Published on Tuesday 30 September 2014 19:59
Ten Second Review
Every now and then, Kia launches a new edition of its 'Originals' series and this time round, it's the Picanto City. Bluetooth, iPod connection, metallic paint and tiny 14-inch alloy wheels are part of a very good deal.
Kia explains its 'Originals' models as stemming from the idea of a fashion collection - being frequently updated with distinct styles and personalities. Well, I'm looking at the Picanto City and I'm not really thinking Victoria Beckham or Marc Jacobs. I'm thinking about how much money I'm going to save and what I'm going to spend it on. Because when all's said and done, Kia buyers are still looking for top value. Fortunately, they're going to find it here.
The old Picanto was basic transport and did well. It didn't get above its station and from 2004 through to 2011 when it was replaced, Kia managed to shift 77,000 of them here in the UK. Though this second generation Picanto can still be bought for bargain basement prices and rides on the same chassis as Hyundai's cheap and cheerful i10, it's a far more sophisticated and desirable thing. Yes, I did say 'desirable' in the context of a Korean citycar. Read on and find out why.
You might well know that the Picanto is offered with a choice of 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre engines. If you're really up to speed, you'll also know that the 1.0-litre is the better citycar. Therefore, if you're launching a Picanto variant called the City, it makes all kinds of sense to have it powered by that characterful little MPI three-cylinder motor. Yes, there is only 70PS under your right foot and it'll take a leisurely 13.9 seconds to get to 60mph but does that really matter? The 1.0-litre engine can step the Picanto off the line to 20mph or so quite briskly - and that's really all you need in town.
The handling is better than ever before in this second generation Picanto - and its predecessor wasn't bad. This design gets a revised version of the MK 1's suspension system, with the front end tuned for better straight line stability and Kia reckons it has not only improved the ride with softer springs but made the handling a little keener with a much stiffer rear axle that helps quell understeer. The Picanto's all-disc braking set-up, which is standard on the City, is backed up with standard ABS anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution and emergency 'brake assist' systems. There's also electronic stability control on hand to bail you out if you exceed the grip of the Picanto's tiny tyres. Despite its almost comical rubberwear, the Picanto records some very good stopping distances from the 62mph benchmark. Its distance of 41.0 metres is amongst the best in the citycar class.
Design and Build
The Picanto has certainly come a long way from dumpy little blob to something really sharp-looking. It features the now trademark Kia 'tiger nose' front grille, but it also exhibits deeply scalloped flanks with the door handles sitting atop a sharp, longitudinal crease. The City, offered only in three-door form, features a signature red grille, 14-inch alloy wheels, chrome door handles, heated door mirrors and front fog lights. Metallic paint is a standard feature and the model is offered in Blaze Red or Bright Silver.
The cabin is cleanly styled and again it's clear that Kia is forging its own personality and brand identity on its cars. The 'three cylinder' instrument panel design is spread across the Kia range, while the centre console brings the air conditioning and stereo controls within easy reach with big, easy to operate buttons. Metallic finishes lift the feel of the fascia and while some of the plastics are a little hard to the touch, the overall effect is an interior that punches well above its price point.
Market and Model
There's a £1,600 premium to pay to buy the 'City' version of this 1.0-litre three-door Picanto rather than the standard 'Air' model. That takes the total asking figure to well over £10,000, a price that some might see as being a little self-consciously large in a market now offering super-budget brands. Dacia, for example, whose much bigger Sandero hatch can be bought in top-spec form for a good deal less.
But would you actually buy such a car? The Picanto seems to be from an entirely different generation to a Sandero and if that's what Kia has been aiming for in these past few years, then mission has truly been accomplished. This is no longer the bottom tier of car ownership. The Picanto's been promoted.
The cabin isn't badly equipped for a city scoot, with air conditioning, a leather trimmed steering wheel with audio controls and iPod connectivity. Features unique to the 'City' include ambient LED lighting and a vanity mirror with three-stage illumination sequence. Bluetooth connectivity allows the driver to make hands-free calls via voice recognition and stream music wirelessly. Safety features include Electronic Stability Control, Vehicle Stability Management and Hill-start Assist Control. Significantly, the City is fitted with Cornering Brake Control, which is a first in the Picanto range. Like all Picanto models, this one gets six airbags and five proper three-point seatbelts all round, making it one of the few genuine five-seaters in its class. Potentially. Space is often the limiting factor rather than the number of belts.
Cost of Ownership
No car in this segment has a sniff of a chance unless it can guarantee tiny day-to-day running costs and the Picanto certainly answers that particular call. Both engines have been designed to offer maximum efficiency, from their continuously variable valve timing to their low-friction valve springs. The net result is that the 1.0-litre engine emits just 99g/km of carbon dioxide in standard trim. It returns 67.3 mpg on the combined cycle and it's exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge. The Picanto City is rated at insurance group four, which isn't going to result in a terrifying premium.
It's exactly because it stacks up so well on the balance sheet that residual values look set to be very healthy, helped by the fact that the over-supply of this sort of car caused by the old scrappage scheme is now starting to level off.
The Kia Picanto is one of the best citycars you can buy at any price. Solid build quality, strong equipment, decent engineering and an unbeatable warranty means that it'll never be short of takers. The City model adds a little bit of fairy dust on top of that provided by the standard 1.0-litre models, without being anything too radical. If you want an affordable and presentable small car that'll play your digital music, it's a great selection.
What's refreshing about the Kia Picanto is that it's not trying anything gimmicky. It just zeroes right in to what city car buyers want. It offers low running costs, it's safe, it's easy to park, it's wholly presentable, and it doesn't constantly remind you that you're in the bargain basement. On that basis, it earns our wholesale endorsement. And the City version in particular? Well, it looks promising but it's unlikely to change our view of the Picanto in any significant way. That's fashion for you.