Neat, sweet, pe­tite

Kia’s lat­est light car is freshly styled, well-equipped — and priced to be pop­u­lar

The Advertiser - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE KIA PICANTO - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

THIS car is a mighty mouse. In a class where some ri­vals can feel like a Coke can rolling on a skate­board, the Kia Pi­canto stands out as quiet, com­fort­able and well-equipped.

The pre­vi­ous model was al­ready the best car in the class and Kia has dou­bled-down with a more grown-up Pi­canto that is likely to re­main pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially when it even­tu­ally lim­bos to a $13,990 drive-away price at some stage.

Kia first came to the light-car con­test last year with a Pi­canto that quickly took class lead­er­ship, de­spite its age and the cat­e­gory’s rapidly fall­ing sales. Now comes the third­gen­er­a­tion Pi­canto — we missed the first — with a new body, lots more equip­ment, a stronger fo­cus on front-seat com­fort, rea­son­able per­for­mance and great econ­omy.

The 62kW four-cylin­der is noth­ing spe­cial. Work is un­der way to bring a more mod­ern three-cylin­der turbo here.

Kia is push­ing hard to get au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing into the Pi­canto. It could come — per­haps even with the new en­gine — by the end of the year.

Equip­ment in­cludes a re­vers­ing cam­era, cruise con­trol and a seven-inch screen that sup­ports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The styling is also re­vised, there is a big­ger boot, more head and legroom in the front and lo­cally tweaked sus­pen­sion.

Kia is eva­sive on the price. The of­fi­cial bot­tom line is $14,190 for the five-speed man­ual be­fore on-roads but the four-speed auto is $15,690 drive-away. It re­fuses to ad­ver­tise any price in the $13,000 range but Kia Mo­tors Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Damien Mered­ith hints at a $13,990 drive-away deal. “Will it hap­pen on the show­room floor? More than likely,” he says.

ON THE ROAD

I am not an­tic­i­pat­ing too much from the Pi­canto, even with its lo­cal sus­pen­sion work, yet it drives sur­pris­ingly well, is quiet inside and well-fur­nished.

I ex­pect a rear-view cam­era but it also gets guide­lines for park­ing, all win­dows are pow­ered and there are auto head­lights.

It’s a lot of gear for a lit­tle car at a bar­gain price. Then there’s Kia’s seven-year war­ranty with road­side as­sist. Kia says it is aim­ing for op­po­site ends of the cus­tomer range with the Pi­canto, so it has the tech­nol­ogy for young­sters and the com­fort for oldies.

That’s true with front seats that have good head­room and great legroom and good all­round vi­sion.

The Pi­canto has a new me­chan­i­cal plat­form but the en­gine and trans­mis­sion is un­changed. Per­for­mance is rea­son­able — on the pre­view drive we bet­tered 5.0L/100km.

I pre­fer the auto, even though it’s an out­dated four­speed, be­cause it keeps the en­gine more fre­quently in the sweet spot be­tween 3500rp­m4500rpm. It also helps ac­cel­er­a­tion away from lights.

The sus­pen­sion is a rev­e­la­tion for the class, ab­sorb­ing nasty bumps and lumps and — this is a huge shock af­ter pre­vi­ous dis­as­ters — the Chi­nese tyres from Nexen are qui­eter than the Kumhos from Korea.

But the so-called flat floor in the back has a gi­ant step that lim­its loads and the steel wheels look cheap. The three-cylin­der en­gine will be bet­ter if and when it comes.

VER­DICT

The Pi­canto is a sweet lit­tle car that’s bet­ter than I ex­pect. So, once again, Kia has overde­liv­ered and its tid­dler is a car that’s not just good for the class but good in gen­eral.

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