What it's about
Kia's Picanto has, since its initial launch in 2004, been one of the importer's success stories.
With a name derived from French words "piquant" and "canto" meaning "spicy song", the car is extremely cute, while at the same time being a very capable contender in the tough entry-level market. Earlier this year Picanto received a major revision to bring it more in line with current trends.
Due to the car's dimensions the cabin remains rather cramped and if you're three up on the rear bench I imagine things may become a bit tense. But if you spend most of your time alone or with a single passenger, it should be more than comfortable.
There were some changes to the cabin too (instrumentation, new upholstery) and, as far as the exterior styling is concerned, it took some time getting used to the facelifted model's rounder light clusters. However, the overall the changes are mostly positive.
Besides, it's taken the Picanto some time to carve a secure place in the market; why mess with a winning formula?
The test unit provided was the top of the range EX model with a long list of standard convenience equipment for this segment. This would be the ideal model for those scaling down who fear missing an array of features.
Proving petite need not mean spartan, Picanto EX is equipped with power steering adjustable for rake, a leather covered steering wheel and gearknob, air conditioning, power windows all round, power side mirrors and indicators integrated in the side mirrors.
Its 60/40 split rear bench allows the boot space to be increased from a puny 157 dm3 to a much more convincing 882 dm3.
Another great thing about Picanto is the warren of storage spaces in which to stuff all manner of oddments.
Apart from the three cupholders (two up front and one in the back), there is also a useful tray and a generous glove compartment.
As with the entire range, access is via central locking with keyless entry.
It is also the only model fitted with ABS and EBD. Additional safety equipment includes airbags for the driver and front passenger.
Since EX also sports a set of snazzy 15-inch alloy wheels, the list of optional extras is short. It's the automatic gearbox, an auxiliary/USB/iPod dock and a service plan.
Beneath the metal
Basic but effective, all Picantos are powered by the same 12-valve four-cylinder with fuel injection.
Carried across from the previous version, it produces 48 kW at 5 500 r/min and 98 Nm at 2 800 r/min from a capacity of 1 086 cm3.
The engine is mated to a five-speed manual transmission, or a four-speed automatic.
Suspension is via a McPherson strut with stabiliser at the front with a coupled torsion beam at the rear, providing a comfortable ride with big-car handling.
On the road
The Kia Picanto, even with a pedestrian four-speed automatic gearbox, feels invincible. And it will make you a believer too, at least until you're made to encounter the brilliance of being limited to sub-80 km/h speeds on a national road by a scrawny little marie biscuit.
Yes, one Picanto tyre came off second best in an unexpected battle with a strategically placed pothole. This encounter necessitated a pre-dawn tyre change and, while at the time I was simultaneously invigorated by the winter morning exertion and checking one more benefit of run-flat tyres, I was eternally grateful the little thing had a maximum curb weight of under 950 kg. Chucking it on the jack and completing the switch was so simple.
Thankfully the guys at Kia Paarden Eiland were kind enough to see to the car on the day, so the Picanto and I were back to our zooting ways in no time at all.
And that's what the Picanto is perfect at - zooting. Its light weight means it absolutely rockets off the line, giving little credence to the argument that these cars should be driven as though you're taking your Gran for her Sunday afternoon ice-cream. Rubbish!
The auto Picanto is the perfect city companion - nimble enough for opportunistic moves and tiny enough to bump into practically any parking space.
But just because it's so at home in the city, don't think it's of no use on the long road. On the contrary, it seems to relish the opportunity to stretch its proverbial legs. It may have a claimed top speed of only 152 km/h, but our test unit had no issues tearing it up at 140 km/h (albeit according to the speedometer).
The dramatically facelifted Kia Picanto should do its predecessor proud. It's as spunky as ever, a hoot around town and will not allow itself to be bullied by bigger SUVs.
The addition of the four-speed automatic does not remove its fun quotient, either. In reality, it just means you always have a free foot to tap to Picanto's infectious beat.
- It's cute
- Great warranty
- Well equipped…
- … but practically specs itself out of the "budget" segment