BY ANDY ENRIGHT
It's not an exaggeration to say that the Kia Picanto changed the citycar rules. Before the Picanto was launched, citycars had either two or three doors. If you wanted to carry more than one passenger, somebody would need to clamber into the back. The five-door Picanto offered a little more civility, cheeky styling and a microscopic asking price. No wonder it has proved so successful and why used examples sell briskly.
The Picanto arrived in UK dealerships in May 2004, coinciding with Kia's 60th anniversary of vehicle manufacturing. Originally offered powered by either a 60bhp 1.0-litre (with a five speed manual gearbox) or a 65bhp 1.1-litre unit (that gave customers the option of a manual or a four-speed automatic set-up), S, GS and LX models were initially available. They were followed in November 2005 with a luxury leather-trimmed SE+ model. A Zapp! Limited edition model followed in May 2006 offering a year's free insurance and a Zipp derivative with a full length sunroof followed shortly after.
A facelift in the summer of 2007 softened the lines around the Picanto's front end and upgraded its interior with better quality plastics. The new trim levels kicked off with the standard model than run through Picanto 2 before topping off with the sporty Picanto 3 which features a mesh grille, fog lamps and 15" alloy wheels. The Ice launch edition model featured air-conditioning and a number of other features and came at a competitive price.
What You Get
Despite the massive strides Kia have made in recent years, there are still a fair quotient of potential customers who view the marque in rather outdated terms. The Picanto citycar may be just the vehicle to change a few perceptions, offering as it does a resolutely modern take on metropolitan motoring. Cheeky, cheap and distinctive, the Picanto nails at least two of Kia's 'young, sporty and friendly' brand aspirations.
As befits a car with a high roofline, front headroom is an impressive 1,003mm and there's 996mm in the rear, which means that there's ample space for taller drivers. Front legroom is also very good thanks to the compact engines, with 1,041mm up front and up to 872mm in the rear. Shoulder room is very good front and rear although this is a car that you may not want to travel in five up. With 19 storage areas dotted about the cabin, Kia have done their homework when it comes to sheer utility, learning lessons from their huge selling Sedona and Carens MPV range.
It would be unreasonable to expect a huge amount of luggage space given the car's urban remit, and the 157 litres of available room won't make the Picanto your first choice for a trip to IKEA. Fold the seats flat and there's a reasonable 882 litres of space but you'll struggle for length. The 60/40 split rear seat back offers a little extra carrying space if you're travelling with three on board. The cabin comes in three different two-tone trims, black/silver, black/orange and black/blue. A fairly rudimentary manual temperature control system is fitted as standard although there is an optional air conditioning system.
What to Look For
Keep an eye out for the usual citycar problems - kerbed wheels, dented and scratched wings and doors, keyed paintwork and vandal damage to locks. Both the 1.0-litre and 1.1-litre engines are tough little units and the suspension is rudimentary as are the electrics. The interior is also fairly hardwearing although some of the fascia plastics do scratch easily. The Picanto tends to be bought by the very old or the very young. If you get a choice, opt for a car owned by an oldie.
(approx based on a 2005 Picanto 1.1) Kia spares prices have gained an enviable reputation for good value, and replacement parts for the Picanto are no exception. A clutch assembly is around £110, whilst front brake pads weigh in at around £40. An alternator will cost around £110, and for a starter motor you'll be looking at £100. A replacement headlamp will require £90.
On the Road
Although 65bhp may not sound a whole hill of beans, it's a fair amount for such a small car and is enough to give the 1.1-litre Picanto a modest turn of speed. It'll get to 60mph in 15.2 seconds and run on to a top speed of 95mph. While this may make the cut and thrust of the British motorway system something of a white knuckle ride, it's perfectly adequate for city motoring and, with its 35 litre fuel tank, the Picanto will manage up to 435 miles between refuels. Given the typically short journeys that many citycars undertake, the staff in your local petrol station are unlikely to be on first name terms with you. A five speed manual transmission is supplied as standard but if you're really serious about city driving you may well be tempted by the four-speed automatic option. The 1.0-litre engine is only slightly slower but isn't offered with a choice of an automatic box.
Kia have developed a miniature fully-independent suspension system that aims to deliver both zippy handling and a reasonably compliant ride. It has been specially tuned to cope with typical poorly surfaced European roads. Based on a shortened Hyundai Getz chassis, the steering is fairly quick-witted and the wheels are diddy 14-inch numbers fitted with tall 165/65 series rubber. Kia haven't cut any corners when it comes to safety, the Picanto featuring not only anti lock brakes but load sensitive electronic brake force distribution as well. This system directs braking power to whichever tyre can best deploy it. ABS and EBD can only do so much if the brakes themselves aren't up to the task, but rather unusually for this class of car, the Picanto features disc brakes all round.
Excellent value comes as standard with the Kia Picanto but these cars hold their value very well as a used proposition, curiously making them less of a bargain used than new. My advice? Sweet talk your Kia dealer and see what offers they can do on a new model.