The new Kia Picanto has loads of sex appeal, features and performance — enough to seriously trouble the Volkswagen Up. By Thomas Falkiner
Well, well, well — what have we got here?
What you’re looking at, pal, is the third-generation Kia Picanto: a compact city car designed to give rivals like the Volkswagen Up and Toyota Etios a serious case of insomnia.
Previously it was the cutesy choice of girls going off to varsity (“I promise I’ll behave, Mum”) but here it has matured into a sleek, slightly edgy-looking hatchback that even us guys shouldn’t mind being seen in.
Well at least I didn’t mind. Kia has given the front of the Picanto a thorough visual overhaul. Indeed, the combination of those squinting upturned headlamps and broad “tiger nose” grille give the Picanto a much-needed spike of aggression. Other neat touches are contrasting alloy wheels and LED tail-lights.
But beauty is only skin deep, isn’t it?
No, that’s just what your guidance teacher used to tell your face back in high school. Joking.
Open a door to the Picanto and you’ll notice that those smart, assertive vibes outside have been carried through to the interior. The look and feel is pleasingly contemporary while all the switchgear has been arranged in a simple, ergonomic fashion.
One thing that does disappoint, however, is the fact that Kia has not used any soft-touch materials in the crafting of said interior (what is this, 1997?)
Having said that, the hard plastic dashboard and accompanying inserts are of good quality and fit together well with no squeaks or rattles to speak of. Incidentally, the Picanto also has the biggest boot in its class. Good to know.
I heard the Koreans are getting stingy when it comes to features — is the Picanto a case in point?
You’ve been listening to way too many internet forum trolls: the range-topping 1.2 Smart I had on test was overflowing with automotive niceties. Automatic headlights. A reverse camera with dynamic guidelines. Parking sensors. Satellite controls set into the steering wheel. Man, you even get a sunroof as part of the package.
Yet for me the highlight was the brilliant 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system that’s not only a cinch to use but also — when plugged into your smartphone — offers either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. The latter gives you access to messages, music and navigation — a real boon. For a sub R200k compact car, the Picanto represents amazing value.
I tested a VW Up the other day and was impressed at how well it drove. Does the Picanto come close?
In a word, no. The Up is still the benchmark in this segment — particularly when it comes to dynamics.
But the Picanto does not lag that far behind. The Kia may not feel quite as crisp or rewarding as the VW but you can still throw it around with confidence. While grip levels are relatively high, the steering is direct and relatively communicative.
Where the Picanto does trump the Up, however, is in straight-line shove. With an extra cylinder at hand, the 1.2 Smart produces an extra 6kW, and, more importantly, an extra 27Nm worth of torque. This makes the Picanto feel way more, uh, picante: particularly when running down the highway.
Could you drive it from Johannesburg to Cape Town?
Definitely. For a small car I found the Picanto quite refined. And unlike small cars of years past it’s been geared right: you can hold 140km/h at 3800rpm in fifth gear, which is good for fuel consumption and your sanity.
However, do bear in mind that rear legroom isn’t fantastic, so you’re best travelling three-up at most. To make the road trip that much more enjoyable, get the optional (R5 000) subwoofer because the standard sound system lacks a bit of oomph. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: 2017 Kia Picanto 1.2 Smart
Engine: 1 197cc four-cylinder petrol
Power: 61kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 122Nm at 4000rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
Top speed: 170km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 7.6l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R195 995