Australia's micro car segment really is microscopic. And it's rapidly shrinking. Soon, nanoscopic may be the most apt word to describe the segment. Recently, the Nissan Micra and Mitsubishi Mirage sedan became the latest victims of the category, both disappearing from local showrooms.
But, hoping to inspire a pocket-rocket revival, the 2017 Kia Picanto is here to try and re-focus our attention on this long-lost corner of the new car market.
With a new-generation comes high expectations. The 2017 Kia Picanto brings a slightly revised exterior design, new technology, more features and updated cabin, but the drivetrain remains unchanged.
Available in a single specification called the Picanto S, it has a 1.25-litre four cylinder petrol engine teamed with either a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual. Our test car is the automatic variant priced at $15,690 driveway while the manual is $1500 cheaper.
It's a little bit cute, as you would expect a tiny car would be. Although, Curt Dupriez did describe it as 'angry looking' in his review of the two-strong range when it launched in Australia.
Looking at it, you could almost convince yourself the Picanto – along with a select few other new or newly refreshed cartoonish pint-sized runabouts – is the evolution the micro car segment has been waiting for, offering hope still, for its survival.
The sales figures paint a pretty drab picture. In April this year just 489 micro cars were sold in Australia, down 29.9 per cent on the same period last year. The Mirage leads the way with 179, followed by the Picanto at 160 then the Spark on 69.
Year-to-date, 2423 micro cars have been sold, down 6.6 per cent, with the Picanto holding top spot, followed by the Mirage, and then the Spark. The entire segment represents such a small percentage of the market that it literally is microscopic in comparison.
So, just how pocket-sized is the baby Kia?
Well, it's 3595mm long, 1595mm wide and 1485mm tall. It weighs in at a practically-float-away figure of 995kg and has a turning radius of just 4.7m – say hello to having a chance at whipping around to snag a park in a narrow lane on the opposite side of the road to the direction in which you are travelling when you spot the prized space.
Be warned though, the front bumper is quite low and paying close attention to the amount of clearance under the nose is advised. According to the specs, ground clearance is 141mm and the front constantly felt like it was coming within a whisker of sharply angled driveways and speed bumps.
With 14-inch steel wheels, this thing doesn't roll on anything fancy. But that's not the ugliest wheel cover design ever... and given the fact that a greater surface area of the wheel is within kerb striking proximity than something with more rubber and bigger wheels, as well as being a cost-effective feature, they are also probably a smart idea.
The new-generation Picanto has a different front end, featuring a satin silver 'Schreyer' grille surround but it isn't an entirely new shape all around. Not to mention the fact the drivetrain hasn't changed, but more on that shortly.
Other notable exterior features include electric and heated wing mirrors, but the windscreen wipers aren't able to detect rain. That's still a good old-fashioned do-it-yourself feature. Still, it's not hard. Just look for those tell-tale drops on the windscreen. However it does score dusk sensing auto headlights and rear fog lights.
One of the major concerns for micro car buyers is safety, and cars in this segment have come a long way in recent years.
The Picanto's list of active safety features includes anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) vehicle stability management (VSM), hill-start assist control (HAC), seat belt reminders on all positions, rear-view camera with guidelines and rear parking sensors. Passive safety includes front and passenger airbags, front side airbags and curtain airbags.
For such a cheap car, it's nice to have remote central locking and keyless entry, as well as a six-way adjustable driver's seat.
The key to the Picanto's appeal though is its infotainment system, delivered by way of a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity.
The display is clear, works fast and is easy to use. Apple CarPlay is excellent, bringing a familiar interface to the party. The steering wheel has controls for volume, phone and cruise control and fuel economy is simple to keep track of with an easy-to-find display in the instrument cluster.
The dials for the air conditioning feel a little plasticky and cheap, as are some of the cabin finishes but you really shouldn't expect luxury finishes on a budget-friendly city car.
That said, there are a few metallic and satin silver finishes scattered about the largely dark cabin giving it a dash of flair. The fabric on the seats feels quite thick and they are quite comfortable with a nice shape offering supportive side bolstering.
It's a great car for those who are fans of living in a minimalist environment. There's not a lot of storage, but it's so small I couldn't imagine how more could have been provided.
There's a little storage nook under the air conditioning controls, another space at the bottom of the centre-stack and two cupholders. The glove-box is small but uniform in size – no strange angles that make it hard to squeeze rectangular or square object in, provided they are small enough.
There isn't a centre-console bin but there is a water bottle holder and surprisingly decent sized pockets in each door – I've seen smaller door pockets in bigger cars. The mirrors behind the visors are surprisingly big as well, though lacking in illumination.
The cabin is fairly basic but it is functional. It's not packed full of bells and whistles, like digital speedometer, head-up display, climate control or extra safety like autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning. However, it has the basics well and truly covered.
The front is spacious for the driver and passenger, and even in the second row there is a considerably generous amount of space. Headroom is good, as is elbow room. With the driver's seat in my position, I have an inch or so of knee room. While two adults would be relatively comfortable, three across the back row would be a little awkward.
Not that you'd really want to spend too much time back there. There are no cupholders – save for the one between the driver and front passenger where a centre-console bin would usually live. There isn't a centre armrest, no air vents and no storage in the doors.
That leaves rear passengers to fight over a single map pocket behind the front passenger, and that single accessible-at-a-stretch cupholder. There are ISOFIX points on both outboard seats so small families with young children could make the Picanto work for them if they had a tight budget or preference for a small, funky car. The rear doors are small but have quite a wide aperture making it easier than expected to climb in.
The boot space may be small at 255 litres, but the space is quite tall, uniform and upright. The back of the car is quite flat and the boot floor is deep, hiding a temporary wheel so tiny it inspired a bit of a giggle on sight.
During my time with the Picanto I had a bit of shopping to do. With winter on the way I picked up four very large bags filled with doonas, throw rugs and at least eight throw pillows. Two fit in the back and the other two on the back seat. A few large bags of groceries were also piled in and I was impressed with the amount of stuff that fitted in the little runabout.
On the road, it feels more mature than expected. It's planted and drives like a bigger car, batting above its average in this regard.
That 1.25-litre four cylinder produces 62kW at 6000rpm and 122Nm at 4000rpm and it's teamed with a four-speed automatic transmission. But, like when you need a run-up to jump over something – the Picanto needs a little momentum to really get going.
Once you're on the move though, it feels zippy and weaves effortlessly through traffic, provided it's kept on the move. From a standstill on a hill, it is very slow to get going but there is always the option of dropping the gear shift down to first, second or third gear.
The little engine can be a little noisy, particularly as it is getting ready to tip up into the next gear but it doesn't search frantically for the right gear or jump around frenetically, but then there aren't many to choose from.
It can crash over sharp bumps and you'll hear those too, but it has benefitted from Kia's local suspension tune and handles smaller undulations with more grace. The steering is light, and with that tiny turning circle it is an absolute breeze to park.
Kia offers a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with seven years capped-price servicing and road-side assist. Claimed combined fuel consumption is 5.8-litres per 100 kilometres and urban is 7.9-litres per 100 kilometres. Over the 300km covered during our time with the little car which was mostly urban, I saw 7.9L/100km which is bang on the claimed figure for city driving.
Although it isn't markedly different to the old Picanto to drive, the additional features and revamped infotainment system, combined with a great drive-away price and exceptional ownership package make this an attractive option for those looking for a compact city car.