Isaac Bober’s first drive 2017 Kia Picanto S Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: The new Kia Picanto S looks better, is bigger inside and better equipped too. It’s also much better to drive thanks to local tuning.

2017 Kia Picanto S

PRICING from $14,190+ORC (manual) WARRANTY seven-years, unlimited kilometres SAFETY Not tested ENGINE 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol POWER 62kW at 6000rpm TORQUE 122Nm at 4000rpm TRANSMISSION four-speed automatic, five-speed manual DIMENSIONS 3595mm (L); 1595mm (W); 1485mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE 4.7m BOOT SPACE 255 litres SPARE space saver FUEL TANK 35 litres THIRST From 5.0L/100km (combined)

THE OUTGOING KIA PICANTO is the dominant force in the micro-car segment with 55% of the segment, and that is despite the fact the Picanto arrived late, very late to the fight. Indeed, Kia Australia described the segment as one that was “struggling” before the Picanto showed up; and when it did show up here it was right at the end of its lifecycle (it arrived here in 2015, but was launched internationally in 2011).

Speaking at the local launch of the new Kia Picanto in Noosa yesterday, Kia Australia’s chief operating officer, Damien Meredith said: “The current Picanto was a toe in the water for us in a segment which was, to be honest, struggling. “We believed there was life in the segment for the right car and the fact that what was an ageing model is now the most popular in the segment proved that to be true.

“The new model has improvements across a huge range of specifications and while we are not expecting massive growth in the segment, we believe there is still life and there is still a sound reason to be a part of it.”

He added, “[buyers have] told us that they love the design of the outgoing Picanto, they love its low running costs, its compact dimensions for city driving, the high level of equipment available for the money and KMAu’s industry-leading 7-year Warranty package.

“The new model retains these strengths, with the addition of an exceptional level of dynamism and performance, as well as the latest technologies for in-car connectivity.”

What is it?

The new Kia Picanto arrives Down Under in just one trim level, Picanto S, and with an upping up of features, interior room and safety, it should continue to dominate the micro car segment. Pricing is set at $15,690 driveaway for the four-speed automatic-equipped Picanto S, and $14,190+ORC for the five-speed manual toting Picanto S (the manual is new to the range), and Kia suggests that if buyers push their dealers, it’s likely they’ll pick up a manual Picanto for a low $13,990+ORC.

The Picanto S runs an impressive feature list, which includes an seven-inch touchscreen, up from the old car’s small non-touch screen, and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, dusk-sensing headlights, auto up and down driver’s window, but powered windows right around, reversing camera with dynamic guidelines (meaning they move to indicate the direction of travel), and in a segment first, brake-based torque vectoring to ensure turn-in (when you’ve pushed the thing too hard into a corner) is well controlled.

2017 Kia Picanto S Review

The new Picanto sticks within the footprint of the old car, but it’s wheelbase has been stretched by 15mm to 2400mm which has liberated much more room inside than the 15mm alone would suggest. It’s also meant the wheels have been pushed further out to each corner, which has had the net effect of giving it a more hunkered down look, as well as improved stability on the road.

From an exterior design point of view, the new Picanto looks very aggressive. According to Kia, the design brief was to give it a wider more planted look – design input came from the company’s design centres in Namyang, Korea and Frankfurt, Germany. The front clearly takes its styling cues from the recently launched new Kia Rio, which is no bad thing at all.

Around the world, more than 1.4 million Picantos have found driveways to call home, and this new car is likely to continue the march of the Picanto around the world, and will see it step even further away from its key competitors in Australia. With its seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, roadside assistance and capped price servicing to match, impressive features list and low pricing, the Picanto makes a very good case for itself. And the story gets better when you get behind the wheel.

What’s the interior like?

With a bigger wheelbase, meaning the wheels have been pushed further out towards each corner, and with a shorter front overhang, the new Picanto gives the air of being hunkered down from the outside and roomier on the inside. It’s no bigger than the old car, measuring an identical 3595mm in length, with both the height and width the same too.

2017 Kia Picanto S Review

The aim with interior packaging, according to Kia, was to make the new Picanto feel roomier and a little more premium than the old car. And the designers have clearly succeeded with the interior of the car feeling perhaps much bigger inside than its tiny-tot measurements would suggest.

A few visual tricks have helped give this sense of roominess, thanks to the front air vents being pushed out to the extreme edges of the dashboard, and a matte silver accent line running horizontally across the dash further adds to the visual trick of it being wider.

That said, sat behind the steering wheel, the car does feel bigger than before and, travelling two up in the front doesn’t feel at all like you’re sitting on each other’s lap. In fact, from a driver and front passenger’s perspective, the new Picanto feels roomier than the Lexus IS200T I’m testing at the moment.

2017 Kia Picanto S Review

The front seats are comfortable and getting in and out is easy (the base of the dashboard has been raised by 15mm for a little extra knee room). There’s no reach adjustment on the steering wheel, only height, but the seat offers enough travel for drivers of all heights to find a comfortable driving position.

The dashboard is dominated by the ‘floating’ seven-inch touchscreen, with key controls, like this touchscreen, and the climate controls pushed a little higher up into the driver’s line of sight. This means, you don’t have to look away from the road for too long to adjust the air-con… and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity there’s voice control for maps, audio and even text message composition utilizing ‘Hey Siri’ and ‘Okay Google’.

2017 Kia Picanto S Review

Climb into the back seat, and I did, with the driver’s seat set to my driving position and there was a good amount of head, shoulder and legroom. And while the seats in the back are quite firm, I reckon they’d be comfortable on a longer journey.

There are two ISOFIX mounting points in the back and the top tether anchor points are up nice and high on the seat backs, which makes fitting childseats easy. The big windows will means kids should be pretty comfortable in the back of the Picanto; and so will adults. Despite the Picanto being a micro car, the rear door openings are nice and big and getting in and out is easy, even for six-footers like me. And the fact the seat backs have been reclined a few more degrees (from 25 to 27) means you don’t feel at all like you’re perched in the back of a small car. The transmission tunnel intrudes minimally and so three smallish people would fit in the back in a pinch, although you wouldn’t want to be stuck in the middle for too long; it’s a perch rather than a seat.

2017 Kia Picanto S Review

Over in the boot there’s a standard 255 litres, which is up 55 litres on the old car’s boot. That’s not a huge space, but the shape of the boot is such that you can use every single litre of room. Should you need more space, the 60:40 split fold rear seats fold forwards (but not flat) to liberate 1010 litres of space.

What’s it like on the road?

The old Picanto arrived here right at the end of its lifecycle and was the only Kia in recent memory not to have copped local ride and handling tuning. That’s not the case with this new car, and it shows.

The local launch of the new Picanto took place on some nice twisting roads in the backblocks of Noosa in Queensland and while this might be a metaphorical million miles away from city gridlock, where the Picanto is likely to spend most of its time inching around, it did reveal just how good the handling is. And that’s not something you genuinely expect to be able to write when it comes to a micro car.

Locally, the Picanto copped tweaks to the spring rates, shock absorbers, sway bars and to the speed and feel of the steering response. The fact this new car is 32% more torsionally rigid than the old car and that the wheels have been pushed further out to each corner has made for a much more planted car that really can be hustled through corners. And I don’t just mean hustled for a micro car, I mean genuinely hustled.

2017 Kia Picanto S Review

The new Picanto deals with humps and bumps in the road like a much bigger car with very little jiggle making its way into the cabin, with the steering too shock free across mid-corner bumps. Pushing the car harder than an owner ever will reveals a very well controlled package that’s able to take all the hard edges of the worst of the road’s surfaces.

Improvements to NVH, like extra sound deadening in the dash and weather seals around the door mean that even across coarse chip bitumen the cabin remains relatively quiet with conversation easy.

At the local launch we were able to sample both the auto and manual transmissions and while the engine and auto are a carry over, the manual is new to Picanto here. Despite only being a four-speed unit, the auto does a neat job of getting the most from the engine without feeling like you’re missing out on an extra gear. It’s expected the automatic will make up around 80-90% of sales in Australia.

But, for those who like to drive themselves, there’s a lot to recommend the five-speed manual. It offers a nice neat throw and while the clutch pedal is very light you aclimatise quickly. The manual doesn’t get any extra grunt, but it feels a little perkier than the auto, although that’s likely just because you’re involved in the doings of the car rather than simply holding on in the auto.

The steering is noticeably quicker in the new car, down from 3.4 to 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, which helps to give the car a nimble and responsive feel on the road. The brake pedal is good in both the manual and auto with plenty of progression allowing for easy control in slow-moving traffic.

2017 Kia Picanto S Review

While we didn’t push the Picanto hard enough to find out how well the brake-based torque vectoring works, the fact this car has it, a segment first, is impressive. What the system does is, if understeer is detected, applies the brakes to the inside wheel to help push the car back into the corner.

While the micro car segment isn’t generally one where you expect to find a car you could say is aimed at ‘drivers’ this new Picanto bucks the trend, and is a genuinely fun little car to drive.

The engine is carried over from the old car and is a 1.25-litre four-cylinder making 62kW at 6000rpm and 122Nm of torque at 4000rpm. Fuel consumption ranges from 5.0L/100km (combined) in the manual to 5.8L/100km in the automatic. It runs on regular unleaded and is E10 compatible.

What about safety features ?

The new Picanto hasn’t been tested yet by either EuroNCAP or ANCAP, but a test is expected to be carried out shortly. The safety package includes six airbags, reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, traction and stability controls, as well as brake-based torque vectoring, central locking, dusk-sensing headlights, and ISOFIX points (x2).

2017 Kia Picanto S Review

The new Picanto will be available with autonomous emergency braking in some markets and while it won’t be available at launch in Australia, Kia said it is working with the R&D team in Korea to homologate the system for Australia… it’s a case of ‘watch this space’ meaning we can expect to see AEB on Picanto in Australia… soon.

Why would you buy one?

If you’re looking for a micro car, then the Picanto is hard to go past. It offers plenty of room for four adults and would even work as a runabout for those with young children. The interior is comfortable and well laid out and connectivity is bang on-trend with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, something even brands like Toyota don’t/won’t offer… and it’s great to drive. And that’s all before we get to the price and the benchmark seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.


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