Kia Picanto 1.25 2 Ecodynamics: Road test
Like sister car manufacturer Hyundai, there seems to be no stopping Kia at the moment, as it has a range of attractive high-value cars to suit most budgets.
One of the most recent introductions is an all-new Picanto. The last Picanto was great in the city, but offered little more. The new car, on the other hand, is a far more serious offering aimed at the class best.
Can it compete? I spent a week with the £10,195 Picanto 1.25 2 Ecodynamics model to find out.
The new Picanto was launched last year and it follows current Kia design language. At the front, there are the high-set front lights and family grille, plus a more aggressive front airdam. What you think are fog lights are in fact driving lights.
The side design of the Picanto is equally distinctive with pronounced wheel arches, a low undercut and the distinctive upward crease that houses the door handles. At the back of the baby Kia, the most distinctive design feature has to be the boomerang-like rear light clusters and the over-size rear window.
Our test car was fitted with one of two new engines available for the Picanto, the new 84bhp 1.25-litre which is shared with sister car, the Hyundai i10.
Ecodynamics is Kia's green brand and amongst other features, this Picanto is fitted with the ISG stop-start system. With emissions of 100g/km, 65.7mpg fuel consumption and the fact you don't have to pay for road tax for the first year, this car should be cheap to run.
With its 14-inch wheels and soft suspension, the Picanto rolls a bit in corners. Still, there's plenty of grip and the Kia handles with a maturity not seen from this model before. The ride, like the i10 before it, is suprisingly grown-up for what is a city car. I'd even go as far as to say it is relaxed.
Inside, the Kia feels much bigger than its city car dimensions, this is mainly down to the attractive, well-designed cabin. In 2 specification it doesn't feel basic either, with build quality good, if not quite up to European rivals.
The 1.25-litre engine is smooth and fine for most circumstances. However, you need to work it hard on the motorway to keep up with other traffic. This will of course hurt the Ecodynamic green credentials.
Working the engine hard also means stirring the light, smooth five-speed manual transmission that proves to be a good combination with the 1.25-litre engine. With such a good manual gearbox, it is a shame the clutch has such short travel; this makes stop/start travel a frustrating and jerky experience.
This Picanto is no racer in the performance department, but then again this really is not the point of this car. Acceleration to 60mph comes up in 11 seconds and the top speed is 106mph.
So what are the biggest disappointments in what is otherwise a very competent package? For me, it is the steering and brakes. The Picanto's steering is light which is fine for town work, but head out of the city and the lack of feel annoys and makes it hard to place the Picanto correctly on the road. Still, with the Kia's small dimensions and light steering, parking is a doddle.
My problem with the brakes is basically that they feel over-servoed and are way too sharp.
The Picanto's doors open wide and considering the size, there's actually enough room for lanky six-footers in the back. Sadly, the 200 litre boot is a bit on the small side, but should be big enough for the weekly shop.
In 2 specification, this Picanto has more kit than most will ever need. Included is air-conditioning, Bluetooth, wheel-mounted audio controls, a four-speaker single-CD stereo and an aux-in socket for iPods, as standard.
The standard-fit, CD player sounds good enough with four speakers and if that's not enough, the aux-in port worked well with my iPod. A navigation system is not available for the Picanto.
So, is this better than my favourite city car the Hyundai i10 Blue? There's no doubt the Picanto looks better, but for me, the Hyundai offers the less compromised driving experience. But with those looks and the security of a seven year warranty, I wouldn't blame buyers going for the Kia.