Kia updates and puts more punch into the new Picanto
Designed to attract youthful buyers, the refreshed model teams sporty looks with a more focused driving style to woo young professionals to part with their cash. But are the tweaks enough?
Well, there's no doubt Kia has worked hard to liven things up. There's an extended 'tiger nose' grille, the likes of which we've seen spread across the maker's range, smart LED driving lights and a large air intake at the front.
Double wheel arches add some flair at the sides, while a 'shark' antenna - which initially made an appearance on BMWs - has filtered down to the city car segment for the first time. What's more, for added sportiness, the GT-Line specification gets some random red trim - because nothing says sporty like added red inserts - and a twin-tipped exhaust.
Kia even went as far as describing the new design as 'sexy' in their launch presentation. Perhaps our definition of sexy is slightly at odds with Kia but we get what they're trying to achieve. Sort of.
The Picanto is Kia's second best-selling model in the UK after the Sportage, so the third generation model has a huge weight on its shoulders to perform. As it's predominantly bought as a second car by more mature buyers, Kia thinks the new tech - such as wireless charging for your mobile, parking camera and Apple CarPlay - will tempt younger, first-time car buyers into dealers.
At just 3.6 metres (the same as its predecessor) Kia has managed to eke out a little more cabin space by increasing the wheelbase and reducing the front overhang but you're still going to wish your legs were foldable if you're sat in the back.
Up front you'll sit shoulder to shoulder with your passenger, but there's ample leg room and the driving position's comfortable.
Autonomous emergency braking - which warns then stops you if it senses a crash - as well as a smart torque vectoring system that improves handling by braking individual wheels are also available.
Three engine options will be offered when the Picanto goes on sale on May 1: a 1.0-litre, 67bhp, 89g/km, three-cylinder; a 1.2-litre 84bhp, 104g/km four-cylinder; and a 1.0-litre turbocharged, 100bhp version of the three-cylinder.
Sadly we didn't get the chance to try the latter -- that one will be arriving later- but with a promise of 6mph in 10 seconds, it should be a riot. Both the 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre are punchy little units and more than adequately powered to push the Picanto along with little drama.
Our pick - but only just - would be the 1.2-litre, which hits 60mph in 12 seconds, tops out at 107mph and returns 61.4mpg. It's mildly spicier than the entry-level option and just a tad more fun. Manual and automatic options are available across the range.
It's behind the wheel where the Picanto will divide opinion. Older buyers looking for a relaxed and comfortable ride will notice the improved suspension and the capable way it deals with nasty, pot-holed road surfaces. However, the sprightly engines, quicker turn in and faster steering may make them feel a little too hurried behind the wheel. It's these very characters that Kia is hoping the younger buyers will appreciate.
The juxtaposition of characteristics is a trait of a car designed for a global market, where different markets want different things. In the UK you may be more likely to find a Picanto in the bridge club car park but in southern Europe it'll be left abandoned outside nightclubs while its owners party the night away.
Overall, there's a noticeable improvement in both ride and handling, largely thanks to reduced weight and stiffer body, but whether that's suitab;e for you will depend on your driving style.
As this was an early test of a left-hand drive model, sadly there were little details as to what options will feature on UK models. The Kia UK boss explained each market is given a menu to pick from and said his team is currently working on refining what they'll take. We do know that this will follow the conventional Kia strategy of 1, 2 and 3 levels of specification and that the GT-line, driven here, will slot between 2 and 3.
There's no doubt the improvements Kia has made to the third-generation Picanto have sharpened up its looks and driving dynamics. In titanium silver or shiny red, it's striking to look at too and will likely attract those younger buyers who demand cool technology, such as Apple CarPlay.
However, whether these tweaks come at the expense of putting off the stalwart Picanto buyer - buyers who'd sooner learn Russian than work out what on earth torque vectoring is - remains to be seen.
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