The Picanto has just arrived in Australia, despite being on sale across the ditch in New Zealand for a couple of years.
So what does Kia’s new microcar offer beyond a small footprint?
The Kia Rio cemented the Korean brand’s place as a manufacturer of robust and budget-friendly small cars, but as companies step away from offering small city cars; Kia decided to double down on their compact car range after recent successes with SUVs in the Sportage and the Sorento.
The Picanto has been around since 2011, but has just made its appearance in Australia – rumoured to be a test run before the new model is launched in the new year. So the set up is a little dated, but, as we tested, it provides a solid base for the Kia range.
The Picanto looks small. However, on the inside the mini Kia makes the most of its wheelbase by putting each of the tyres as far to the corners of the car as possible to maximise interior space. This means that even those over six-feet will be able to find a relatively inoffensive driving position, and that back seat passengers don’t have to fold their legs up to give the front seats space.
When you get inside, there’s not much in the way of whizz bang gadgetry, but there is Bluetooth audio and telephony and steering-mounted controls to appease those looking for a little more connectivity.
What is absent, annoyingly common amongst city cars, is cruise control or some sort of speed limiter which, given the narrow band of power the Picanto has to work in would really help out on the road – especially on longer trips.
The 1.25-litre four-cylinder, four-speed automatic setup is your only choice on the single spec Picanto Si. From a dead stop, the little Kia is not for those in a rush – the tall set up of the gearbox (meaning it takes higher amount of revs to change gears) means that the Picanto’s petite engine sounds very harsh if you drop your right foot into the carpet to try and fly off from the traffic lights.
If you drive it smoothly, however, the Picanto comes into its own as a practical hatch for city driving with good low down power for trundling around tight streets with enough grunt to maintain a bit of pep at cruising speeds.
On the highway, the Picanto is no slouch; able to keep up with everyone going 100km/h, although a bit more get up and go would be appreciated when merging into traffic. The skinny 14” steel wheels are nimble little tyres, holding firm to the road or skittling across tarmac if you decide to push it hard through the corners – able to give drivers a bit of a spirited drive.
Of course, ABS and stability control will step in before too long in case things get a little too hairy – although there shouldn’t be a situation that arises that the Picanto can’t handle or gets wildly out of control.
Moving around at speed, the steering is fairly precise, the Picanto’s tight handling and low down ride is dynamic enough that, even at low speeds, the little Kia will give any driver an engaging drive that, while not in the league of a sportscar, still elevates it out of the standard ‘shopping cart’ label that is often applied to smaller cars.
The Picanto is a car for now. As petrol prices continue to climb, and roads are increasingly more cluttered, if you’re just travelling with one or two people in the car with you, efficiency and practicality is king.
While the little Kia may look pint-sized, inside designers have invested time into creating a cabin that effectively uses its space to allow for an interior that has room for five passengers with little compromise in terms of capacity or comfort.
The rear seat isn’t a luxurious place to spend your time, but it’s hardly an unsupportive pew – perfect for occasional lifts and securing child seats into. Despite it’s modest outward appearance, the Picanto can secure two ISOFIX child seats into the outermost positions in the back – making it perfect for the growing family as a second car, or for the special car to take the nieces and nephews or grandkids out on the road.
The boot acquits itself well with a deep opening to forgive the lack of inward length, and a pretty generous amount of space when the clever rear seats are folded down and seat bases folded up, enough to pile a dog in, or throw a few suitcases in on the way to the airport.
There’s not much in the cabin in terms of flash technology, but there is a a basic setup Bluetooth and USB connected audio system, as well as rear parking sensors to help drivers who can’t judge the relatively flat-backed Picanto into a space. Electric windows all the way around and keyless entry round out the creature comforts; you’re limited to these, as the single specification puts the kibosh on adding any more bells and whistles.
On one hand, it’s a little frustrating to not have a choice in equipment levels, but it is refreshing to have basic motoring with enough to keep the cabin modern and livable, with reliable technology at an affordable price.
The Picanto Si is available from $14,990 driveaway, one of the most affordable ways to get into a new car in Australia.
It comes, as ever, with Kia’s 7-year Warranty, Capped Price Servicing and Roadside Assist. Optional extras are thin on the ground with alloy wheels and scuff guards able to add to the look of the littlest Kia. Premium paint will help you to pick your Picanto out of the car park, with Clear White as the only standard, no-cost option.
The Picanto may not be the most lavish car on the road, but there is a charm to its basic formula of well-constructed, simple engineering that has an endearing quality.