Like other small cars, the Picanto has never been on my radar. It isn't huge, it doesn't have a big V8, nor does it have any kind of 4x4 system, so why did I fly all the way down to Grosseto, Italy to drive one then? Well, I was going to say that your answer is in the question, I love Italy, but that isn't the reason at all - no, seriously, it isn't!
As I've written previously, I know a few 4x4 owners who'd love to drive their trucks on a daily basis, but due to huge 37" mud terrain tyres and other serious off-road kit, they’re a bit unpractical and expensive. The obvious solution is to buy a smaller car as a runabout, and if you don't have a huge family, the Picanto could be perfect answer.
A little history first, it'll be brief, honest. In 1991 Kia first raised its flag on British soil with the Kia Pride, and as it says in the press pack, it was ‘a cheeky, low-low cost practical car.’ Granted, it shared some of its nether regions with other brands, but for this Korean company it summed up Kia's automotive ambition.
Since then the Pride has morphed into the Picanto, Kia has merged with Hyundai and J.D. Power now regard Kia as the best in the business in their initial quality study.
So what’s new about the 3rd generation Picanto? What isn’t, that’s the question. Externally it looks meaner and more purposeful, and although it’s 5mm taller than the previous model, its overall length and width are the same. However, Kia’s engineers have been clever, by stretching its wheelbase by 15mm it not only gives the all-new Picanto a sportier stance, but it creates more internal space, not just for passengers but also for luggage, which goes up from 200 litres to a class-best 255 litres. This increases to 1,010 litres with the rear seats folded.
So you’re getting more space and more style within the same compact footprint - win, win.
Whilst I remember, on the subject of its nether regions, the amount of advanced high-strength steel in the body construction has doubled compared with the outgoing Picanto, from 22 per cent to 44 percent, making the all-new car's shell not only more robust but also 23kgs lighter.
On the road
That’s enough of all that technical stuff, what’s it like to drive? Well, our first experience was in the Picanto 2 that's equipped with the 66bhp 1.0ltr engine and 5-speed box. We left Grosseto Airport and headed out, briefly on a motorway, then into the beautiful mountain regions. Of course, 66bhp isn’t an awful lot when you have tight, hilly switchbacks, but making full use of the gears it performed admirably.
Driving any small cars these days I generally expect a fair bit of pitching, but the Picanto felt smooth over most surfaces, even on rough Italian country roads. Speaking of smooth, I particularly enjoyed the slickness of the 5-speed gearbox, and when you made it work, the little 1.0ltr had a lovely rasp as you go through the gears.
2-1/2 hours of fun later, we arrived at L’Andana, our hotel for the night, and after checking in we swapped over to the GT-Line which has a 1.25lr petrol engine with 83bhp. You wouldn’t think it, at least I didn’t, but those extra 17 horses were quite noticeable, as was the interior spec. And was it my imagination or did it handle better to?
The all-new Picanto, like its predecessor, has MacPherson strut front suspension, but it now features a U-shaped torsion beam at the rear and revised trailing arms for improved handling with reduced weight.
Fitted as standard are Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) help to counteract loss of traction and potential skids, while Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) prevents the car from rolling backwards when setting off on uphill gradients. Oh, and have I mentioned that as a first for Kia in the city-car class, the all-new Picanto gets Torque Vectoring? If you don’t know what that is, using the anti-lock brake and ESC sensors, it detects when the car is drifting off its intended course in corners and gently brakes the inside rear wheel if the front of the car is running wide, or the outer rear wheel if the rear tyres are starting to slide outwards. Yup, it’s standard on all models.
As I mentioned earlier, a stiffer body construction improves the ride, comfort and handling by allowing the suspension to do its work without having to compensate for flexing. Then of course there’s the Motor-Driven Power Steering (MDPS) that’s mounted on the steering column that gives good feedback at higher speed.
On the subject of erm, ‘high-speed’, I was quite surprised how quiet the all-new Picanto was. Rummaging through the press-pack in search of enlightenment, I read that it’s due to the greater use of foam, insulation pads and body strips. There’s also new engine mounts and revised, quieter heating and ventilation units - even the windscreen wipers have been placed lower to reduce wind noise!
Interior & kit
The all-new Picanto comes in 9 flavours that include two engines, two transmissions and five trim lines – badged ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘GT-Line’ and ‘GT-Line S’.
Just like any other motor manufacturer, Kia are well aware that just because the Picanto is a small, affordable car, it doesn’t mean that it needs to be spartan. Of course, my go-to Picanto would be the GT-Line S, not only does it have the most kit, but at just £13,950, it offers great value for money.
I’ll go through the specs shortly, but how did it cope with 2, 6ft+ tall blokes up front and their luggage in the back? Easily is the short answer. As I mentioned earlier, extending the wheelbase allowed the designers to optimise interior space in the all-new Picanto which starts with a slimmer dashboard that allowed for the driver and front passengers seats to be lowered placed further backwards in the cabin. There’s also more front head, leg and shoulder room than in the previous model, though for the rear passengers space is largely unchanged.
Moving to the rear, the boot held both my Thule Subterra carrry-on and my driving partners hold-all and rucksack with room to spare.
OK, lets’s get on with the specs.
Entry-level grade ‘1’ model
Features electric front windows, remote locking with a folding key, tinted windows, a radio with AUX and USB ports, a tilt-adjustable steering column, automatic headlight control, electronic stability control (ESC), vehicle stability management (VSM), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), 60:40 split folding rear seats and six airbags. Options include metallic paint and Automatic Emergency Braking.
Adds air conditioning, electric rear windows, electric heated door mirrors, Bluetooth with music streaming, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear-lever. There is a four-speaker rather than a two-speaker audio system, high-gloss black centre fascia trim, body-coloured door handles and side mirror housings, a chromed grille surround and 14-inch alloy wheels in place of steel rims.
Adds Autonomous Emergency Braking as standard, 15-inch alloy wheels, a supervision instrument cluster, front fog lights, electric folding mirrors with LED indicators, a floor-mounted sliding centre armrest, automatic air conditioning, cruise control with a speed limiter, a 7-inch 'floating' central display unit with satellite navigation and full connectivity, Bluetooth with voice recognition, a DAB radio as part of a six-speaker audio system, a rear parking camera and sensors and chromed exterior door handles.
Adds 16-inch alloy wheels, sports front and rear bumpers and side sills, a dual exhaust, black and red faux leather seats, a supervision instrument cluster, electric folding mirrors with LED indicators, satin chrome interior door handles, privacy glass on the rear windows and tailgate, bi-function projection headlamp units, LED daytime running lamps and rear lights, a chrome beltline strip and stainless steel pedals with non-slip rubber inserts.
Adds a wireless phone charger, an electric sunroof, heated front seats and steering wheel, a smart key and push-button engine start/stop, a 7-inch central display unit with satellite navigation and connected services, DAB radio, rear parking camera and sensors, a dual-height boot floor, luggage net and hooks and a driver's-side illuminated vanity mirror.
All models are available, either as standard or as an option, with Autonomous Emergency Braking, which can bring the car to a complete stop at speeds up to 50mph and to a partial stop at speeds over this figure.
One thing I remember with great fondness from the Kia Sportage launch in Nice last year was that Kia's Sat Nav is brilliant, it took a lot of stress out of driving a brand new, right hand drive car on the wrong side of the road and not having a clue where I was going. Thankfully, the Picanto has the same Garmin system that was easy to operate and use.
Engines ’n’ transmissions
Interestingly, Kia told us that in line with the majority of city cars, the all-new Picanto is available only with petrol engines because diesel engines add to the purchase price while offering few advantages in overall running costs, and looking at the figures to the right, it makes sense.
Later on in the year, Kia will introduce a sportier engine to the mix in the form of the a 3-cylinder, 99bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi turbocharged unit, which should be fun!
This was an important launch for Kia, and although the Picanto is the second best seller in the Kia range, just behind the Sportage, it’s regularly been one of the top five best-selling models in its class in the UK.
Kia are doing incredibly well for themselves, they have managed to triple their sales in the UK in just 8 years and outperformed the new car market with a near 14% growth in sales last year. In fact, in March (2017) Kia had their best ever month in the UK, which was better than their entire years sales back in 2007, and there are numerous reasons for their constant success. Apart from building solid and reliable cars, Kia have the best warranty in the business, that’s their unbeatable, and fully transferable 7-years or 100,000 miles warranty which includes labour, subject to terms and conditions of course.
As I mentioned earlier, the combination of a longer wheelbase and stiffer construction have given the all-new Picanto a different character over its predecessor. All 3 versions that I drove were comfortable (I’m 6ft 1” and nearly 19 stone) and nimble, my only complaint is that the 99bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi turbocharged version isn’t available yet, which is a shame. All in all, the new Picanto is a great little all-rounder that not only has great proportions on the outside, but on the inside to. Will it continue to be a success for Kia? I reckon so.