New Kia Picanto aims to prove that cheap can be smart, too
Everybody knows that times are tough – and when times are tough, people stop buying cars. Or, if they have to replace their car, they typically choose something smaller, and dare we say it, cheaper. Kia’s new Picanto not only builds on a foundation of sales success, but wants to prove that cheap doesn’t have to be nasty.
To do that, the new Picanto has to stand out from the small car crowd. And what a crowd it is. In the critical price band between R100 000 and R200 000, more than 100 models from brands as diverse as Chery, Fiat, Volkswagen, Renault and Toyota vie for the attention of buyers with high expectations and low budgets.
Korean brands like Kia and stablemate Hyundai have a tradition of offering more for less, but their cars have become increasingly sophisticated, narrowing the price advantage in the process.
The new Kia Picanto is meant to bring a brighter, bolder face to the segment, with an upgraded interior to match – all for similar money to the outgoing model.
Small econoboxes don’t usually shine in the styling department, but the new Picanto looks sharper and fresher than its predecessor, thanks to tauter lines and a braver front end. The angular headlights and big air intake make for a more confident appearance, while the rear treatment is pert and tidy.
This latest Picanto is about the same size as the outgoing model, but the wheelbase is longer, the tracks are wider, and the front overhang is shorter. The result is a small car with a resolute attitude and a youthful swagger that will please young buyers, without antagonising older folk.
The new design retains a strong Kia personality, which is important in a segment replete with generic, jelly-mould designs, while the aesthetic approach remains resolutely European, reflecting the ever increasing influence of Kia’s European design studio, and the aesthetic philosophy of design chief Peter Schreyer. It’s an approach that also resonates inside the car.
Arguably one of the new Picanto’s highlights is the interior, which represents a big step forward. It’s smarter and more sophisticated, with an execution that’s looks and feels the quality part. In top-end Smart specification, the Picanto also offers an impressive array of features, including a large colour touch screen for the infotainment system.
The extended wheelbase of the newcomer has translated into more interior space – which is always at a premium in small cars. The sense of roominess extends to the boot: at a class-leading 250 litres it’s generous by small car standards, and 50 litres larger than that of the outgoing model.
The Picanto comes in four spec levels – Start, Street, Style and Smart – allowing buyers to choose a feature set to match their budget. Even so, even the baseline Start gets Bluetooth, an RDS radio, air-con and USB, while moving up on level to the Street adds vital ABS and dual front airbags, as well as electric windows and remote central locking to the mix. The top-end Smart tested here has all the bells and whistles.
The Picanto may be new, but the engine line-up has been carried over, albeit with some improvements to boost efficiency. Our test car is the 1.2 Smart Manual, which is powered by a 1,25-litre four-cylinder mill, rated at 61 kW and 122 Nm. The gearbox is a five-speed manual. There’s also a one-litre, three-cylinder option with 49 kW and 96 Nm on tap.
The updated 1,25-litre engine features an enhanced variable valve timing system and low-friction piston rings to benefit overall efficiency.
Under the skin, the Picanto’s road manners benefit from a stiffer, stronger body employing advanced high-tensile steel. It provides a better platform for the suspension, which features stiffer anti-roll bars. Overall stability and refinement benefit from the longer wheelbase.
The Picanto is no tar burner, but it’s frisky enough around town, and cruises quite willingly at the legal limit. The handling is crisper than before, but the steering still feels overassisted, despite a revised steering rack. However, what we really liked about the new Picanto is the overall refinement of the car.
Small cars can be noisy and unruly, but the little Kia feels confident and composed, with a sheen of sophistication we don’t remember from the previous model. A lot of effort has gone into enhancing the soundproofing of the cabin, while ride refinement is impressive for a small car.
It does much to enhance the overall feel-good factor when driving the Picanto, and introduces a measure of composure unusual at this price point.
The small car segment has never been more competitive, and it takes something exceptional to stand out from the crowd. The new Kia Picanto does just that, thanks to keener aesthetics, a smart interior and a good spread of standard spec.
Add value and refinement to the package, and there should be no shortage of buyers.
Picanto 1.0 START Manual R134 995
Picanto 1.0 STREET Manual R149 995
Picanto 1.0 STYLE Manual R159 995
Picanto 1.0 STYLE Auto R172 995
Picanto 1.0 SMART Manual R179 995
Picanto 1.2 START Manual R150 995
Picanto 1.2 START Auto R163 995
Picanto 1.2 STREET Manual R165 995
Picanto 1.2 STYLE Manual R175 995
Picanto 1.2 STYLE Auto R188 995
Picanto 1.2 SMART Manual R195 995