You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Safe, small Picanto ideal for first-timers

AAP logoAAP 14/10/2016 Peter Atkinson

You can often learn a lot more about a motor company by driving their smallest, most affordable models, rather than their biggest and best.

After all, just about anyone can make a great car if they have the benefit of an inflated $100,000-plus pricetag. But building a good car for a fraction of that price is much more of an achievement.

That's why it's always fun to test models at the lowest end of the price scale. It's usually an instructive and, pretty often, a rewarding exercise.

Against that background, driving Kia's new "baby" suggests the Korean carmaker is in pretty good shape.

Called the Picanto, Kia's new city car is one of the most affordable models on the Australian market with a pricetag of just $14,990 drive away.

The Picanto was added to Kia's Australian showrooms only this year, even though it's been available in various forms in other countries for more than a decade.

Kia has taken the plunge into the micro-hatch market - taking on rivals like Nissan Micra, Mitsubishi Mirage, Suzuki Alto, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta and Holden's new and apparently very impressive Barina Spark - plus, of course, the Kia's Korean platonic twin - the Hyundai i20.

That's despite the fact that this market segment accounts for a modest 700 sales per month in Australia - most of them to first-time car owners and the majority of them young females.

The lure for Kia in joining this battle is, of course, to attract entry-level buyers to the brand and then keep them there. And the Picanto is well placed to foster that kind of buyer loyalty.

As well as being strong value it's safe, economical and reasonably stylish.

Kia has taken a novel, fuss-free approach to selling the Picanto. In a market packed with choice and options, this car will be offered with one engine choice, one transmission and one non-negotiable price. Buyers will be offered a choice of colours, though.

First impressions are positive - it feels remarkably solid and stable on the road, despite its small wheelbase and modest weight.

Just the kind of car, in fact, that you'd be happy for your daughter, or son, to have as their first car.

Adding to that appeal is its five-star safety rating, with six airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and a vehicle stability management system.

Like other Kia models, the Picanto offers a seven-year new car warranty. So a Picanto bought for an 18-year-old is still covered by the factory guarantee when its owner turns 25 - by which time they'll probably have outgrown this petite little hatch. Kia also offers fixed-price servicing and roadside assist.

While most rivals have moved to small-capacity, three-cylinder engines in their micro-machines, Kia uses a 1.25-litre, four-cylinder powerplant. The numbers are modest - just 63 kilowatts and a fairly puny 120Nm of torque. Happily, its thirst is equally modest with an official combined average of just 5.3L/100km.

The four-speed auto is competent if a rung or two below class-leading, and it tends to hunt around for gears on occasions. Still it keeps the little engine generally on song.

Interestingly, the Picanto isn't built by Kia - but under a partnership by a Korean compatriot, Donghee Auto Company - which previously provided components, including sunroofs and suspension parts, to Kia. The relationship has lasted more than a decade and included the original model Picanto from 2004-2011.

This current model, recently refreshed and with upgraded equipment, has been available in other markets for about five years but has only recently debuted Down Under.

It delivers the basics in a better-than-basic way.

Interior finishes are a bit hard and plasticky, but it has a modern, clean feel.

The cloth seats are not plush, but are pleasingly supportive and comfortable.

Switchgear is fairly basic, but it boasts electric windows front and rear, airconditioning plus the obligatory Bluetooth connectivity for telephone and music, plus rear parking assist.

The cabin is surprisingly roomy inside, and the five-door configuration gives ample access to the rear seats. Cargo space is a fairly cramped 200 litres with the rear seats in use, or 605 litres when they're folded forward.

We particularly liked the Picanto's uniquely-shaped steering wheel with a clever two-spoke design, and the instrument panel that is bright and easy to read.

Downsides? Well, I have to admit I felt a bit self-conscious driving the Picanto, mostly because of the very conspicuous shade of egg-yolk yellow it was painted in. Kia calls the shade "Honey Bee".

Why do car companies insist on doing this kind of thing to middle-aged motoring writers? My wife, who teases me about driving these little "butter boxes" at the best of times, could barely contain her mirth.

Which, when you think about it, is just another member of the family who enjoyed having the little Picanto around.

HOW BIG? It feels reasonably spacious considering the small amount of road that it occupies. At a pinch it will accommodate four full-grown people - preferably the young and nimble variety in the back. Cargo space is acceptable.

HOW FAST? Not very, which is probably a good thing for a car aimed at first-time owners. It gets rolling adequately and will cruise quite comfortably on the highway speed limit. And it feels reassuringly stable at all speeds.

HOW THIRSTY? It's tiny four-cylinder engine has an appropriately small thirst - just 5.3L/100km on a combined city-highway cycle.

HOW MUCH? No haggling here. It's $14,990 drive away, with no options boxes to tick. The only decision is which colour to buy. I don't recomment the yellow.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon