Kia’s petite Picanto is a hit in beautiful Noosa Heads

Kia’s petite Picanto is a hit in beautiful Noosa Heads

Kia’s sales have steadily increased year on year as the “cheap and cheerful” tag gives way to a“quality and value” moniker. Although the micro car segment has been stagnant, some passenger car sectors have gone backwards in a dramatic turn to SUV preferences. Kia’s growth puts it ahead of 10th place holder, Subaru, and is now in 9th place with 16,993 vehicles sold this year. The industry is down slightly overall. 83,135 sales last month is down by 4,436 vehicles this time last year. Picanto is the top selling micro car with 985 sales this year, which is a huge 40.7% of the market. Kia introduced their mirco car near the end of its life cycle to test the waters, and hasn’t it done well?

all-new-KIA-Picanto-GayCarBoys (1)This bring us neatly to the local launch of the new model.

Kia chose the sunny Queensland seaside resort village of Noosa Heads to debut their new baby city car.

This new offering closely follows the lines of the outgoing model. It makes current owners a bit less down-hearted to see the exteriors looking so similar, until they look inside where it is all shiny and new. Kia has done this before, with both SOUL and Optima looking more like a natural evolution of the previous models, rather than radical new directions. The new interior however, is a complete rethink, and is a cracking effort.

Picanto has grown slightly to increase cabin space without drastically sacrificing one of the things people would by a city car for: diminutive external proportions. Although the length and width are the same as the old model, the new car is 5mm higher and has an extra 15mm in the wheelbase. Along with an extra 10mm of rear overhang, the cabin feels roomier because it is. The luggage space is now 255L, up 55L, and the max cargo space will carry an extra 140L with the seats down. 1010L is a big ask for such a small car, and is an awful lot of Boxing Day shopping.

It sits on a brand-new platform which is lighter, and tighter. Its added rigidity means it has roller-skate-like handling even when pushed hard. Although the aging engine/transmission has been around for an age, the suspension has had the laying-on of hands by local Guru, Graham Gambold. The previous model was pretty good, but had inherited the overseas handling setup, which apparently, is too soft for harsh antipodean conditions. The ZF Sachs shockers do a decent job of soaking up years of neglect on the Aussie backroads.

They’ve fiddled with the electric steering to improve the 32bit processor’s response. That means a better steering feel.

The 62KW power plant pumps a palm sweating 122Nm through the (revised) 4 speed auto, to bring the Picanto to 100kph before you can say “John Robinson,” and all the other names of those on board the Jupiter II. Speed is not her forte, but it isn’t meant to be, so calm down! I’d get the utterly delightful 5-speed manual if I was buying one with my own money. It is so light and easy, it almost feels like an auto.

Kia claims the new look is more youthful, but that marketing is wasted on me, so let’s get to the meat and potatoes.

A few key points come in the form of cabin design and appointments.

With extra soundproofing, more adhesive, and improved welds, the passengers will notice less noise. The HVAC system is quieter too. Kia has even changed the engine mounts to isolate the cabin even more. Keep in mind, this is Kia’s cheapest car. Kia didn’t exactly shout it out loud, but you should be able to get the manual on the road for about 14 grand with some judicious bargaining. Won’t the salesmen just love that?

The 7” tablet-style centre screen floats gently on top of the centre of the dash board. It has a nice look and feel and comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That’s something you have to pay many more roubles in posh cars, but not in entry-level Kias. Take that BMW and Mercedes Benz! My Iphone 7 also worked with “Hey Siri” which means truly handsfree handsfree. You can press the Siri button if you’re over 50 I guess. Everyone else can speak anytime they like, to make phone calls, read, answer and send texts, and even look up address in maps. We didn’t test Android Auto which always seems angry and un-cooperative to me.

The driver’s power window gets an “auto” function which detects things like fingers, and will reverse. The remaining 3 windows need the button to stay pressed, so you can jam your fingers in those if you like.

There is a single model in the line-up in with quaint 4 speed auto, or a great uber-light 5 speed manual and all cars get torque-vectoring by braking. Again, you’re driving a pov model which is increasingly hard to believe. There is nothing at all pov about Picanto. The ABS system also has SLS (straight Line Stability) as an enhancement. This is good stuff.

We’ve been asking Kia for eons, and now they’ve given it to us: Standard Rear cameras and rear sensor, and for good measure, dynamic lines on the LCD display to show you guidelines for parking. If I sound like I’m selling Ginsu knives, you’ll be ecstatic when I say, “but wait, there’s more”.

The “more” is the drive. It’s fun. The cabin is quieter than before and the ride is delicious. The Macpherson front end feels nimble, and even under pressure keeps the tyres pointing the right way. The rear end has “coupled torsion beams” which can mean a slightly choppy cornering experience. Not in Picanto. Its handling feels beautifully controlled and the electronics takes care of any wayward tendencies.

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Extensive use of high strength steel makes the body safer and stiffer.

Our drive took us along the tourist routes at the back of the Sunshine Coast. Some of the steeper climbs meant changing down to second in the manual, but the auto was happy to keep the engine buzzing at full tilt. I suspect any more than two peeps on board would make the experience more leisurely, but that adds to the fun. Parts of the trip saw fairly ordinary road surfaces satisfactorily ironed out.

I’ve driven over those roads many times over the years in many cars, and the odd motor cycle, and Picanto held its head up with the best of them.

Kia isn’t trying to pretend Picanto is anything other than what it is, honest value for someone wanting an inexpensive motoring, regardless of their age.

Conclusion:

all-new-KIA-Picanto-GayCarBoys (5)all-new-KIA-Picanto-GayCarBoys (6)

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The first drive showed how good Kia has become at pin-pointing a shortfall in the market, and filling it. Picanto is streets ahead of its nearest competitor, Mirage, and almost triple the sales of the 3rd ranker, Holden’s Spark. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and buyers have spoken with their wallets.

The new model offers so much over the outgoing one, that sales can only increase, and the leads widen over the others.

Make no mistake, the cutstie-pie exterior oozes quality despite steel wheels and hub caps. It begs for a honking great set of alloys, and a mug-lair paint job. Many a bloke, good with his hands, has shoved a turbo on an otherwise unremarkable engine to battle waste-gates at 20 paces in car parks all over the world. Older couples would rather spend their cannily earned retirement dollars on the high seas in the floating RSL that is the cruise industry. They know that they screwed the salesman for all he was worth, and got a $13,990 drive away price on their manual Picanto. That’s a 3 day food and booze cruise for 2 in savings, all with a 7 year warranty.

Look out for the 1.0L turbo in the future. It’s a cracker.

Although I said the 4-pot is a bit old, and the 4-speed auto is so last week, the auto model is a piddling 15 grand, and it easily does the job. So I should just shut my mouth and quit my bitching. There is a bloke I know at Kia who’ll be grinning from ear to ear as he reads that. He knows who he is, hey Kev?

Price: 5-speed manual $14,190* (RRP), 4-speed auto $15,690 drive away

*SHHHHHHH, tell you salesman you demand the manual as a drive away price too or you walk!

Engine/Trans: 1.25L, 4 cyl, DOHC MPI D-CVVT 16 valve petrol, 62kw/122Nm, 5 sp manual/4 speed auto (both inhouse trans)

Econ: L/100k: 5.0 man, 5.8 auto

Weight: 976kg man/995kg auto

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