First Drive: 2017 Kia Picanto

First Drive: 2017 Kia Picanto

There are good things and bad things about the fact that technology is filtering down from upper models.

If you are in the mood for a bit of downsizing, then it means you no longer have to forego some of those great items such as touchscreen infotainment, hands-free telephony and multiple USB ports.

The flip side though is that where the cost of tech disappears into a price tag involving multiple zeros on a luxury car, lower down the spectrum, prices are increasing to accommodate it.

Korean brands Hyundai and Kia have been at the forefront of offering some of the tech for some time now. Years ago we remarked on how the brand was including USB ports and iPod connectivity in many of its models. This was at a time when other car makers weren’t even looking at it. The Koreans ticked the value for money box with a long list of standard kit that occasionally made you wonder how they managed to make any money at all.

One of the standout models was the Kia Picanto. Not the original models of course — they were a bit drab and very much of the A-to-B car variety, but then things got interesting. A big reason was that Kia poached designer Peter Schreyer from Audi. The last generation Picanto was funky and stylish. It was affordable, fairly spacious for its class and you could connect your music device.

It also drove reasonably well, with a punchy little engine that made light work of the urban traffic chaos and had tourists zipping around in their rental cars. Kia SA doesn’t tell anyone their sales figures but judging by how many Picantos we see on the roads, it was clearly a winning package.


Now the new generation has arrived and just in time too because the little Picanto has been losing out of late to rivals such as the Renault Kwid and Sandero, Volkswagen Up and, of course, its sibling, the Hyundai i10. So confident is Kia SA in its new baby that it says it is expecting to sell 650 a month, although we will never know.

The styling is definitely not as dramatic a change as that originally instituted by Schreyer and his team. Instead it is more of an evolutionary step, with a slightly angrier face, LED indicators and taillights and what the company calls a “more sophisticated” look and feel.

One of the major points is that of space. As well as a shorter front overhang (-25mm) to give it a slightly sportier look, there is a longer overhang (+10mm) at the rear. It also has a longer wheelbase (+15mm). All of this is said to translate into not only more interior space for passengers, but 25% more boot space than the last generation at 255l. That boot space is split by a shelf though which does tarnish the claim slightly.

There are four model derivatives, starting with the appropriately named Start followed by the Street, Style and the range-topping Smart. Pricing starts at R134 995 in a market where entry-level pricing is not as entry-level as it once was. The Picanto tops out with the Smart which starts at R179 995 – a price that once would have got you a pretty decent Rio.

Be smart:

But you get tech, at least you do if you go for the Smart. There are some items in other models such as Bluetooth audio streaming and the choice of a 49kW 1.0-litre petrol engine or a 61kW 1.2-litre motor, but if you want to hang with the cool kids then you need to go Smart. Avis can have the other models, or the company pool car fleet, although the base model does not even have ABS so perhaps steer clear of it.

Overseas there is a 1.0-litre turbo in the Picanto. Kia SA says it wants to bring it here but back in Korea they are not so sure. They have only just allowed the South African market to have satnav, so don’t hold your breath.

So it’s mostly about the Smart then and it features quite a lot. Most notably, it has a great touchscreen infotainment system. It has leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, sporty-looking pedals, a sunroof and a decent ambience to the cabin.

We drove it around the Western Cape and the combination of the 1.2 motor and a revised five-speed manual gearbox was great. It is no firecracker but it pulls nicely from the traffic lights and that gearbox is a joy to play with on the open road.

What it does do though is bump. The firm has switched to a torsion beam rear axle setup which means the rear suspension bumps over every hump in the road. It is probably less noticeable in Seoul but on the Cape streets it was evident.

Bumps aside, the new Picanto is a very nice package. Its slight increase in size does not help rear legroom but it does improve the boot space, making it a little more practical for everyday use. With Chevrolet leaving SA and taking its Spark with it, the Picanto is likely to grab a bigger share of the market, but competing against the Sandero in particular means it is going to have to fight a little harder for that share. – Mark Smyth