Kia’s Picanto has a perky feel, although the old model was never quick, it handled reasonably crisply and the steering was geared such that it felt almost criminally good fun to punt around city streets.
Well, the good news for those looking for a grin behind the wheel is that much of the old Picanto's suspension architecture has been carried over, albeit evolved subtly. The front suspension has been 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. Braking from the all disc system is far better than that of the old car.
The exterior looks don’t immediately pigeonhole you as a budget buyer in the way that the styling of, say a Hyundai i10 does. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that stylist Peter Schreyer is an ex-Audi man. He’s developed the trademark ‘Tiger nose’ front grille that now adorns most modern Kias, sharp looks that extend down equally sharply scalloped flanks with door handles sitting atop this prominent longitudinal crease. Available in both three and five-door guises, the Picanto offers a different look for each body style, the three-door car featuring a more aggressive frontal treatment and a unique rear C-pillar. But that’s a relatively easy effect to achieve in a three-door car. Creating something small, tall with five-doors usually delivers a dumpier result.
Things continue on in the same vein inside a cabin that punches well above its price point. It’s all a long way from the not too distant days when interiors of cars of this kind had all the stylistic appeal of a telephone box. True, some of the plastics used are still a little hard to the touch but you’d expect that in a citycar and anyway, everything’s so nicely integrated that you don’t really notice, the ambience lifted considerably by the silver strip that runs along the lower half of the dash to lift the otherwise unremitting blackness of the cabin.
Take a seat behind the very up-market-feeling steering wheel and you find yourself facing the so-called 'three cylinder' instrument panel design that’s already been used in more up-market Kias. There are no more cheap-looking orange-coloured dials and everything’s clear, concise and easy to read. To your left is a centre console offering ventilation and stereo controls with big, easy to use buttons, at the bottom of which in the plush model is a handy cubby with twin cupholders. Finding an ideal driving position is hampered a little by the lack of a reach-adjustable steering wheel but there is a height-adjustable driver’s seat in mitigation.
As for rear seat passengers, well, the amount of room is astonishing for a car that takes up less than 3. 6m of roadspace. Even more effort has been made in the boot, now larger, which might be a problem if you’re trying to fit in something like a pushchair. This indeed is one of the few areas in which a fully-fledged supermini might enjoy any kind of significant advantage over this car. Mind you, even that won’t be a problem if you’re able to flatten the 60/40 split-folding rear seats, which push forward to free up space.
The days when all a citycar had to be was small, frugal and cheap are long gone. Those things are now a given in this sector. For success in this segment today, such an urban runabout must be stylish, practical and realistic for longer journeys as well as shorter ones. The need to achieve all of that whilst still being small, frugal and cheap must present one almighty headache to vehicle designers. But by and large, this car achieves it.
I’m not pretending this Picanto to be perfect. The 1. 0-litre version could be a little quieter and needs stop start. And it would be nice if the boot was a little bigger. But these things apart, I’m struggling to find fault. In terms of looks, packaging, running costs and general day-to-day usability, Kia has set a new benchmark with this model. What it boils down to is that though you can spend less on a five-door citycar, after trying one of these, you probably won’t want to. It’s state of the art in this category.