LATELY, there has been a lot of movement in the A-segment of the market, and first-time buyers have never had so many options to add to their short lists. Furthermore, with these shoppers demanding more car for less money, and being both fashion-conscious and seeking some sort of practicality, manufacturers competing in this segment – now more than ever before – need to bring their A-game.
The previous-generation Picanto was around for some time and, although we rated it highly, was often accused of being too “girly”. Armed with a clean sheet and a clear idea as to what A-segment buyers look for in a vehicle, Kia design chief, Peter Schreyer, has given the second generation Picanto a new look and new identity.
At first glance, it’s clear the feminine image that plagued the previous-generation Picanto has made way for sharper lines and a more grown-up appearance, which help give this hatchback broader appeal. The large headlamps, oversized lower air intake and Kia’s familiar tiger-nose grille make this small car look unlike anything else in this class.
Once inside, most testers noted that the cabin is better than what you’d expect at the asking price. The materials feel of a high quality, and all the controls are easy to operate and seem sturdier than those of some of its competitors. The upmarket look and deep-set layout of the instruments add to the big-car feel.
However, the specification of this model proved a subject of contention. Kia claims to have done its homework when it came to its target audience and, as such, equipped this car with an audio system that will suit the needs of today’s plug-and-play generation. Air-con and central locking are also standard, as are a driver’s airbag and Isofix anchor points, but unfortunately ABS features only on the range-topping 1,2 EX. At the local launch, the manufacturer stated that its research found buyers of entry-level cars do not care much about safety items such as ABS, but rather seek features that add comfort, convenience and entertainment. Another strange omission is a rear-window wiper, which is offered on the LX and EX.
When it comes to space, unfortunately the Picanto again falls slightly short of the mark. The boot swallows a meagre 112 dm3 of luggage with the rear seat backs in place and 774 dm3 with them folded flat.
Under the bonnet lies a three cylinder 1,0-litre petrol engine with a maximum power output of 51 kW and a torque figure of 94 N.m that is mated with a four-speed automatic transmission. This combination does not feel particularly potent at cruising speeds but is well-suited to town driving.
That said, performance isn’t this car’s forte, so it would be unfair to fault it for the 17,61 seconds it took to get from zero to 100 km/h. However, should you find yourself travelling at 120 km/h and feel the need to overtake, a long stretch of unoccupied road should lie ahead as you will be staring at oncoming traffic for 53,67 seconds before reaching 140 km/h.
Thanks to a light steering action and compact dimensions, everyone found the Kia easy to manoeuvre in city-driving. On the topic of steering, some team members remarked the electrically assisted rack feels slightly artificial, especially under acceleration and when the wheels point straight ahead.
Kia’s toddler is suspended on MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion-beam rear axle, which allow for a compliant ride and composed handling.
Our 10-stop braking test produced a lacklustre average stopping time of 3,67 seconds, which gives it a poor rating in our books. ABS should really be standard-fitment throughout the range.
With vehicles aimed at young buyers who are more than likely students, low running costs are a major consideration. To aid these thrifty owners in counting their rands, the Picanto features a five-year/ 100 000 km warranty as standard, while a two-year/45 000 km service plan can be thrown in for an extra R3 255. Also, with a tank capacity of 35 litres and a CAR fuel-index figure of 6,72 litres/100 km, the Picanto should be good for over 500 km on a single tank of unleaded. Drivers can keep an eye on the fuel consumption and range with the standard-fit trip computer.
At a squeeze under R110 000, this particular Picanto has a lot that counts in its favour. It’s the second-cheapest automatic in our market and comes with most of the features that first-time buyers will look for in a set of wheels. And, visually, it’s far more exciting that most of its closest rivals.
So, if you are looking for a small automatic for town use, this version of the Picanto should definitely be on your shopping list. However, there are some features – most notably ABS – that should be standard or, at the very least, available as optional extras.