Baby boomer

The Pi­canto is a late ar­rival to the mi­cro­car seg­ment but is priced to cause headaches for ri­vals

The Advertiser - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - RICHARD BERRY

KIA’S new­est ar­rival isn’t that new.

Although the baby Pi­canto is mak­ing its de­but on our shores, the city run­about has been around over­seas for 12 years.

This par­tic­u­lar model launched in 2011 and the next gen­er­a­tion is due in 2017, so why doesn’t Kia Aus­tralia just wait and kick off with the new model next year?

Lo­cal ex­ec­u­tives say they need to prove to head of­fice they can sell the cur­rent Pi­canto be­fore be­ing guar­an­teed sup­ply of the new car. The tar­get is 300 sales a month — a brave call given city run­about sales are down by al­most a third this year.

But Kia’s brav­ery is a bonus for buy­ers. The Pi­canto starts at a tempt­ing $14,990 and the pres­sure from head of­fice means buy­ers are in a strong bar­gain­ing po­si­tion.

You could also wait for the new Pi­canto to come out — it’ll have more in-car tech and a dif­fer­ent look — but you can also bet on it cost­ing more if it ar­rives at all.

The Pi­canto comes in one spec­i­fi­ca­tion — the Si — and is pow­ered by a 1.25-litre four­cylin­der petrol en­gine with a four-speed auto trans­mis­sion. It un­der­cuts the $15,990 Holden Spark and $15,290 Nis­san Mi­cra but can’t beat Mit­subishi’s $14,250 Mi­rage or Suzuki’s $13,990 Cele­rio on price.

As with most mi­cro­cars the Pi­canto’s stan­dard fea­tures con­tain just the very ba­sics. There’s a CD player and ra­dio, Blue­tooth, USB port, air­con­di­tion­ing and power win­dows in the front and back.

There’s a five-star ANCAP crash test rat­ing, rear park­ing sen­sors, a space saver spare, disc brakes front and back, three top tether an­chor points and two ISOFIX mounts for child seats. The glar­ing omis­sion is a re­vers­ing cam­era.

ON THE ROAD

The Pi­canto has carved out a healthy niche in Europe, where it is per­fectly suited to nar­row vil­lage laneways and country roads.

But Aus­tralia presents dif­fer­ent chal­lenges. The lo­cal launch took us through some ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas and then a large stretch of free­way.

The four-speed auto is fine around town but on a flat part of the Hume at 110km/h the Pi­canto is revving at 3500rpm and plead­ing for a fifth gear. Com­bine this with no cruise con­trol and it’s not ideally suited for long dis­tance driv­ing.

There are no com­plaints about how it felt on the road though — yes there’s tyre roar on course chip, but the car is easy to drive, the seats are com­fort­able and sup­port­ive and the steer­ing is great. The car felt planted even at high speeds with cross winds, where some city run­abouts can be a lit­tle spooky.

The en­gine feels a lit­tle un­der­pow­ered at times, es­pe­cially when over­tak­ing at higher speeds, but against its di­rect ri­vals it has more than ad­e­quate grunt.

The Pi­canto is hap­pi­est in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments where it will spend nearly all of its time. The lack of a re­vers­ing cam­era is partly com­pen­sated for by great vis­i­bil­ity out of the big rear win­dow. The 9.8m turn­ing cir­cle is su­per tight, which is handy for city ma­noeu­vres, while the brakes are above av­er­age, with discs all around com­pared with drums for some ri­vals.

The Pi­canto is made in Korea but the sus­pen­sion in the Aus­tralian model has been set up for Europe roads. We didn’t no­tice any is­sues — it’s no limo but the ride is smooth and cor­ner­ing abil­ity sur­pris­ingly good.

The in­te­rior is be­gin­ning to show its age — there’s no dis­play screen, no Ap­ple Carplay and An­droid Auto — but aside from the out­dated look the cabin feels airy and roomy up front.

The back seats are tighter but at 190cm I can sit be­hind my driv­ing po­si­tion with my legs snug against the seat back. Head­room is ex­cel­lent.

Stor­age is good through­out with two bot­tle hold­ers and two cuphold­ers up front. The boot has a ca­pac­ity of 292 litres — about the stan­dard for cars in this seg­ment.

Af­ter about 300km of high­way and ur­ban driv­ing I was av­er­ag­ing 5.7L/100km fuel use — not bad con­sid­er­ing Kia claims 5.6L/100km.

VER­DICT

The Pi­canto has ar­rived into Aus­tralia’s mi­cro­car seg­ment a bet­ter prod­uct than the ma­jor­ity of the oth­ers. It’s not quite up to the level of the Holden Spark’s ride and han­dling or in-car tech, but the sharp price and Kia’s ex­cep­tional war­ranty make it a com­pet­i­tive pack­age.

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