The Picanto may be a tiny car, but it’s massive for Kia. More than a million Picanto’s have sold world-wide so far. So it’s an important car. Their A-segment great money-spinner and entry level to the brand experience for 20 to 30 somethings. Or those trust-fund kids wanting a first car.
It’s a sensitive situation, but Kia knew they needed to make their cars look less Korean and more European to score big in its key markets. So it lured the talented German designer Peter Schreyer from Volkswagen to help them move in that direction. So is it Korea 0 and Germany 1? Far from it. His arrival has not only made the cars look better, but has seen Kia flexing its muscles in almost every area. Remember, Schreyer shaped the look of the iconic TT roadster and the Bauhaus-inspired 1997 Audi A6 sedan, and looks set to help establish Kia as a business that delivers great designs. Kia’s new confidence is evident in the Picanto and we will see it in new launches later this year.
During my initial drive of the new Picanto at their launch in Durban, I was keen to see if Kia had managed to inject some much needed European flair into its low-budget cars. It has. So how did it compare to the Hyundai i10, for example? We’ll have to wait and see for a full test, but Inside, the Picanto is modern, bright and much more high-end than the i10 that it’s got to beat. It’s not all ‘soft touch’ plastics inside the Kia, but the pleasant textured patterns on the dashboard works well, especially with the strip of chrome that runs across the centre of the fascia. It’s quite a classy place to be. Sitting high in the car, the driving position was comfortable over the short drive I had through the rolling Durban countryside. Lumbar support may not be a strong point.
Visually, the car has grown up and reflects Kia’s burgeoning confidence. The Far Eastern curves of the original car have given way to Schreyer-esque sharp lines everywhere. Thank heavens. From the wide bumpers to the neat, angular tail-lights, the car has a satisfyingly chunky appearance. The Kia ‘family face’ works particularly well in this little car and we’ll see a lot more of it in the Sedona, Rio, Soul facelift and Optima launches expected from Kia South Africa this year.
The new Picanto is 60 mm longer than the outgoing model and boasts a useful 25% gain in boot space – up now to 200-litres. The all-round visibility is also good, and getting in and out is easy – not that the Picanto will be bought by old farts. No, it’s all for the 20 to 30-something urban groovy people, which is just as well, because those groovers’ friends will have to be flexible enough to deal with some tight rear legroom despite the extra 60 mm. Mind you, headroom is still generous.
Ray Levin, Kia’s MD, says there will also be a three-door version for the first time; it should turn up before the end of this year, with even sportier styling helped by redesigned bumpers. The five-door has launched with two engine options: a 1.2-litre, four-cylinder unit producing 65 kW, and the 1.0-litre three-cylinder producing 51 kW.
The four cylinder produces its 120 Nm peak torque at 4 000 r/min and it pulls sweetly, with fairly muted interior wind noise once up to speed. The handling is engineered for comfort more than thrills. Whilst the Picanto does a nice job of soaking up the bumps, the steering does get a bit vague around the straight ahead position, but is otherwise composed. That said, the car feels much more grown-up, more refined and much better finished than you may imagine. It’s simple and elegant in an unpretentious way. Get the marketing right, Kia…and you have a winner on your hands.
With a starting price of R100 000, Kia’s biggest problem may be keeping up with customer demand – as is the case with their Sportage. If Kia can supply the car on demand, it will fly out of the Kia showrooms. My prediction for the best selling colours? Galaxy black, Titanium silver and Signal red. In that order. My overall first impression of the Picanto? It’s a very accomplished car. It looks good and it’s fun to drive whether you’re in town or out on the motorway. We look forward to reporting back with a full road test soon.
|Pricing (incl. VAT)|
|Kia Picanto 1.0 M/T||R99 995|
|Kia Picanto 1.0 LX M/T||R107 995|
|Kia Picanto 1.0 A/T||R109 995|
|Kia Picanto 1.2 EX M/T||R114 995|
|Kia Picanto 1.2 LX A/T||R117 995|
Pricing includes a 5-year/120 000 km warranty. Service plan is available.
Richard Webb is the publisher of Blower, South Africa’s longest running car magazine and contributor to SACarFan.