Little Picanto puts buyers in big picture but it is not without its drawbacks
I get to sit in cars a lot. Not driving; just sitting. I could be waiting for one of my daughters, be early for a meeting (I'm getting really good at that) or taking a break on a long journey. I find it relaxing. I listen to the radio. And I watch. Like most nosey journalists, I love watching people and wondering...
Take the week before last. In my little Kia Picanto city motor, I had reason to sit in it at the front of the car park at Foxrock Church, south Dublin, for a good half hour (not everyone is as timely as the 'new me').
And I noticed, not for the first time, the number of cars passing that had just one driver. I got out the little notebook (a couple of people passing by on foot gave me strange looks). If there was one person aboard I'd just write '1'; two '2' and so on. I also used L for large car/SUV, M for a medium-sized car such as the Toyota Auris or Ford Focus, and S for anything smaller. I did the best I could. It is a really busy slot where cars turn left as well as continuing on the main route. I only counted cars heading 'out of town' - not going in. To be honest I couldn't keep pace (I was always a bit slow at the counting). Ideally, I should have had the brother with me. He's fascinated with that sort of stuff. But it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.
What I managed to get down was, and wasn't, a surprise. For every car with a yummy mummy and two children in a people carrier/crossover, there were at least five with businessman/woman/executive driving a Mercedes E-Class, BMW X5, Audi A6, Land Rover Discovery and the likes - entirely on their own.
You don't need me to tell you a lot of people are driving a lot of big cars with acres of unnecessary space. I'm not to judge, but it seems like an awful waste.
Prompting my impromptu, and ultimately over-ambitious, little experiment was the fact I was in versions of the small-city-car Picanto for the week.
That was a different world altogether, especially as I'd only stepped out of a BMW 5-series. It is a real world and one, maybe, more of us need to visit. I know people require larger cars for families, business, etc, yet there are lots who don't. Would they ever consider anything smaller than an SUV or Focus or Corolla? I suspect most wouldn't. Which partially explains the fact, I suppose, that small motors such as the Picanto account for only 3pc of all cars sold each year.
The big question is: Where are all the large SUVs going to fit on our roads going forward? Have you driven through Dublin city centre recently? Road markings can be so narrow there is no way you're sure of staying in your lane.
Be all that as it may, my Picanto test cars for the week had to, and must, stand on their own smaller footprint. With a 1-litre 3cyl petrol engine, I nipped around town and did my motorway/country drives.
This new Picanto looks a lot smarter than the old one - important for those starting out with their first motor as well as for more mature drivers, those downsizing, etc.
I have to say, however, that despite being perky and peppy, I thought the engine a bit coarse. I know 3-cyls have their distinctive sound, but I felt this could have been more refined.
More importantly, you get a workmanlike cabin which has its share of shiny plastic across the dash, decent seating/upholstery, good room out front (tight across the three 'seats' at the back) and a larger two-level boot (now 255 litres). The lower tier was great for safely stowing the laptop bag.
One of the real bonuses is the amount of headroom, which also gives the impression of more space.
All in all, you are looking at a €500 increase on the old one. That's not bad because even entry-level has a good spread of spec.
I think motors like this should really pose a question for someone on a budget of €14,000 or so. Should they buy a used, fresh second-hand Yaris, Fiesta or Polo or go for the brand new (the Picanto has a 7-year-warranty, for example)?
And maybe, in view of my anecdotal observations in a church yard, those spending a lot more on their second family-car might wonder if they could put their money to better use.
Some people also feel they have to spend a lot to get an automatic car. In this instance, there is a Picanto auto (1.2-litre, €16,495) that seems to me to be an option for many who don't want, or can't manage, a manual gear shift.
I wouldn't say the new Picanto makes an outright compelling case for buying a city car but it does make a better one than before.
It's decently priced, inexpensive to run, smart to look at, easy to park and get around in.
All the attributes we seem to ignore when we load up with big 4x4s, SUVs and large saloons to get one person around in most of the time.
Kia Picanto 5dr city car: 1-litre 3cyl TX (67hp), and ADAS EX, trim (two models); 101g/km (€190 road tax).
Prices start from €13,295.
FACTS & FIGURES
Standard equipment includes electric windows front and rear, remote audio controls, Bluetooth, electric/heated mirrors, rear fogs, leather-covered steering wheel/gearshift.
EX (€14,795) version adds air con, 15ins alloys, etc. EX ADAS version (from €15,195) includes Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) as standard as well as front fog lights and faux leather.
There is also a 1.2-litre auto in EX trim from €16,495.