FIRST DRIVE The KIA Picanto





Ladies and gentlemen, meet the small car that thinks its a big car. Living up to its promise “The Power to Surprise’ the Korean car giant are putting that very slogan to the test with the all-new Picanto. In fact, so confident are the designers that this A segment runaround will blow you away by its versatility that they have made one of THE boldest automotive statement in recent years. That claim? – the New Picanto is so roomy that it can accommodate a domestic washing machine in the rear. Ye Wha?

Yep, their ergonomics boffin stood up in front of a room of motoring hacks and bragged about the size of its load – the luggage that is, not laundry.
Now, I’m not too familiar with the latest Zanussi or Electrolux, but there’s no doubting that the latest offering is bigger than the out going model.
Thanks to a larger chassis, it adds 60mm to the length giving much needed extra leg room in the back and because the roof is slighter higher, driver comfort is much more noticeable.
Amazing considering it’s not all that imposing.

What is clearly evident is how radially different this funky little machine is – making it a serious contender for the title of King of the City Car.
In fact, its rivals (Ford Ka, Fiat 500, Hyundai i10 and Toyota Aygo) had better sit up and take note as this launch is just the first salvo in what will become a long and bloody war.

Under the technical hands of German design guru Peter Schreyer (the brainchild behind the VW Beetle and the classic Audi TT) the cheeky little imp we all know and love as ‘cheap and cheerful’ has just gone and grown up before our very eyes. But don’t fret it has retained all that cheekiness. With a coming of age like this, some die-hard Picanto fans would worry that the car is in danger of losing some of its character and therefore appeal. Not here.

The redesign, from the ground up, has given it lots of chic and sophistication while maintaining its fun, youthful elements. Take the chiselled, muscular front with the massive wrap around bumper which gives the car a more robust feel and the scooped out fog lamps perfectly compliment what Kia call the ‘Tiger Nose grille.

Continuing with the suave and sophistication the rear bracket-style tail lights with LED format really give it a stamp of authority and you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a much bigger hatchback. But as your mum would always say it’s on the inside that counts. And she’s right. Climbing into the Tardis-like cabin you will be very pleasantly surprised. First thing to hit you is the funky layout which starts with the steering wheel and the sporty ‘smiley in-lay’ which matches the flowing line scooping around the dash.

This touch is sure to become a trademark of Kia as is the Hollywood-style vanity mirror, and ones we are sure to see in future models like the new Rio and the Optima which will hit Irish showrooms next year. Secondly is the build quality and premium feel of the materials used both in switchgear and fittings and thirdly the simplicity of the design tricks you into thinking you’re actually in a much bigger car. Drive-wise, the three cylinder 68bhp petrol, (the only one on offer in Ireland) although a little noisy, is punching above its weight and managed as well through city streets as it did on long stretches of motorway. Now, it won’t set the world on fire but what you lose in poke you more than make up for with economy.

Because it generates just 99g/km, it is in the greenest tax band and costs €104 a year to tax while returning an awesome 66mpg. The new Picanto will be offered for the first time with a choice of 5-door and 3-door, with the latter getting the the more sporty makeover. Spec and what you actually get as standard has yet to be finalised, but a very drunken insider at the launch let it slip that air con, alloys, EPS and a few other goodies are already in the bag as is the awesome 7-year warranty. Pound for pound the Picanto is a fine little car and nearly every fault is more than compensated for. Take the stingy amount of boot space?

This is offset by fold flat rear seats which have been tested to the limits, so much so, that you can now “fit a washing machine in the rear”. Wow … now there’s a marketing ploy and a challenge for us mythbusters at thenextgear. So you have been warned. You better not be fibbing Kia, coz you know we’re gonna try it.

On sale later this month, the Picanto will cost around €11,300 for the LX model and an extra €1,000 of the EX model (without scrappage).