REVIVING its bid for Australian hearts with style and product confidence about 10 years ago, Kia is now hunting the young and savvy.
The pint-sized Kia Picanto arrives this weekend equipped with an automatic transmission, a strong features list and, most importantly, a drive-away price of $14,990.
Young buyers are the primary target, along with downsizing oldies, and Kia believes the pricing and five-star safety rating will lure those away from the used car market.
Another lure is Kia's industry-leading seven-year warranty. That has been the primary catalyst for the brand's growing audience in Australia, with forecasts that 39,000 Kias will be sold this year which will up total market share to nearly 4%.
Fittingly, micro cars form a small part of the national automotive picture. Only about 700 are sold each month, but Kia chief operating officer Damien Meredith believes this new hatch will increase that share.
The Picanto has been available overseas for nearly five years and the Australian operation fought hard to bring the vehicle Down Under. An updated variant is expected to arrive here in about 12 months, but Kia Motors Australia jumped at the opportunity to get the nameplate established.
There's elements of class in a functional cabin. Operations are straightforward and basic while dash finishes are obviously price point dictated, but they don't look brash or downgraded.
Glossy inserts and silver trim which runs across the dash and steering wheel break up a black colour scheme.
The cloth pews appear hard wearing, and the seats have reasonable lateral and under-thigh support.
For the driver finding a comfortable position is aided via six-way seat adjustment along with vertical steering wheel manipulation.
Four adults can be carried, those in the front just need to be mindful of not pushing too far back where it impedes rear legroom.
On the road
Whereas three-cylinder offerings have become commonplace in the micro segment, the Picanto has a tried and tested four-potter under its skin.
It's only available with a four-speed automatic - and that will suit Australian drivers who sidestep manuals nowadays with Johnathan Thurston-like prowess.
Generating just above 60 kilowatts the performance is honest yet adaptable. It needs some encouragement up hills, but will work up into the rev range to get the job done albeit with some engine noise fanfare.
In varying conditions the Picanto did an admirable job while feeling more planted and confident than most we've sampled in this micro segment, ably getting around rural bends at speed, cruising on the highway at 100kmh below 3000rpm and doing so without much road or wind cabin intrusion.
It could do with some extra grip via larger than the standard 14-inch steel wheels wearing Hancook eco rubber.
The four-speed auto can take some time to kick down on inclines, but overall does an assured job of finding the right cog.
Official fuel consumption should be about six litres for every 100km, which is about par for the micro car course. Without doubt, Kia offers the greatest peace of mind when it comes to warranty coverage. Surprisingly, no other manufacturer has matched its seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
Throw capped price servicing into the mix along with drive-away pricing and it sets the value benchmark. The average price is $335, but Kia changes the pollen filter every service, and brake fluid every second service which trumps most other manufacturers.
Micro cars often appear somewhat anaemic, although the Picanto is semi muscular with some nice lines. Styling isn't heart-stopping, but the trademark Kia grille and the rising line from front wheel arch to rear makes for a sharp looking offering.
There are seven colours, but only the white comes at no cost. The six "premium" options, blue, black, yellow, red and two shades of silver, cost $520 extra. Standard are 14-inch steel wheels, and Kia is currently investigating whether alloy wheels can be made available as an option.
Kia has hit the mark at this end of the market. Auto transmissions are the primary target for those shopping in the micro aisle, and to have five-star safety thrown in the mix with a solid features list sweetens the deal.
There are more sophisticated drivetrains out there, but buyers in this segment don't, nor should they, care. Picanto ticks the money-conscious boxes while being fuel efficient, strong enough to canter along the highway and it feels well planted. This is the only car in Kia's range which hasn't received specific Australian suspension and ride tuning, but in truth, it doesn't need it.
Pricing, peace of mind and performance will see the small Picanto make a big impact.
What matters most
What we liked: Good ride and handling, feels more robust than the size dictates.
What we'd like to see: Alloy wheels and cruise control.
What matters most: Seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist. Capped price servicing available over the same period, with intervals annually or every 15,000km, average price of $335.
Model: 2017 Kia Picanto.
Details: Five-door five-seat front-wheel drive micro hatch.
Engine: 1.25-litre inline four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 63kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 120Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: Four-speed automatic.
Consumption: 5.6 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $14,990 drive-away.
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