Kia Picanto Review

The Kia Picanto is set to take on the micro car segment in Australia and will arrive in early 2016. Though details of the single specification for Australia are yet to be revealed, we had a chance to get behind the wheel in England.

Aiming to re-invigorate the flagging micro segment in Australia, the Kia Picanto could set a cat amongst the pigeons.

Though it will be new for Australia, it's not a new car. In fact, the next generation is due in around 18-months. So why is Kia pushing it through now?

According to Kevin Hepworth, general manager media and corporate communications for Kia Australia, there was a lot of discussion internally about whether to wait but they believed there would be an opportunity to grab a share of the segment in the interim and "can see maybe 300 a month" being sold.

The best-selling micro car has consistently been the Mitsubishi Mirage but it's suffering through a sales slump at the moment, dropping 46 per cent from an average of 650 a month in the year to August 2014, down to an average of 350 a month in the year to August 2015.

The Nissan Micra is down 45 per cent, Fiat 500 down 17 per cent and interestingly the Barina Spark is up 4 per cent. The Suzuki Celerio is a new player in the segment so data is unavailable for the equivalent period of time.

With Kia aiming for 300 a month, that would mean it's planning to go head-to-head with the Mitsubishi Mirage. To get an idea of what we're in for, a handful of Australian motoring journalists headed to London to spend a few days getting to know the smallest member of the Kia family.

Here's what we know about the Australian car so far: it will be available in one trim level only, probably equipped just above the British mid-spec, with a 1.25-litre four-cylinder engine and a choice of either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

Further details are yet to be revealed but it is expected to be similar to the UK spec cars that we collected from Heathrow Airport. At first glance, it's a good looking city car with the trademark Kia tiger-nose grille and stylish contouring obvious in the side profile.

Inside it feels a step above its competitors. There are silver touches throughout the cabin and the steering wheel, though it felt rather large in such a small space, bearing a slight resemblance to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

The glove box is comparatively large too, and the modular cup holders are a practical way to utilise the space in front of the the gear lever to accommodate either two cups of coffee or your phone and wallet for example. There is also a small storage area between the two front seats, no centre console bin though.

Well cushioned and supportive, the front seats are comfortable and only lacking a bit of extra lumbar support.

The rear seats are expectedly small. Though there are three seat belts, it's hard to imagine two adults fitting comfortably behind the driver and front passenger.

The boot struggled to fit one large suitcase, but would allow for the amount of luggage needed for a weekend away.

Kia Australia is hoping to have a full size spare tyre, instead of the repair kit found under the floor in the British specification, which may compromise the amount of boot space.

Between them all, our test cars had plenty of features that we'd like to see in the Australian car, including reverse parking sensors, cruise control, economical 'Idle Stop n' Go' (ISG) technology and keyless start.

We were headed for Cornwall in the south of England, around 400 kilometres away and the birthplace of Cornish pasties. With no touchscreen, just a basic audio display, we used an aftermarket satellite navigation unit plugged into the 12V outlet (next to the USB point) to find our way.

All of our test cars were of the five-speed manual variety, two had a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine (at the slight risk of being presumptuous, be glad we aren't getting that rather gutless option) and one had the 1.25-litre four-cylinder engine.

The 1.25-litre engine produces 62kW and 120Nm and has more power than its three-cylinder rivals the Mirage and Celerio. Fuel consumption is a claimed 4.3-litres per 100 kilometres in the manual or 5.3-litres for the automatic.

Out on the motorway the baby Kia kept up with the traffic considerably well, though its ability to accelerate and overtake on an incline was limited when cruising along near the speed limit of 70 miles-per-hour.

Despite weighing in at just under 1000kg, the Picanto feels quite solid and sturdy on the road the majority of the time. It does get unsettled when trucks or even large vans drive past, and gusts of wind can be felt.

The wind can also be heard in the cabin, there's a bit of road noise too, particularly under the back of the car. However very little engine noise infiltrated, even when it was being pushed towards the redline.

The little city runabout is the perfect size for the narrow, twisty country roads, lined with hedges or rock walls and at times covered in an arching canopy of trees, and it felt right at home.

Moving up and down through the gears on the hilly, windy roads, at times it didn't seem sure whether second or third gear was the right one. Occasionally, when revving too high in second, changing up to third only served to drop the revs too low.

When the Picanto arrives, it won't have Kia's usual Australian suspension tune treatment, we'll have to wait for the new generation. But driving through the English countryside, it didn't feel at all disrupted over bumps or rough surfaces.

Small cars aren't known for their ability to withstand major impacts, but Kia put a lot of effort into improving safety in this generation Picanto through the use of higher tensile steels and reinforcing. It also has six airbags. Based on its results from Euro NCAP testing where it received four-stars, the Picanto received a five-star ANCAP rating when it went on sale in New Zealand.

The Kia Picanto is due to make its appearance in Australian showrooms late in the first quarter of 2016. Pricing is yet to be confirmed, but Kia Australia has said the expected cost will be $14,990 drive-away for the automatic and $1500 less for the manual.

With Kia's benchmark seven-year warranty - provided it's well equipped - the Picanto should prove to be popular for small car buyers.

Overall the zippy little thing was enjoyable to drive and felt more mature than some others in its class.