I am fairly astounded at the level of kit available on this Kia Picanto Sport. For a smidge under $19,000 there are features that not ten years ago would have only been found on top-of-the-line Mercs and Beemers. In fact, even the hideous 1996 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur I suffered in order to bring the plebeians an insight to how the moneyed live didn’t have reversing sensors, ESP (electronic stability program), or electronic brakeforce distribution like the Picanto does, let alone heated wing mirrors! In fact the Rolls didn’t even have an immobiliser, which the Kia comes with as standard.
The Kia even handles better than the Rolls-Royce. Yes, I’d take the Picanto over the Rolls any day because driving the Rolls (while fun in a sort of ‘lording over the peasants’ type of way) ultimately was like manoeuvring a girder in a bouncy castle.
The Picanto is barely longer than a toaster, and the car’s designers have pushed the wheels as far into the corners as possible to make as much interior space as they can. Consequently five medium-sized slices of toast (with short legs) can travel in the Picanto, but you’d better make sure they are not too heavy because the 48kW engine (yes, just 48kW) struggles up hills even with just the driver in. 48kW in a normal sized car is barely enough to part the air so fortunately the Kia’s featherweight 936kg means that on the flat and around town it’s fairly sprightly, while returning a planet-caressing 5.2l/100km and only 126g/km of CO2. So, with a 35-litre fuel tank you could get the best part of 700km between petrol stations.
A 1.1-litre four cylinder engine peeps up from the tiny bonnet aperture from where it puts the 99Nm of torque through a five-speed manual gearbox. There is a four-speed automatic version available, though it’s not as fuel efficient. Power of this type does tend to require a binary operation of the throttle — either fully on or not at all — and the inefficiencies of an automatic gearbox obviously make this worse.
The Picanto is also more than capable of comfortably cruising a motorway speeds, though some of the bodywork whistled in our test car. I had a fairly surreal experience between Market Road and Greenlane on the motorway taking the Picanto back to Kia. I was following a red Picanto while overtaking a car transporter with eight Picantos. That’s 10 Picantos sharing 30 metres. I haven’t seen a Picanto on the road since.
The Picanto felt safe on the road. 175/50R15 tyres are more than adequate for a car this light, and it cornered like a bobsled. I had a chance to push the Kia on a coned slalom course at the Advanced Driver Training Centre at Ardmore Aerodrome — its manoeuvrability, electronic stability programme and tight turning circle were a huge advantage in negotiating the course. And it even has disc brakes all around (vented ones at the front, no less!)
Electronic stability control attempts to prevent understeer and oversteer, but should you still not be able to avoid a prang, four airbags will deploy.
The Sport version gains a small rear spoiler, black bezel headlights, and a sportier interior over the lesser specification models. Having said that, all models come as standard with a leather steering wheel, alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows and a sports-style instrument cluster.
This car will appeal to opposite ends of the age spectrum. Definitely the older generation will adore it for its practical aspects — easy to drive, easy to get in and out of (because the seat position is high), frugal, 5-year 100,000km warranty, etc. And, I suspect it will also appeal to young city-dwelling females who want a new car with iPod connector, reversing sensors and a swag of hot and spicy colour options like citrus yellow, samba green and orange/mica. Manufacturers like Kia are continually raising the specification bar with cars like the Picanto.
Price: From $18,990
What we like
- Handles and brakes well
- Unbelievable level of kit for the price — electric windows, ESP, ABS, EBD, reverse warning sensors, etc
Things we don’t like
- Rear view mirror is in the wrong place — can’t see behind very well
- It has the power of 20 toasters
- Some of the bodywork whistles at motorway speeds
Words and photos Darren Cottingham
Engine type: 1.1L 4 cylinder petrol
Displacement (cc): 1086 cc
Compression ratio: 10:3
Max. power: 48 kW @ 5500 rpm
Max. torque: 99 Nm @ 2800 rpm
Fuel economy (combined cycle) 5.2L / 100 km
Co2 emissions (g/km) 126
Gear box: 5-speed Manual
Front suspension MacPherson Strut
Rear suspension Torsion Beam
Tyres: 175/50 R15
Braking system: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs
Alloy wheels: 15″
Space saver spare wheel
Steering system: Power assisted rack & pinion
Minimum turning radius kerb to kerb (m): 4.7
ABS brakes with EBD
Electronic Stability Programme (ESP)
Dual front airbags
Dual side airbags
Passenger airbag on/off switch
Child safety rear door locks
Front seatbelt pretensioners / load limiters
High mounted stop lamp
Reverse warning sensors
Body coloured electric outside mirrors
Wing mirror mounted indicators
Heated rear mirrors
Rear seatbelt pockets
Front & rear fog lamps
Front & rear mudguards
Black bezel head lights
Stereo Radio/CD/MP3 with 6 speakers
Auxiliary audio input and cable for iPod
Leather steering wheel and gear knob
Remote central locking
60:40 split folding rear seats
Front & rear height adjustable head rests
Overall length: 3535 mm
Overall width: 1595 mm
Overall height: 1480 mm
Wheelbase: 2370 mm
Min. ground clearance: 145 mm
Kerb weight min. / max:. 936 / 1030kg
Luggage capacity (seat up / seat folding): 157 / 882 litres
Fuel tank capacity: 35 litres
Towing capacity – unbraked (kg): 400
Towing capacity – braked (kg):700