The Kia Picanto proves there is a demand for cheap and cheerful as June Neary reports.
Will It Suit Me?
There's something delightfully unpretentious about the Kia Picanto. It's not trying to claw its way up the social ladder and nor does it sport a badge that'll have people looking at your car keys and casting aspersions as to what you've done to get them. Instead it's an honest to goodness city car that's simple to drive, costs peanuts to run and which is far from the dull experience that you might expect at this price point.
You might well remember the first generation Kia Picanto. It too was a cheap and cheerful thing but it really was basic, both inside and out. While it did a job, it really was just transport. The MK2 model car has a lot more about it and feels a far better quality vehicle. In short, I like it a lot.
There's no doubt that this Picanto is a handsome little thing. It's the sister car to Hyundai's i10 but it looks that bit sharper. It features the trademark Kia front grille, but it also exhibits deeply scalloped flanks with the door handles sitting perched on a sharp crease. Available in both three and five door body styles, the Picanto offers a different look for each body style, the three-door car featuring a more aggressive front end. Both look a little under-wheeled, but that tends to be the nature of city cars in general. Go for the 15-inch alloy wheels and it looks a bit less toy-like.
The cabin is cleanly styled and again it's clear that Kia is forging its own personality on its cars. The 'three cylinder' instrument panel design is spread across the Kia range while the centre console brings the air conditioning and stereo controls within easy reach with big, easy to operate buttons. Metallic finishes lift the feel of the fascia and while some of the plastics are a little hard to the touch, the overall effect is an interior that punches well above its price point.
Behind the Wheel
One characteristic that Kia was keen to carry over from the previous Picanto was that car's perky feel. Although the original Picanto was never quick, it handled reasonably crisply and the steering was geared such that it felt almost criminally good fun to punt around city streets, even if your speed never exceeded 30mph. Okay, so the 1.0 and 1.1-litre engines were almost impossible to tell apart but it was a car that put a smile on your face. This MK2 Picanto offers a bit more variation between its pair of powerplants, with entry level buyers seeing 70bhp from their 1.0-litre engine while those opting for the 1.25-litre engine have 89bhp at their disposal.
The good news for those looking for a grin behind the wheel is that much of the old Picanto's suspension architecture has been carried over, albeit evolved subtly. The front suspension has been tuned for better straight line stability, and you'll certainly feel the benefit of this on the motorway. The car also feels less susceptible to wandering when driving through crosswinds. The Picanto's all-disc braking system, which is standard on all models fitted with Electronic Stability Control, is backed up with standard ABS anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution and emergency 'brake assist' systems. Stopping distances from 100 km/h (62 mph) are among the class best at 41.0 metres and far from the sort of puny performance you'd normally expect from a city car.
Value For Money
Prices start at around £8,500, which means that the Picanto costs a good deal less than a Ford Ka or a Peugeot 108. This should keep sales looking healthy. I'd be looking to fork out a few hundred more for the Picanto 1 Air which includes air conditioning.
Standard features on the entry-level car include body coloured bumpers, mirrors and door handles, electric front windows, a radio/CD player, trip computer and an immobiliser. A height-adjustable driver's seat and tilt-adjustable steering column provide driver comfort whilst all occupants are protected by a total of six airbags. A 60:40 split folding rear seat allows rear luggage space to grow up to 870 litres.
Upper spec models get goodies like automatically controlled air-conditioning, electronic and heated folding door mirrors with side repeaters, automatic light control with 'escort' and 'welcome' modes, steering wheel mounted audio controls and retractable dual cup holders on the Picanto's equipment list. Other features available include smart-key entry system with engine start/stop button, AUX-IN, iPod and USB connections for the RDS radio CD player with MP3 compatibility, Bluetooth hands-free with voice recognition and heated front seats. As with all new Kias, a seven year or 100,000 miles fully transferable warranty is standard on every new Picanto.
Could I Live With One?
Even as someone who appreciates a bit of pampering, I can see the appeal of the Kia Picanto. A citycar is something that you really can't afford to get too precious about. It's going to be parked on the street and will need to shrug off abuse from shopping trolleys, cycle couriers, bored teenagers, sleeping policemen and cavernous potholes. It'll be bumped up and down kerbs and get covered in city grime. You need a car that can soak up this punishment but still put a smile on your face. The Kia Picanto answers that call quite admirably. Best of all, it's decently finished yet hasn't forgotten its reason for being. It's cheap but far from nasty.