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MOTORNET: Picanto Style

Picanto Style

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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When it comes to cars, $16,690 is not a lot of money to hand over for a brand spanking new model. In fact, you can’t do any better, and with its new Picanto, Kia is clearly banking on this to ensure its latest effort rolls off the showroom door.

Prior to picking up the Picanto, I had spent a week behind the wheel of Mercedes’ S500 uber sedan, so I had a pretty good idea of what people expect in a $280,000 luxury car. But what do people expect at the opposite end of the market? What will your hard-earned dollars buy you?

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If you guessed a funky sub-mini super hatch with a bright array of exterior colours you would be pretty much on the money. The Picanto – great name by the way – stands out for its many varied and bright exterior paint options. It’s a good thing too, as in some respects the Kia isn’t the most dynamic looking car. It’s certainly not bad looking – cute even – and it has a modern appearance, but neither is it exactly pushing the boundaries of small car design. The most distinctive features are the large ‘bug like’ headlights, and a narrow cheese grater grille. Did I mention the bright colours it comes in?

If the new Suzuki Swift, with its trendy ‘sneaker like’ profile has you all hot and bothered, then you might feel the Picanto is, well, a little underdone. Keep in mind though that the Suzuki is around $3k more expensive – a not inconsiderable amount in this bracket – and that you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover.

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In fact, open this particular book and you’re likely to discover quite a bit more than you were expecting. Take a quick look at the equipment list for starters. On the safety front it offers two airbags, 4-channel ABS with discs all round, and a passenger seatbelt pre-tensioner. The six speaker stereo system includes a single-disc CD player, cassette deck, and is MP3 player equipped. Remote central locking and alarm, alloy wheels, power windows and steering, and manual air-conditioning are all standard kit – not bad for this kind of investment. An automatic is a $2k option, but surely only diehard slush-box fans will opt for it.

As you would expect, the manual transmission is easy to use with a light clutch action. The box itself is a little rubbery for my liking, but it does the job, and the satisfying snick-snick of an MX-5 say, by comparison, was never that likely. The steering is similarly light and frankly doesn’t offer a great deal of feel or road feedback. Ride though is really quite good for a car of this size, and it does a surprising job of soaking up the bumps and little imperfections common to our roads.

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While it’s not exactly large, it also does well in the packaging department. You genuinely could carry four adults (though I wouldn’t recommend it over long distances) and the boot with the rear seats folded offers a good amount of usable load space – certainly more than enough for a weeks groceries as I discovered first hand!

A look under the bonnet reveals the Picanto’s power unit – a 1.1 litre four cylinder motor developing a modest yet adequate 48kW at 5500 rpm, and 97Nm of torque at 2800rpm. The numbers give some indication as to how the engine performs in real world terms – it’s certainly willing, but it needs to be revved to get any real performance. In terms of straight line performance, the Picanto is never going to win any awards, but it felt suitably gutsy around town, and even on motorways, held its own.

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The real advantage though of owning a small car in this day and age is good economy, and in the case of the Picanto, great economy. I managed to cover only 225km’s in the time I had the car, with an indicated half a tank remaining. Given that the fuel tank capacity is around 35 litres, you could expect to get as much as 700 kilometres from a tank. Kia claims around 4.9 litres per 100kms on a combined cycle.

Kia will have its work cut out trying to lure punters away from established super mini makers like Daihatsu and Hyundai, and there’s a strong European contender in this segment now with the release of the new Fiat Punto. Nevertheless, Kia has proven once and for all that the days of bargain basement cars with barely a radio as standard are long gone and for that reason alone, the Picanto is worth a second look.

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