Kia launches tasty lit­tle num­ber

Irish Examiner - - News - DE­CLAN COL­LEY

Un­der the guid­ance of chief de­signer Peter Schreyer, the Kia Pi­canto cer­tainly has a raff­ish mien.

Time was when the mi­cro-mini seg­ment was pop­u­lated with cars which be­tween them were equipped with lit­tle more tech­nol­ogy as could be seen on, say, a wheel­bar­row. Dodgy plas­tics, ter­ri­ble seats, ap­palling de­signs, poor chas­sis, and ab­so­lutely no kit was the or­der of the day.

They were de­signed as an af­ter­thought largely for fam­ily peo­ple who needed a sec­ond car, not just to teach their 14-year-old brig­ands how to spin wheels. Or there were sin­gles who barely needed a car at all, but had to get from A to B and still didn’t re­ally mind that it only just came as stan­dard with a steer­ing wheel.

Most mi­cro-minis were crude in the ex­treme, but they were cheap and also came with ter­rific engines. These were largely of the petrol va­ri­ety — and usu­ally came in the 800cc to 1200cc range. Is Ex­am­iner Motoring on a re­cur­ring theme here?

Many of the ear­li­est mi­cro-minis ges­tated from the Ja­panese ‘Kai car’ phe­nom­e­non which be­gan af­ter the Sec­ond World War which was aimed at pro­mot­ing growth in the mo­tor in­dus­try in the post-war era. Much as was Fiat and Volk­swa­gen in Europe.

The Asian ver­sions were also de­signed for crowded ur­ban ar­eas and built by Toy­ota, Suzuki, Nis­san, Honda, Subaru, Dai­hatsu, and Mit­subishi in very large num­bers.

Ini­tially, Kai cars were only al­lowed have 360cc engines, although the reg­u­la­tions re­laxed over the years to the point where man­u­fac­tur­ers were al­lowed make them with engines of up to 660cc.

Cars, vans — check what be­came eu­phemisti­cally know as the Suzuki Toaster — and small trucks all formed part of the Kai car deal.

Many in­no­va­tions in en­gine build­ing and de­sign em­anated from the Kai car scene par­tic­u­larly in the ar­eas of tur­bocharg­ing and emis­sions as well as in­no­va­tions with four-wheel drive and crea­ture com­forts such as air con­di­tion­ing. At the height of their pop­u­lar­ity nearly 1m were sold on the Ja­panese mar­ket every year.

As the Euro­peans started to cot­ton on to the ben­e­fits of small city cars, pop­u­lar­ity of the mi­cro-mini started to grow and lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers tried to get in on the act, although their Ja­panese ri­vals had an ob­vi­ous head start in terms of de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the seg­ment in these parts was ac­cel­er­ated by the fact that these ve­hi­cles not only served fruit­fully for sec­ond school-run and shop­ping du­ties (long be­fore the SUV era dawned) as well as be­ing great starter cars for kids to learn to drive in.

Although the Ital­ians, with their Fiat 500, and the Ger­mans with var­i­ous DKWs and Messer­schmitt, also made many post-war small cars, the in­creas­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the buy­ing cus­tomer saw most of these things die a death by the 1960s.

The Brits too used to have a raft of small cars, not least the Mini it­self and oth­ers such as Ri­leys, Wol­s­leys, Sun­beams, and Hill­mans, but they too faded in pop­u­lar­ity in the face of chang­ing cus­tomer dy­nam­ics.

How­ever, the Ja­panese were on the way.

Among the first Kai to ar­rive in Ire­land were such as the Dai­hatsu Domino which was a fan­tas­tic lit­tle thing with room for four adults or a raft of chil­dren, a smash­ing lit­tle en­gine (an 850cc unit for the Euro­pean mar­ket) and even had room for the gro­ceries. It was fol­lowed by such as two Suzuki, the Alto and the Vivio.

These cars laid down the tem­plate for cars such as our tester this week, the fan­tas­tic Kia Pi­canto, which saw the light of day at the 2003 Frank­furt Mo­tor Show and which was a suc­cess­ful car although not be­ing ter­ri­bly good-look­ing.

Noth­ing like the so­phis­ti­cate it is to­day, the orig­i­nal car lured peo­ple with a cost-ef­fec­tive com­bi­na­tion of de­cent kit, huge econ­omy, enor­mous prac­ti­cal­ity and a de­light­fully thrummy three pot en­gine. Those char­ac­ter­is­tics have largely been con­tin­ued to this day, although the lat­est ma­chine is nev­er­the­less still a beast of quite a dif­fer­ent colour.

Un­der the guid­ance of chief de­signer Peter Schreyer, the car cer­tainly has a raff­ish mien.

On looks alone, it is quite pos­si­bly the pick of the seg­ment and sure makes the closely re­lated Hyundai i20 look dull.

Pi­canto also now has a range of per­son­al­i­sa­tion op­tions which is de rigeur these days, as de­manded by the ‘yoof’ mar­ket.

The in­te­rior has been spruced up too and the Kia is no­table for the amount of soft-touch plas­tics which have been adopted and which make the in­side of the car pleas­ant. In the EX trim which we tested, the car has a stan­dard kit, in­clud­ing rear pri­vacy glass, which is a lit­tle as­ton­ish­ing.

LED day­time lights, leather steer­ing wheel/ gear knob, all the con­nec­tiv­ity stuff you need these days, re­mote steer­ing wheel controls, cruise con­trol, and cen­tral lock­ing.

The front seats are com­fort­able and multi-ad­justable, the five-door ac­cess is ex­cel­lent and the space in the back for adults is im­pres­sive.

On the road, the whee­lat-each-cor­ner de­meanour of the de­sign means it is a very sta­ble on-road propo­si­tion.

The one-litre three cylin­der petrol en­gine is a lit­tle di­a­mond.

Although it only out­puts 67bhp, the power-to weight fig­ures are high and al­lows for some very zippy wheel­ing about. The 14.3 sec­onds from 0kph to 100kph might not seem like much, but it is plenty. And the five speed ‘box is re­ally good too.

The econ­omy fig­ures (4.4 l/100km — 64.2mpg) and the an­nual tax costs (€190) add to the ap­peal in what is a very neatly pack­aged and very wor­thy car for the money.

The su­perb Kia Pi­canto: Un­der the guid­ance of chief de­signer Peter Schreyer the car has a raff­ish mien. On looks alone it is quite pos­si­bly the pick of the seg­ment.

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