My first ever experience with the Kia Picanto came in 2006 on a family trip to George, where we hired the little Asian to run around town – in the event the local golf course was a bit too shabby for our liking.
Needless to say the golf courses are nothing but stunning, however being a family trip my mother and sister were less than impressed with the guys plan to spend the week on the course. So we took a trip up the coast to the friendly coastal town of Knysna. It’s about 60km of some of the most exhilarating road in the country, however sitting in the back of the rather small Picanto was less than exhilarating. In fact it would have been more comfortable travelling on the back of a donkey, and possibly just as fast.
Kia has however been the most improved manufacturer worldwide in the last 5 years. So when the opportunity arose to have a go in the new Picanto, I was actually rather excited to see what quantum style leaps they have made since 2006.
Taking one look at the 2011 model I think the phrase quantum leap isn’t quite adequate to cover the improvement in appearance. The Picanto takes on a completely new personality with its funky, striking and aggressive shell. Undoubtedly it’s the best looking vehicle in the price category – all thanks to German designer Peter Schreyer, a man Kia lured from VW to give their cars a more European appeal. Job done, Mr Schreyer.
Inside the Kia drives home its bid to topple the established brands. The dash is incredibly neat and refined, with a silver strip running around the heating controls and over the glovebox adding a welcome splash of colour. The seats are comfortable, the dials easy to read and the controls feel as though they’ll see out the next ice age.
Equipment levels are good too. Aircon is standard across the range as is the driver-side airbag, CD player with MP3/iPod/USB connections and trip computer. I would however like to see ABS added to that list as currently it’s only the 1.2 litre models that have.
When it comes to space, you have to accept that the Picanto’s class is a small one. That said however, I managed to squeeze four adults and luggage for a weekend. I’ve read a number of reviews saying “you’re going to struggle to fit anything more than a weekly supermarket shop in there.” Which is clearly nonsense – especially with the ability to fold down the rear seats. Just don’t expect to use it as a delivery van and you won’t have any problems.
The basic platform and engines have been lifted from the Hyundai i10, meaning two engines are on offer – a 1.0 and 1.2 litre. I was lucky enough to have the sprightly 1.2 litre four cylinder motor under the hood of my test car. With 65kW and 120Nm on offer the Picanto rumbles along nicely in all conditions, even under load, and punches far above its capacity rating. The five speed gearbox is slick and an absolute pleasure to use.
Out on the road the Kia feels refined and composed. There’s a faint hint of road noise, but it’s probably just me being picky. The use of electrically assisted power steering once again rears its ugly head, so I cannot compliment feedback on turn in or through corners. As for my complaint about an uncomfortable ride in the old model, it all but vanishes thanks to a lengthier wheelbase and more competent damping from the suspension.
Prices start at R 99,995 and range up to R 125,995 for the 1.2 litre automatic. The only problem I can see is that Kia may not be able to keep up with demand for what is a brilliant little car – one I really cannot fault.
Price: R 115,995
Engine: In-line 4 cylinders 16 Valve DOHC
Power: 65 kW
Torque: 120 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 11.6
Top speed (km/h): 169
Fuel consumption (l/100km): 5.0 (claimed)