ON THE ROAD- IAN LYNAS DRIVES A SPORTS VERSION OF THE KIA PICANTO
Revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show back in 2003, the Picanto was, and still remains, the baby of the Kia range and it is overshadowed by such stablemates as the highly popular Sportage. Yet there is still a market for this small car which is ideal for urban dwellers and in the past there has been one at our household and the good news is, that after some four owners it is still in action.
This is very much a global product from Kia and depending on the market, trim levels do vary and so does the name, Morning, Naza Suria and EuoStar; of course in this part of the world it has always been known as Picanto. Okay, the focus for many buyers in recent years has been on the SUV, but the small runabout still remains the choice for many, look at the success of the Corsa and I find it very hard to understand why Ford has decided to drop the Fiesta.
Recently, I spent a week with what I would best describe as a sports version of the baby Kia, the GT Line S (available in the UK, while in the ROI a more standard version with a choice of options). The Picanto, built in South Korea, is now in its third generation and the current models feature a number of enhancements; in fact equipment levels depending on the version chosen are very much on par with larger cars. In terms of Picanto power, two new ‘Smartstream’ petrol engines are on offer, each maximising efficiency and lowering CO2 emissions compared to their predecessors. The line-up features a one litre T-GDi (Turbocharged Gasoline Direct injection) engine producing 99bhp, or a one litre DPI (Dual-Port Fuel injection) engine producing 66bhp. My test car had the more powerful engine ever to appear in a Picanto with 99bhp on tap. As a result, it’s a nippy performer and I found the five speed manual transmission very slick in operation. As with the vast majority of city cars, there is no diesel engine because any savings in running costs would not be sufficient to compensate for the higher purchase price. All versions are fitted with Kia’s Intelligent Stop and Go (ISG) stop-start system to reduce fuel consumption and emissions in traffic and as the name implies, this switches off the engine when the car comes to rest and the driver puts the gear stick into neutral and releases the clutch pedal. The engine restarts instantly as soon as the pedal is partially engaged, and this feature means the car is not using fuel and no emissions are released when it is at rest.
The model tested certainly looked the part and stands out from the rest of the range, revised to give a more purposeful sporty design. This starts with the ‘tiger-nose’ grille, which features a new textured surround and open-link appearance. The chrome-effect surround forms a sweeping shape, which extends into the lower part of the redesigned headlamps, and gives the car a wider, more stable appearance. Each side of the ‘tiger-nose’ features a red highlight on the GT-Line S model and there are redesigned headlights and four-bulb LED daytime running lights. At the rear, a new LED rear combination lamp design and a slimmer fog light design, creating a more recognisable rear light signature at the same time. Refreshed front and rear bumper designs with sharper creases in the bodywork for a more contemporary appearance, these changes visually links the car to higher-performance ‘GT’ models in Kia’s range. A larger, wider air intake in the lower bumper is accented by the GT-Line S body-coloured bumpers with gloss black highlights, and jewel-like fog lamps.
The sports theme is carried through to the interior with black faux leather upholstery with light grey stitching and there are satin chrome door handles and a much appreciated heated steering wheel and front seats. Infotainment, a new 8-inch central ‘floating’ touchscreen, giving access to the navigation, infotainment and connectivity systems, which include integration with Kia Connect services, DAB radio and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity via apps pre-loaded onto a smartphone.
Above all, this member of the Picanto family is great fun to drive and handles extremely well; it really does put the fun back into driving. Performance wise, rest to 100lph (62mph) in a whisker under ten seconds and on to a top speed of 180kph (112mph).