Living in Australia can be expensive. If you’re residing in one of the east coast’s population hot spots, a frequent user of public transport can expect to pay in excess of $140 a month, placing it near the top when compared to the rest of the world.
A significant slowing in wage growth has also occurred in Australia, with a recent parliamentary paper concluding with this fact after deeply analysing the Australia Bureau of Statistics data between 2013 and 2018.
Interestingly, the micro car segment has taken off, correlating somewhat with Australia’s macroeconomic trends. Last year, Kia dominated with an 80.5 per cent share of this segment. The year before, it finished up with a 69 per cent share. Kia reinvigorated the segment with the second-generation Picanto that landed in 2016, quite late in its model cycle, but truly took it to new heights with the new third generation we have here on test today.
At $16,990 drive-away, the 2020 Kia Picanto S auto is one of the cheapest cars on the market. Our tester is finished in Honey Bee yellow, which adds $520 to its MLP. What’s the damage as shown? A grand total of $17,525.60, drive-away, specifically in New South Wales. The price will vary depending on which state the vehicle is registered in if you opt for a cost-incurring paint.
Australia’s piqued interest for micro cars is a bloody good thing in my books. It means that people are able and willing to sacrifice a bit of size for more practical motoring. With its small proportions and lightweight package comes less fuel use and fewer consumables required to keep it on the road.
As a by-product, it makes it somewhat of an environmentally sound choice. Your subconscious green tendencies are also rewarded in other ways, as they’re a hoot to drive as a consequence of being lean.
The Kia Picanto S auto tips the scales at 995kg. Size-wise, it’s just shy of 3.6m long, a touch under 1.6m wide and a bit under 1.5m tall. Comparing figures with a Suzuki Swift demonstrates where smallness has been best achieved. The Swift measures up at a greater 3.84m long, 1.7m wide and 1.5m tall, bearing in mind that the Suzuki is one of the smaller members from the class above.
Surprisingly, the cabin's visual proportions are not adversely affected by its pint-size proportions. With a 6ft 1in driver behind the wheel, I did not resemble the guy from a famous cartoon driving a small red car with his knees up to his ears. Nor did I cop a 'ha-ha' from any school kids for that matter.
Once settled in the main pew, there’s fair adjustment in the seat and steering column to get comfortable with. Everything from the stereo to the handbrake is a good distance away, as to not make you feel squashed. Space is also used wisely, with a lower storage area doubling as a place to store cans of drink, courtesy of a pair of cute flip-around cupholders.
Its sub-$20K nature cannot be avoided, however. The seats are a little flat and firm, but after a two-hour stint behind the wheel, I was not overly worn out. The handbrake is hard plastic, and the steering wheel is urethane. For once, I don’t feel overly mad at these cheaper-feeling parts, even though you’ll be using them constantly. This car is an affordable means of transport that’s priced very well, so it deserves to claw back some respite from utterly savage scrutiny.
The second row is small, and adults will find it difficult to reside there if a taller person is behind the wheel. It surprisingly gobbled up a large convertible baby seat and allowed me to just fit in the front passenger seat, albeit a little compressed and uncomfortable. The proportions in the back, behind a well-adjusted driver's seat, are not suitable for anyone greater than 5ft tall. Unless you like knees in your back as a driver.
Consider the package a just-passable part-time solution to moving grown-ups, and a better full-time solution to moving young adults. Despite a small footprint, its boot can hold 255L below the parcel shelf.
Some variants of the new Toyota Corolla have 217L of boot capacity, so consider that a big win for the Kia. One caveat with this win is the fact its boot is deeper than it is wide, so you’ll need to apply a Tetris-like approach to when you stack your shopping.
A factor to consider is the four-star ANCAP safety rating from 2017. Compared to other, larger cars, the rating translates to not performing as well in an accident. However, there should be no comparison made to much older vehicles, or even vehicles tested quite recently for that matter. A vehicle’s tested date must be considered when in comparison to others. Each year the safety testing criteria move, so a car tested in 2013 will likely not score the same level of stars if it were tested again in 2019, for example. Food for thought.
Regardless of the low price, there's a lot to be discovered when you start digging through what actual kit the thing has. There’s a 7.0-inch touchscreen presenting itself with smooth graphics and a clear layout. It responds to action swiftly, even upon first start during boot-up, which is a huge plus.
It uses the regular user interface seen on other Kia product; a nice sign that the cheap family member is using a system that’s been employed in larger, more expensive cars. It sits proud of a simple dashboard, with a silver piece of trim breaking up the otherwise black cabin. There’s no digital speed readout, but at least the instruments are clear with relevant speed increments to prevent second-guessing.
Just in case that wasn’t enough kit for your shrapnel, its lights turn on automatically. More importantly, in the right conditions up to speeds of 60km/h it can jump on the brakes if it detects an emergency situation you've failed to notice, too. It has rear parking sensors, as well as a reverse camera. I mean, it’s pretty loaded when you again bring up that $16,990 drive-away price tag.
I recall that not long ago, similarly priced small cars couldn’t dream of having backup vision relayed to the driver. They were still using those old-school stereos with displays that wouldn’t look astray on a microwave oven. A reverse camera isn’t unnecessary given the sensors. It’s also not just for ensuring you’re parking correctly.
It acts as a form of active safety ensuring that pedestrians, and more importantly smaller children, can be identified before you decide to proceed. The same goes for the autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system. In lower-speed environments, usually where outside distractions are commonplace, it represents another system that can prevent or minimise damage, and bolster safety. Top marks there, Kia.
The Picanto’s powertrain is illustrative of its intended use, which is around town centres and the suburbs. A carryover from the previous model, it remains a basic 1.2-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder, with simple port injection and four-speed auto. Utilitarian yet pleasant, it goes about its day with no fuss. One of the times where a few more gears would help is at higher speeds, as the engine feels overworked spinning at 3100rpm when meeting the speed limit in a 110km/h zone.
It’s not a powerhouse either, making 62kW and generating 122Nm. Overtaking and merging requires a bit of foresight and planning, more so at higher speeds, but you can drive around it easily enough. It’s not new technology nor sophisticated in any sense, so if you’re downsizing from a whizz-bang direct injected turbo-equipped car, it can feel too fitting to the pricepoint.
Maintaining it comes to an annual average of $389.43 over the seven-year warranty period (you'll pay $269 for the cheapest service and $565 for the most expensive), inclusive of items such as brake fluid and cabin pollen filters.
The four-speed auto is naturally geared tall, which can hurt its fuel usage in moderate speed zones littered with traffic lights. On test, with some stop-start in lower speed zones and more highway use, it returned 6.1L/100km compared to the combined claim of 5.8L/100km. If you do not spend any time on higher-speed roads, expect this figure to be higher.
Would I trade its rudimentary driveline for something more modern at the expense of increased running costs, as well as a higher initial buy price? Probably not.
Light cars are usually quite fun to drive. It’s very, very difficult to undo the burden of mass, even when applying all of the kilowatts known to man. The little Kia fights this good cause, but it’s no surprise after realising the effort placed on the drive by its local subsidiary. The Australian arm of Kia spent the same amount of time working the steering and suspension to suit our terrain as it does on its most expensive products.
It employs Sachs suspension parts, which help keep it planted on the road. At higher speeds, this continues with a sense of balance and required firmness to relay feeling back to the driver. It doesn’t feel cheap on the road, which is another important factor to quash any preconceived notions that a small car on little wheels may become unsuitable at higher speeds.
The ride and handling combination wraps up what is a smart and rational package. For the past two years, over 10,000 examples have found their way into homes. Affordable to buy, run and care for, it’s clear why it has been successful. Does that mean, if your lifestyle permits, that you should follow suit? I’d say give it a go if it works for you.