Sunday 17 December 2017

Small way to hedge the future

Change is on the way so a baby car with a long warranty may be a good bet in uncertain times

No worries: The new Kia Picanto tries very hard
No worries: The new Kia Picanto tries very hard
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

Even as the article last week about the rate of change in the car industry was being published, the pace picked up. Ford sacked its global chief executive after fewer than three years in the job to replace him with a recent entry to the industry as the company races to keep pace with the rapidly evolving push into the world of technology.

In a rushed transition, Mark Fields will hand over the controls to Jim Hackett, the boss of the company's smart and driverless car division.

Mr Hackett joined the company's board four years ago and a year later took on the smart mobility job, in which he looked at how the company will respond to developments such as self-driving cars, shared ownership of vehicles and internet-connected cars.

Prior to this he had no experience in the motor industry - he had worked for 25 years with US office furniture firm Steelcase, turning around the business and making it the world's largest player in the sector.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the change at Ford is the result of investor concern about a lack of direction and a growing feel that it has been late to the self-driving and electric car party. Shares in Ford have fallen by a third since Mr Fields took the helm from company stalwart Alan Mulally in 2014.

Elsewhere this week, my colleague Geraldine Herbert reports on the latest Renault Zoe - Europe's most successful electric car at the moment. However, it is still relatively expensive for a small car and the battery range keeps it in the urban runaround category.

If it is true that the whole car industry is going to be massively shaken up in the next few years, should you be putting off any purchase? Perhaps - I'd definitely be very wary of putting a lot of my own money into something that will seem very old-fashioned in seven years' time. Professor and economist Tony Seba predicted last week that by 2025 you will have to pay people to take your old car away. Maybe it is the time to treat yourself to something big, powerful and second-hand while you can, and run it into the ground.

Secondly, you could do what I'm considering and buy a small car with a long warranty, knowing that in seven years' time it will be pretty worthless but I will have had a long time of hassle-free motoring.

That's where the new Kia Picanto comes into the picture. This Korean baby has been picking up a lot of plaudits recently and claims to be better than its award-winning sister, the Hyundai i10, which it has used as a template. This third-generation Picanto aims to replicate the success of the i10, which was the class leader and sold nearly 1,500 units last year - almost five times that of the Kia baby. There are also a lot of sales to make as people downsize and find that smaller cars have improved dramatically and aren't just urban runabouts.

The new Picanto is absolutely loaded with extras and safety features more commonly found in cars a few grades above. There's even a leather steering wheel and gear knob. Space throughout has been dramatically increased through a wider track and longer wheelbase. Kia claims that its boot with a split floor gives it the largest carrying capacity in its class.

Steering is much sharper and low-speed handling is much improved. Prices start at €13,295 but the Ex I was driving is €14,795. Autonomous emergency braking is another €400. The engines are the one litre from the previous range and a 1.25 with an automatic box.

Kia hasn't yet decided if it will bring in a one-litre turbo engine for the Picanto which could revolutionise the car; giving it speed, real pizzazz, GT line flair and torque vectoring for cornering. Unfortunately, it could cost €2,000 more. It would be a lot of fun though and attract a new range of customers. A GT line model with the 1.25 engine will be coming and will have satnav and a rear camera as standard but won't be as good. It will cost around €17,000.

There were 1.4 million second-generation Picantos sold since it was launched in 2011, but the latest version is a great improvement. It's younger, quieter, has a lot better comfort and is more assertive, with a definite modern feel inside. The three-door version will not be coming back and the new Picanto is available in four or five-seat configuration. I'd always go for the latter. You never know when you will need it, although we have never used all five seats in our i10 over the past eight years. But now with three grandchildren the day could be coming.

Overall, the Picanto is the way forward. It's not perfect and you know you are not in a premium car. But it tries - and tries very hard. It's all you want. If you need something bigger for a while you can hire or join GoCar. And with that seven-year warranty, it will take you into the future without giving you any worries.

Sunday Independent

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