A city car for all seasons
BRIAN BASSETT spends a weekend with the KIA Picanto 1.2 L EX Auto
MOTORING journalists like to typecast cars as far as buyers go and I am no exception.
Among small cars the three-door models get allocated to students and pensioners without grandchildren, while the five-door models are assigned to pensioners who apparently spend most of their time carting their grandkids around. In the real world things are somewhat different. Over 89% of South African students at tertiary learning institutions are poor and much more concerned about taxi fares than spending R120K plus on a car. Pensioners these days are faced with the problem of job mobility, so that fewer of us each year have grandchildren who live down the road. Instead, they live in Johannesburg, Bombay or New York. In fact, quite a few of my friends have had to buy larger cars in order to drive to their children in far flung parts of South Africa and so avoid paying R300 a day for a hire vehicle when they get there.
The fact is that the Kia Picanto is not made for a particular market segment, but fits all budgets. As proof of this I have seen Picantos delivering parcels in the centre of Paris, in use in driving schools as far apart as London and Durban and as customer courtesy cars by businesses.
And I last week fitted three retired Americans — all Rotarians — into the Picanto EX, which I had on loan from Kia Pietermaritzburg thanks to Peter Hylton, the dealer principal. These pensioners had never seen a Kia before and were as impressed with the fact that they all easily fitted into the “smahl carrh” as with the air conditioning. For those pensioners who do need to transport grandchildren, ditto students from wealthy families, the Picanto is great for them too.
It is a well-designed, well-built, well-priced town car, which has remained top of its segment since it was introduced in 2004 because of its versatility.
The 2014 Picanto is an impressive package with a faceted exterior, which attracts attention and — dare one say this of a small inexpensive car — it is distinctive even in the company of much more expensive vehicles.
The front is typically Kia, with its tiger-nosed grill and flared headlamp modules which lead your eye to the side character lines and the shoulder emphasis created by the rear lights. The sophisticated effect is finished off on the 1,2L EX Auto model which I drove by 15-inch alloy wheels.
These make the Picanto look as good driving off as when parked.
The interior offers a remarkable amount of comfort and space for a small car. The front seats are fully adjustable and ergonomically excellent giving a pleasant ride which makes the Picanto a town car with long distance potential. With a little judicious re-positioning of the front seats, the rear easily accommodated two chunky Americans. The seats are robustly covered in patterned, washable cloth and the plastic finishes are of durable quality.
Performance and handling
The Kia EX 1.2 L Auto has a four-cylinder, 16 valve DOHC engine delivering 65 kW and 120 Nm.
This power is expressed on road via a four-speed automatic gearbox with three settings to cope with differing terrain needs.
Fuel consumption is a miserly 5,5l per 100 km. Zero to 100 comes up in about 14 seconds and top speed, at which the car is remarkably stable, is around 150 km/h. The Picanto EX is an ideal town car and is easy to drive and a pleasure to park. On the N3 the car was eager, entertaining and held the road well. On the notorious Midlands D roads the Picanto was stable, although the ride was somewhat hard. In all, the Picanto EX is an excellent package and for me remains the top purchase in its class.
Costs and the competition
The entry model three-cylinder 1.0 L Picanto LX will cost you R137 000, while the 1.2 L EX Auto top of the range model described above will set you back about R160 000. The car has a 100 000 km or five-year warranty with unlimited roadside assistance and an optional service plan. This is a very competitive area of the market and a little browsing never hurts. Also look at the Chev Spark, Hyundai i10 and the Suzuki Alto, to name but a few.
The Picanto is suitable even for champagne tastes on beer budgets, with space for four bulky pensioners, or two dudes and their surfboards.