Life Motoring

Monday 11 December 2017

Does my boot look big in this?

RATING 84/100

It is one of the strangest phenomena linked to my comings and goings with cars – and I’m as puzzled today as I was when I started out. Maybe you have experienced the same thing.

How is it that as soon as I drive the latest version of a car, I seem to see nearly every one of its predecessors on the road. It is almost as if someone somewhere sends out a message to all its five-door first cousins, three-door uncles, hatchback aunts, four-door grandfathers and crossover nieces to get out there and welcome the new arrival. Honestly, from hardly ever noticing the presence of the old Picantos on the road, all of a sudden they were everywhere I looked as I sported this new one around the country.

One even had the temerity to pass me on the south quays in Dublin (not a good idea that, as lights have been known to flash from the back of a white van followed some days later by a letter in the post. Anyway, this new Picanto is quite significantly different from the old one. Believe me, I’ve seen enough of them to know that for sure. It’s tall, angular, eye-catching and roomy – I don’t think I know of any other car where the rear doors appear so close to the back bumper. It’s quite extraordinary. Yet there is a decent enough boot – far better than some rivals. That’s all possible largely because there’s an extended wheelbase. The reason I’m going on about this is that usually these small cars have to seriously compromise on either rearseat room or boot space.

In this case I felt there was less compromise and more room. A good start. Under the bonnet was a three-cylinder bubbly engine that bore the brunt of two long, hard-drive journeys with admirable aplomb. It is a grand little operation and with emissions of just 99g/km it is likely to attract the lowest road-tax penalty in this country for some time to come. I had plenty of room in a cabin that, considering the sort of car we’re talking about here, was bestowed with stuff that much bigger and more expensive motors were boasting about only a few years ago. Forget the proliferation of airbags (six including curtain ones), this also has a system called hill-start assist control (HAC). It’s an automatic function that keeps your car from rolling back down the hill when you are starting off. Look, it happens to us all betimes, so a bit of engineering help is welcome.

There are active front seat head restraints to help protect against whiplash if someone gives you a shunt from behind. And judging by the way I see some people driving, I’m surprised there isn’t more of that. Some drivers seem to have no idea of how desperately easy it is to ram into the rear bumper of the car in front – seeing as they are trailing it by a matter of a few inches. I think tailgating is nearing epidemic proportions. Which is why I would value another item on the Picanto called the ESS (Emergency Stop Signal). This works on the basis that sensors detect when the driver is braking quickly and with real strength. When that happens the ESS gets the brake lights flashing like mad to keep the tail-gating devil from ploughing into you. Remember this is all in a small city car. And there is a seven-year warranty. Decent package, without a doubt.

Not bad to drive either, by any means, though a bit boomy in the cabin on the open road. And a bit choppy on the poorer surfaces – the Ford Ka, for example, is a livelier driver – but nothing to get upset about. The suspension and running gear are evolved from the previous model. There was a nice crispness to it. I’d have liked a bit more rear visibility, but that is always a problem in cars like this and while it was easy to park, you wouldn’t turn it on a sixpence. Look, I could nitpick to my heart’s content but when you go into the dealer, there are just three or four things that are likely to be impressed on you. In no particular order they are as follows: the look of the car, the space and equipment, the price and the seven-year warranty. No one else can match the latter and in this day and age I think it carries a lot of clout.

Other cars are better in some departments, some are worse, but as a package this bows to no one. And it is far better than the old one. Maybe now I won’t be haunted by as many of them.

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