SMALL cars don’t have to be Spartan cars.
It’s a philosophy Korean brand Kia has adopted and embraced more than most in recent years.
And there’s no better example of putting plans into practice than the new Kia Picanto model which hits UK streets on May 1.
The Picanto, now into its third generation, is the smallest model in a range that continues to expand – two all-new Kias are due in the next nine months including the Stinger sports fastback.
Recognising that city car buyers do actually want small cars, Kia set about ensuring the newcomer was no larger than the outgoing version yet delivered greater interior space and practicality.
But the team led by design guru Peter Schreyer didn’t stop there. Content in the knowledge that buyers demand comfort, value, style and the latest technology, they set about creating a car that sets new standards.
The result is the new Picanto, following in the wheel-prints of a predecessor that has regularly finished in the top five selling city cars in Britain.
Prices are competitive, starting at £9,450, but any lingering traces of the bargain basement approach that once defined the brand are long gone.
Kia has high hopes for the newcomer, expecting four out of every five sales to be private rather than fleet and 60 per cent of those buyers to be women.
From launch there are modified versions of the 1.0 and 1.25-litre petrol engines from the previous Picanto but with lower fuel consumption and emissions.
In fact the lower powered of the pair has the potential to return 64.2 miles per gallon, with CO2 emissions down at 101g/km.
All are now five-door models, badged 1, 2, 3, GT-Line and GT-Line S and both five-speed manual and a four-speed auto transmission are available.
Standard kit is comprehensive, even entry level including the likes of electric front windows, remote locking, auto headlights, tinted glass, tilt adjustable steering and Hill Start Assist while the higher spec variants really rival the premium brands.
Go for the GT-Line and 16-inch alloys, black and red faux leather seats, sports front and rear bumpers plus LED daytime running lights enter the equation while top end GT-Line S adds stuff like a seven-inch central display with sat-nav, electric sunroof, wireless phone charger and a rear parking camera.
On the safety front the car is built on a new platform and contains double the amount of high-strength steel – forged at Kia’s own foundry – making the Picanto more robust and also lighter.
There’s also, either as standard or an option, Autonomous Emergency Braking, plus Electronic Stability Control, Vehicle Stability Management and Torque Vectoring, which detects when a car is drifting off its intended course.
Otherwise the Picanto’s tech matches its smart sportier looks with, at top spec at least, a touchscreen display with sat-nav and there’s also compatability with smartphones.
The UK press launch on spectacular rural roads through Tuscany along with some dual carriageways featured models with both the available engines.
The three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit may only produce 66bhp but it doesn’t lack zest, is smooth and stable at the upper speed limit and is both agile and enjoyable to drive. The manual gearshift is light, as is the steering.
In ‘2’ trim grade, which is likely to prove most popular, it is priced at £10,750 – and that’s decent value for a car that looks as smart and has the running costs of the Picanto.
I marginally preferred it to the 1.25-litre 83bhp variant – slightly swifter at 0-62 in 11.6 as opposed to 13.8 seconds, but marginally less frugal with 61.4 compared to 64.2mpg – with a £500 price differential.
Those wanting a more spirited driving experience shouldn’t have to wait long though, as a 99bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre engine is due later this year.
In keeping with most city cars there’s adequate rather than expansive interior and boot space, though a pair of tall passengers aren’t challenged for legroom.
Sound-proofing is effective, helping the Picanto feel more premium, and there’s the reassurance of Kia’s seven year/100,000-mile transferable warranty.
Prices are from £9,450 to £13,950 or from £129 a month on contract hire.