REVIEW DATE: 21 Feb 2008
Kia have mixed in a few extra elements to their Picanto citycar's successful recipe. Jonathan Crouch checks out the revised version
For Kia, the Picanto citycar was a turning point. When it was launched in 2004, their Sedona MPV had registered the marque in public consciousness but it was still a car you mainly bought on account of its low price. The Picanto on the other hand, could square up to its rivals on equal terms. Kia did rather well with it.
The crucial issue that needed to be addressed when the time came for a facelift was the rather low rent interior (even for a cheap citycar). As you would expect from the thorough Koreans, the revised model takes steps to sort that out.
This Picanto is recognisable by a new front end that features softer lines, a re-designed front grille and more rounded teardrop-shaped headlamps. Existing owners will recognise the rest since every panel from the windscreen back has been carried over from the pre-facelift version. If it ain't broke. As before, the rear is dominated by a large curved glass screen and some very large light clusters. The chunky utility styling gives the Picanto a substantial look that's a welcome relief to some of the rather insubstantial looking rivals in its class. It certainly feels a good deal better screwed together than, say, a Daihatsu Charade although those customers looking for a big car feel will doubtless shell out the extra for a Fiat Panda.
Inside, some attempt has been made to improve the ambience of the cabin. Higher quality plastics have been used, swiped from the larger cee'd, the car that has also lent this Picanto its classy orange backlighting for the instrument panel. There's a revised layout for all the various functions and you can now plug in your MP3 player to the adaptor now provided.
Under the bonnet, there's the same petrol choice as was on offer in the original model, with either 60bhp 1.0-litre or 64bhp 1.1-litre motors. You might imagine that picking between these two units on the basis 4bhp will be tricky and you'd be right. The engines are identical in all aspects except for the 1.1-litre's extra 87cc of capacity. The 1.1-litre is the only model available with the four-speed automatic gearbox and that might swing it for some but the standard 5-speed manual is perfectly agreeable.
"Kia haven't cut any corners"
As you'd imagine, performance is similar whichever engine you choose and the Picanto isn't especially quick. The 1.0-litre performs the 0-60mph sprint in 16.4s and can reach a 93mph top speed while the 1.1-litre chips in with a 15.2s showing and a 96mph top speed. The automatic gearbox blunts performance considerably slowing the car to a laborious 17.9s 0-60mph time. Economy is obviously far more important than pace in a car of this nature and the 1.0-litre's 55.4mpg average is very tempting. It's certainly enough to make you question the need for an expensive diesel engine and the 1.1-litre model's 54.3mpg is similarly convincing.
As befits a car with a high roofline, front headroom is an impressive 1,003mm up front and 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. A fairly rudimentary manual temperature control system is fitted as standard although there is an optional air conditioning system (but quite what running this on full blast does to the car's acceleration remains to be seen). Prices start from around the £6,000 mark and most Picantos are fitted with electric windows and mirrors with remote central locking for all four doors and the tailgate. The trim levels kick 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.
Kia have developed a miniature fully independent suspension system that aims to deliver both zippy handling and a reasonable compliant ride and has been 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 that 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. It's also equipped with steel side impact protection beams in the doors, reinforced rear bumpers, child locks on the rear pair of doors and five three-point seat belts. Twin airbags come as standard and side airbags can also be specified at extra cost. Security hasn't been ignored either, the Picanto being fitted with an engine immobiliser and remote releases for the tailgate and fuel filler cap. There's also an optional keyless entry and anti theft alarm.
Maybe it's about time Kia cracked the European market properly. The company is, after all, among the world's fastest growing automotive companies. This revised Picanto can only strengthen this industrial giant's aim to be a Top 5 global car manufacturer by 2010. If you equate South East Asian cars with cheap yestertech, it may well be you who needs updating.
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