2016 Kia Picanto
Kia has entered the Australian micro car market with a small five-door hatch called Picanto that combines cute looks, automatic transmission as standard, capable performance, and an appealing driveaway price of $14,990.

Small city (aka micro) cars have historically been poor sellers in Australia with its sprawling suburbs and cheap fuel. However increasing environmental awareness has seen a surge in popularity of the segment which is populated by cars such as the market-leading Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Micra, Suzuki Celerio and Holden Spark.

As with the other cars in the segment Kia’s primary target for Picanto will be late-teen / early 20s females, with a smattering of baby boomers taking up the slack. Those at the young end of the age scale typically have a three-point check list – cute styling, affordability and the latest in infotainment technology.

While Picanto ticks the first two boxes the model that has just arrived in Australia is nearly five years old and lags significantly behind its newer competitors in tech features.

2016 Kia Picanto

Despite its age the styling of Picanto (love that name, it sounds like it should mean something in Italian … but doesn’t) is fresh and contemporary courtesy of a 2015 facelift. Although it’s built in South Korea there is the European influence that is characteristic of all new Kia models penned by design chief Peter Schreyer.

The bold frontal treatment of Picanto includes the Kia ‘Tiger’ nose design with a mesh infill to both the grille and large lower air intake. The sculpted side features a rising character line with the rear fringed by eye-catching ‘inverted comma’ taillights.

There’s a reassuringly solid feel when you get into new Picanto and entry / exit is easier than would be imagined. The tall styling works particularly well and the boxy shape provides a surprising amount of interior space. The seats are firm but comfortable and there’s good headroom in all seats and reasonable rear seat legroom.

There’s an attractive chrome trim finish on the bottom of the dashboard and lower part of the steering wheel. The major controls are large and well-placed. The steering wheel is height adjustable only.

2016 Kia Picanto

Kia does interior storage better than just about anyone else, with the USB and Aux socket recessed immediately above a phone-sized space and twin retractable drinkholder arms that fold back when not in use to provide a large open storage space in the centre console.

Luggage capacity is 200 litres with all seats in place, increasing to 605 litres with the 60:40 rear seatbacks lowered. There is a space saver spare wheel below the boot floor.

Infotainment features are limited to the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming with information displayed on a small red-on-back screen.

Only one Picanto specification level is offered with a 1.2-litre petrol engine, four-speed automatic.

With only 63 kilowatts of power and 120 Newton metres of torque (at 4000 rpm) from its 1248cc engine Picanto isn’t a ball of fire. Having said that, of its competitors, only Holden’s Spark has higher outputs. In addition the 3.6-metre long hatchback weighs in at a just under 1000 kilograms so even with an old style four-speed auto it is livelier than expected, but an extra gear would be nice.

Fuel consumption is listed at 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined urban/highway cycle. We’ll provide a real-life figure when we do our extended test in a few weeks.

Picanto is a clear winner in an auto-vs-auto affordability comparison with a driveaway price that will remain until the new model arrives next year. It has Kia’s industry-leading seven-year / unlimited kilometre warranty.

Cost-savings have been made with the omission of features such as cruise control and reversing camera, neither of which we see as being critical in a car of this size. It does get rear parking sensors.

The little Kia has achieved an ANCAP five-star safety rating. It has six airbags; ABS brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist; stability and traction control; hill-start assist; daytime running lights; outer rear seat IsoFix anchorage points; and a high-mounted rear stop light with emergency-stop signal.

In line what will be its typical urban habitat Kia launched Picanto to the media in the nation’s capital with a small dose of rural terrain to add some variety. Around town it’s sharp, nimble and easy to park with good driver visibility all round. Our only issue came when we left the city, no problems on the flat but the old four-speed auto struggled to find the right cog on hilly terrain.

Kia Australia is brimming with confidence at the moment on the back of three category wins in the 2015 ABC Best Cars awards and March year-to-date sales that are up by 21.6 per cent on the same period last year.

That confidence has been extended to Picanto with predicted sales of 300 units a month. Given that Mirage is still the segment’s top-seller at the end of the first quarter of 2016, and is averaging less than 200 per month, it’s a big call. But credit to Kia for making it – not many car companies do so nowadays.

Clearly the value equation will have a major influence on Kia’s sales target and that, combined with the 5-star ANCAP rating and seven-year warranty makes for an inviting package to parents looking to purchase an attractive, safe and competent first car for their children.

About Alistair Kennedy

Alistair Kennedy is Automotive News Service and Marque Publishing's business manager and the company's jack-of-all-trades. An accountant by profession, he designs the Marque range of motoring book titles, operates the company's motoring bookshop on the NSW Central Coast and the associated web site, as well as its huge digital and hard copy database. Whenever we can escape from the office he does so to cover new vehicle releases and contributes news stories. Alistair's other interests include cricket and family history on which he has written three books.
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