picanto S benefits from Kia’s benchmark seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with roadside assistance also covered for that period. And this five-door micro model isn’t short on equipment, either.
- Standard Equipment: Cruise control, manual air-conditioning, remote keyless entry, power mirrors and windows (with driver’s auto up/down), height-adjustable driver’s seat, variable intermittent wipers, automatic on/off headlights and multi-function trip computer.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring connectivity and four speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 255 litres.
At this end of town, the little things count. Thankfully, the Picanto S is no stripped-out special, and it delivers several niceties that elevate its value and quality perception substantially.
Approach this Kia and there’s remote central locking as standard. The driver’s seat is snug, firm but comfortable, while the hard plastic door trim gets splashes of silver plus an auto up/down driver’s power window. Rear power windows are standard, too, unlike in its Holden Spark LS rival.
The three-spoke steering wheel houses audio, trip computer and cruise controls, all of which light up a consistent red hue at night.
In fact, the damping for all controls, levers and switchgear inside the Picanto is smoothly consistent and nicely finished. That’s right down to the overhead grab handles – including for rear passengers – although the way the glovebox thuds towards the floor is a notable exception.
Several light hatches and even small cars feel cheaper inside. Proving that point, there’s even automatic on/off headlights that few base models get.
That’s in addition to vanity mirrors on each sunvisor and retractable pop-out console cupholders complementing front door-mounted bottle holders. About all that’s missing are a leather-wrapped steering wheel, climate control and satellite navigation – three items that should deservedly form part of a ‘premium’ extra-cost pack.
Even so, at least the Picanto’s 7.0-inch touchscreen is intuitive to use and packs a reverse-view camera (not standard on a Mazda2 and complementing rear parking sensors) as well as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto – it at least gives the driver the ability to run a navigation app through connecting a smartphone via the USB port.
Mobile coverage is required to use that feature, however, unless maps have been downloaded to the smartphone while in 3G/4G/Wi-Fi-connected range. Other downsides? The four-speaker audio quality is awful, and a digital radio unavailable. Probably the greatest flaw of all, however, is that using CarPlay also forgoes control of the screen-dimming function, leaving the screen searingly bright at night.
Further back and this Kia is, of course, cosy. There isn’t much legroom, but the back bench is perched high enough to allow legs to drop to the floor without crimping. There’s also three headrests, three seatbelts – unlike the duo in Fiat 500 and Suzuki Celerio – plus ISOFIX child-seat anchors. Good for the size; but certainly sub-Yaris.
The same can’t be said for boot space. Despite being shallow between tailgate and rear backrest, the 255-litre cavity is very deep. It falls behind the (286L) Yaris but actually trumps the (250L) Mazda2. Talk about punching above its weight (and size).
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 62kW/122Nm 1.25 four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Five-speed manual, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Micro hatches and manual transmissions go together like strawberry jam and scones.
Sure, an automatic is the popular choice, but it has long been a cruel irony that while micro engines often need the most number of ratios to maximise their modest outputs, they often get the fewest for cost reasons. Like this Kia’s four-speed.
The Picanto S weighs just 976kg with a five-speed manual that provides a long-throw, but fabulously mechanical and slick shifter. Unlike some three-cylinder rivals, such as the Mitsubishi Mirage and Celerio, Kia uses a 1.25-litre four cylinder.
An adequate 62kW of power at 6000rpm, and 122Nm of torque at 4000rpm, becomes much more than adequate in moving this dainty five-door hatch.
The engine is tractable at low revs and willing through the mid-range, and although it doesn’t exactly sing beyond 6000rpm – there’s no point stretching to the 6800rpm cut-out – it sounds decent when kept on-song.
Conversely, on the freeway in fifth it spins at 3000rpm at 110km/h, which is just enough to maintain momentum on slight hills without changing down from top gear.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is that the also-tested four-speed auto is no dunger. Unlike in its 167kg-heavier (!) Kia Rio sibling, which also gets four gears, the Picanto relies far less on its auto. Kickdown is actually slick, although when it does get caught between ratios it accepts fewer revs that leaves the Rio flat.
The manual is more harmonious, but the auto is still solid.
Beyond the drivetrain, which returned an excellent 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres on test, the dynamic package of the Picanto is also impressive.
This Kia doesn’t quite offer the ride polish and steering precision of 2012’s long-gone micro hatch benchmark, the still-unsurpassed Volkswagen Up! But this South Korean five-door delivers complementary virtues.
It hides the po-go effects of having a short wheelbase superbly well, for example. The Picanto rides firmly, yet the sensible 65-aspect 14-inch tyres round off big hits well and the suspension soaks up choppy surfaces with excellent body control.
While micro hatchbacks are often tagged as ‘city’ cars, Australia has a big backyard and P-platers nationwide get into these vehicles as first cars.
The Picanto feels like a bigger car beyond the ‘burbs. Once past the initially vacant on-centre steering, its turn-in sharpness and mid-weighted linearity shines. It teams with an agile chassis that is rewarding to drive whether weaving through city laneways or tackling rural-road bends.
There’s well-managed bodyroll, surprising (dry) grip from the Kumho Ecowing tyres and intelligently tuned electronic stability control (ESC). All of which gives the baby Picanto a depth of ability well beyond its humble specification.
ANCAP has not rated the Kia Picanto.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, rear parking sensors and reverse-view camera. Initial Picanto stock imported to Australia does not feature Autonomous Emergency Braking, however newer vehicles (built afterJune 2017) come standard with AEB.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Seven years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Kia’s seven-year capped price servicing program includes annual or 15,000km checks at $240 (first), $435 (second), $294 (third), $493 (fourth), $271 (fifth), then a hefty $532 (sixth) and a lesser $287 (seventh) to a total 105,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The 500 is tiny and overpriced, while the Spark lacks a decent warranty and some equipment. The Mirage is the least impressive contender in the class, while the Celerio is fun but immature. This Picanto comfortably rounds them up.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Considering its talents inside and on-road, the Kia Picanto S doesn’t even need to rely on its seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty to shine.
Kia really needs to market the manual at the price it’s selling for at dealers, though – $13,990 driveaway. For some the Picanto S may still be too close in price to a roomier Toyota Yaris.
The Kia is more fun to drive than most, better equipped than all, and with a superior ownership package; yet the sales charts indicate Australians see things differently.
On merit the Kia Picanto S is a terrific micro-to-light hatch that deserves to pull no punches in showrooms.
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