New Picanto not just a student’s car
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Picanto 1.2 Smart, with fivespeed manual ‘box and 15-inch alloy wheels, so I can’t speak for the audio interface with 9.6cm liquid-crystal display on the rest of the range, but the 18cm colour touchscreen in the Smart we drove is straightforward in use (even for grown-ups), with large, intuitively recognisable icons, understandable menus and built-in compatibility with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Bluetooth, and with both USB and auxiliary ports.
And then a needle-sharp rear image with dynamic steering guidelines pops up as soon as the ‘box is put into reverse - an impressive feature in a car costing less than R200 000.
The first 40km of the launch drive was done in the outgoing model, an arguably somewhat risky ploy on the part of Kia, aimed at highlighting the all-new version’s column-mounted electric power steering, but it paid off.
The original Picanto took a bit of flak for vague steering, and the second generation wasn’t really all that much better, but this one has a new rack and a much quicker steering ratio. The difference was immediately apparent, pulling away from the vehicle change; the new Picanto steers more quickly, more accurately and has noticeably more feel around the centre point than did its predecessor.
Kia has also retuned the suspension to suit the new model’s revised footprint, with stiffer anti-roll bars, mounted a little lower in front and a little higher at the rear to reduce pitching and nosedive under braking. The result is a noticeably firmer ride (although part of that may have been due to the lower-profile tyres on the 15-inch rims) but, rather than being less comfortable, it combined with the sharper steering to lend a pleasing sense of confidence in the new Picanto’s road-holding ability.
We can’t say much about the slightly detuned engine; it takes a very educated pants’ seat to tell the difference between 65kW and 61kW, and 122Nm and 120Nm, from the driver’s seat. Nevertheless, the 1.2-litre petrol four-cylinder revs willingly, making overtaking, even at national-road speeds, merely a matter of waiting for a suitable gap and snicking down a gear. Kia also offers a 1-litre, three-cylinder engine option, rated at 49kW and 95Nm.
Kia has made much of its efforts to reduce wind and mechanical noise intruding on the comfort of the occupants - and it works. On smooth tar the new Picanto is impressively quiet and non-vibratious for an entry-level hatch. But, on the coarse, abrasive surface of the Cape’s newer roads, it served only to highlight the excessive tyre roar generated by the launch car’s 185/55 R15 Kumho radials. Unless you are the type of driver that enjoys getting the most out of even a budgetmobile, the 14-inch tyres of the next model down may prove to be a better compromise. PRICES: 49kW/95Nm 1.0-litre 1.0 Start manual R134 995 1.0 Street manual R149 995 1.0 Style manual R159 995 1.0 Style auto R172 995 1.0 Smart manual R179 995 61kW/120Nm 1.2-litre 1.2 Start manual R150 995 1.2 Start auto R163 995 1.2 Street manual R165 995 1.2 Style manual R175 995 1.2 Style auto R188 995 1.2 Smart manual R195 995 Included is a five-year/ unlimited-distance warranty; while a service plan is an extra-cost option.
Top of the range Picanto 1.2 Smart gets leather seat bolsters and a touchscreen infotainment system.