Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
City cars haven’t always enjoyed the support of Australian new car buyers. This is a strange phenomenon, our cities are growing putting a high premium on space yet we continue to buy big. Local tastes are in stark contrast to our European cousins, where there’s a high level of respect reserved for city cars and the benefits they bring.
Looking back at city cars of yesteryear is a rather revealing undertaking. The problem with city cars of the past was they were generally stripped out, feature-starved models that weren’t overly appealing on any measure except price.
Manufacturers are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The city car segment is very price sensitive, meaning that presenting a sharp initial purchase price, strong equipment levels and low ongoing ownership costs is a delicate balancing act. Keeping all these plates spinning is a difficult task.
None of these issues have prevented the release of the all-new 2018 Kia Picanto, a model tasked with bringing some much-needed energy and competition into the city car space. Kia has been brave and is purposefully chasing young and young-at-heart buyers.
This third-generation Picanto isn’t a paired back offering, it comes to the market with a three-page spec sheet that cleverly prioritises new technology and safety over unnecessary fashion.
Standard equipment includes daytime running lights, automatic headlights, reverse parking sensors, cruise control, rear view camera and a 7.0-inch infotainment system with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Kia is attempting to overcome the misconception that city cars are not as good as large cars where safety is concerned. The Picanto uses a bodyshell made from a higher proportion of Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) which improves tensile strength by 12 per cent.
Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) is also included which is remarkable in a car at this price. Speaking of which, the Picanto with an automatic transmission is currently listed at $15,690 drive away.
The Picanto’s new exterior loses some of the cutesy looks of the outgoing model. The tiger-nose grille and new headlamps give it some additional personality.
It’s inside the cabin where the biggest changes have been made. The interior has gone upmarket with a premium look. Yes, the plastics on the dash are hard, but the overall aesthetic is a good one. The only cheap looking part is the top of the gear selector.
All the Picanto’s controls have a crisp positive action that establishes feelings of high build quality.
The infotainment system is intuitive and well featured. The inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology makes most of the inbuilt system redundant.
Importantly, the interior of the Picanto can accommodate four travellers provided those up front aren't likely to line up against Andrew Bogut.
The upright seating position that Australians can't get enough of is present in the Picanto. The front seats are slightly elevated meaning occupants won't feel like they are sitting on the floor pan.
Now there are a few easy to live with compromises. Old-school steelies with plastic covers fill the wheel arches and there’s no centre armrest or digital speedo for the driver.
Kia takes the time to locally tune its cars to deliver the most appropriate setup for local conditions. Delivering a bespoke steering and suspension package for Australian roads might sound like a good marketing tool, but it does make a difference.
A great deal of engineering work has been done to improve the Picanto’s driving experience. The rear suspension geometry has been enhanced, the torsion beam rear axle has been reshaped, there is also a new steering rack and a class first - torque vectoring by braking.
With very little weight to hold the Picanto down, the torque vectoring by braking technology improves stability during hard cornering by reducing understeer. The system works well to keep the car grounded while pushing through the bends.
Powering the Picanto is a 1.25-litre engine that can pump out 62kW of power and 122Nm of torque. The numbers may seem modest in isolation, but the Picanto doesn’t want for performance. Being light on the scales means it doesn’t need masses of power to overcome excessive weight.
Around town, the Picanto feels relatively sporty. It’s agile and comfortable in city traffic and a cinch to get in and out of the most trepidatious parking situations.
There is now a manual transmission option for the traditionalists, but being a city car the auto is the way to go, especially if you enjoy some warm libation on the morning commute.
The four-speed automatic gets the job done, however, it does feel a ratio short down low. It holds onto first gear for what seems like an age when you're trying to hustle off the line. The upside of this is the car feels like it’s moving faster than what it actually is.
Manoeuvrability is one of the Picanto’s real strengths when navigating the concrete jungle. The steering is perfectly calibrated for low-speed driving.
What is surprising is how refined the Picanto is at higher speeds. As the speed heads north, so does the noise, but not to the level expected in a car of this size.
Overall levels of noise, vibration and harshness have been addressed by the integration of a new soundproofing panel beneath the dashboard and in the floor, a sound-absorbent engine cover, a reshaped air intake and expandable sound-absorbent foam is now housed in the base of the A- and B-pillars.
The engine mounts have been revised to reduce vibration and to ensure no stone has been left unturned in the pursuit of a quiet ride, the windscreen wipers have been lowered by 6mm to reduce the amount of noise generated at the base of the windscreen. All of these measures make a significant difference in a city car.
After a week of testing that covered 960 kilometres, which included a long highway stint to assess the success of the Picanto’s refinement credentials, fuel consumption was recorded at 5.8L/100km. This return equals the combined claimed consumption figure.
Kia offers the most comprehensive ownership package in the Australian new car market, beginning with a seven-year capped price service program. The Picanto requires servicing every 12 months/15,000km with prices averaging $365 for each trip to the dealership hoist.
As a bonus, each service conducted at an authorised dealer extends Kia’s Roadside Assist program for an additional 12 months. Continued yearly maintenance at a Kia dealer will see this coverage ongoing to match the seven-year service program.
Lucky number seven doesn’t stop there, the Picanto is covered by a seven year/unlimited kilometre warranty. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.
The all-new Picanto serves as a reminder why Kia is the fastest growing car brand in Australia. Unbelievably, the three plates representing a sharp purchase price, strong equipment levels and low ongoing ownership costs are all in the air and spinning. Ticking all of these boxes makes the Picanto a compelling city car.  It also proves many a girlfriend right, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it that counts.
2018 Kia Picanto Specifications
Price from $15,690 drive away (auto) Engine 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 62kW @ 6000rpm Torque 122Nm @ 4000rpm Transmission four-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 5.8L/100km Tank Capacity 35L Length 3595mm Width 1595mm Height 1485mm Wheelbase 2400mm Performance 0-100km 12 seconds Turning Circle 4.7m Tare Weight 995kg Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Warranty seven year/unlimited kilometre