Friday 28 July 2017

Picanto now the one to beat. But can KIA's new city car persuade Hyundai i10 buyers to switch?

First drive: Kia Picanto

Kia Picanto
Kia Picanto
Kia Picanto
Picanto interior

Cathal Doyle

Maybe we associate them too much with holiday hire cars, or we just feel safer in something bigger, but city cars tend to get short thrift from Irish buyers.

They accounted for under 3pc of new cars registered here last year, whereas across Europe that segment makes up between 8pc and 9pc of overall sales.

The Hyundai i10 dominates the Irish market, taking more than 35pc of sales in 2016 and doing even better so far this year.

That's the rival Kia has most closely in its sights as it brings its new third-generation Picanto to market.

Perhaps surprisingly, in what is first and foremost a price-conscious section of the market, the Picanto's launch price of €13,295 is €300 more than the entry level i10. Plus it's €500 more than the car it replaces.

Instead the focus is on having a decently specced car.

For that €13,295 you get Bluetooth, a leather steering wheel with audio controls, electric front windows and body-coloured door handles and mirrors amongst others.

Step up to a mid-level EX model at €14,795 and there are electric rear windows, 15in alloys, while an EX ADAS version at €15,195 features Autonomous Emergency Braking that is likely to mean this model achieves a higher NCAP crash test safety rating.

Spec levels aside, this new Picanto further appeals on a number of fronts.

First of all, it manages the trick of looking and feeling bigger than before despite being no longer nor higher than the car it replaces.

Styling cues such as prominent wheel arches and distinctive front and rear LED daytime running lights, combined with Kia's distinctive 'Tiger Nose' grille give it a significant presence, especially from the front.

A longer wheelbase - by 15mm - means it will accommodate four adults fairly comfortably.

Boot space has jumped significantly from 200 to a class-leading 255 litres, and if you lower the 60:40 fold-flat rear seats you can pack in up to 1,010 litres.

The interior felt spacious despite the compact dimensions. Kia says it's available with a couple of features unique to the segment, notably a 7in 'floating' infotainment system, and a sliding console armrest.

Overall it's a well-appointed cabin that would not feel out of place in the slightest in a much bigger car.

A 6 PS 1-litre three-cylinder petrol engine powers manual gearbox versions, while a 1.2 litre 84PS powerplant is matched to the auto transmission option - and is targeted mainly at the hire drive market. Both engines are carried over from the old car.

Out of town you have to work the gearbox a bit to get the most from the normally aspirated 1-litre but it responded well and didn't feel at all overwhelmed in fast-moving traffic.

A sharper steering rack and well sorted suspension gave adept handling and nimbleness whether in town or around rural roads.

Later this year Kia will introduce a GT-Line sporty variant which will come with an all-new 1-litre turbocharged petrol engine that develops 100PS.

Specs and prices for Ireland have yet to be finalised, but you'll get unique bumpers and sports garnishing, bigger alloys and twin exhaust pipes.

Two things struck me from this launch drive.

Firstly, don't think for a second that you're being short-changed by opting for a small city car.

The Picanto is very much a grown up car in a compact body.

And secondly, the days of Kia being perceived as the new kid on the block are well and truly over.

Whisper it, but the new Picanto is the new benchmark in the city car segment.

Indo Motoring

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