The Picanto was first shown to the world at the Frankfurt Motor Show in October last year, and is the Korean manufacturer's latest on a list of no fewer than 17 new cars and 4x4s it plans to introduce over the next three years.
A five-door hatch with European styling, it is neat and attractive while offering compact dimensions for parking coupled with good use of available interior space.
From the side there's more than a touch of the new Citroen C2 in the way the windows are staggered, while the front sees a strong grille treatment flanked by large headlamps and underscored by big black bumpers.
The engine package comprises a 1 086 cm3 SOHC unit that pushes out 47 kW at 5 500 r/min and 99 Nm of torque at 3 000 r/min.
While this doesn't appear much in the power stakes, we found it to be a perky performer at sea level. And Kia's claimed overall fuel consumption of 5 litres/100 km is not to be scoffed at - even with a miserly 35 litre fuel tank it still offers effective range.
Kia says it'll take you 15.2 seconds to reach 100km/h from rest in the Picanto, while top speed is 155km/h - both these figures presumably at sea level.
The car comes well-equipped in its price bracket, with a modern interior that boasts soft-touch plastics on the dashboard and door trim, together with bright and modern materials.
There's enough space for four adults, with rear seat space sufficient provided the driver isn't too tall, and, in the VERY limited time we had with the car, seemed to offer good ride quality.
However, luggage capacity with the seats up is limited to only 157 litres, although folding and flopping the seats forward (40/60 split) can increase this to 882 litres.
Initially only one model, the Picanto LX, is on offer, although a more upmarket EX version will come later this year, with a 1.1-litre common rail diesel in 2005.
As mentioned, pricing is competitive, at R72 995, plus another R7 000 for air conditioning. Kia South Africa MD Ray Levin told me Kia prices have not increased since October 2002, and it was expected that these prices would remain into the foreseeable future.
"If the rand stengthens further we will not, however, drop prices as this would jeopardise resale prices - instead we would add value to the cars," he said.
The Picanto comes standard with a driver's side airbag, together with dual side impact beams in the doors, as well as a built-in battery saver, height adjustable head lights, impact resistant (up to 4km/h) bumpers, rear window demister, rear fog lights, and remote keyless entry and immobiliser using a transponder key, plus a burglar alarm.
There are also Isofix child seat anchors and child locks in the back doors.
However, there's no power assistance for the steering, and on our short ride and drive we found this a touch on the heavy side.
There's also no spare wheel - a kit with puncture fix liquid and a compressor is supplied instead - but those who prefer the security of their own full-size spare can order one for an extra R875, complete with jack and wheel spanner!
The Picanto has 14 inch steel wheels with full-size wheel covers, and the suspension set up includes front McPherson struts and rear torsion beam axle with anti-roll bars. There are 241mm ventilated front disc brakes and 234 mm drums at the rear.
Instrumentation is restricted to a large speedo and a fuel gauge, while water temperature is indicated by different coloured lights - blue for cold, green for normal, red for too hot! Circular dial-type ventilation controls are easy to operate.
The driver's seat is six-way adjustable, while the rear seat backrest has three different slant options to increase either load space or comfort levels.
Front headroom is 1 003 mm and rear headroom 966 mm, while front shoulder headroom is 1 290 mm and rear shoulder room 1 292 mm.
The Picanto offers a range of 18 cabin storage areas. The centre console features two beverage holders, one of which can be used to hold a removable ashtray. A cell phone tray and a rear storage tray complete the console stack.
In the dashboard are two storage trays below the steering wheel on the driver's door side as well as a two-level glove box.
Picanto service intervals are pegged at 15 000 km and there's a 3 year/100 000 km warranty with a 3 year unlimited km roadside assistance plan.