A city car for all sea­sons

BRIAN BAS­SETT spends a week­end with the KIA Pi­canto 1.2 L EX Auto

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

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.

Styling

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.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

The Pi­canto is suit­able even for cham­pagne tastes on beer bud­gets, with space for four bulky pen­sion­ers, or two dudes and their surf­boards.

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