Text and photos by Iñigo S. Roces
Small cars first entered our consciousness as efficient and affordable means of transportation. Yet, with cities getting more and more crowded, parking becoming more of a premium, not to mention the looming vehicle excise tax, going small is now the smart way to go.
One of the first to provide that choice to Filipino car-buyers, Kia hopes to entice more people into the smart and efficient lifestyle with their all-new Kia Picanto. The brand’s popular small car is the latest in the line-up to get the GT treatment, a whole host of upgrades and a scene-stealing new look.
Columbian Autocar Corp. President, Ginia Domingo invited select members of the press to experience the vehicle in a city well known for its bright, young and talented population, Barcelona in Spain.
Designed with the young, sophisticated and very mobile market in mind, the new Picanto sports a very lively look, featuring aggressive sporty design, contrasting accent colors and smart interiors. Unlike its competitors, Kia doesn’t rely on enlarging the model with each generation, but rather making more efficient use of space.
The Picanto welcomes drivers with a modern interior, featuring design cues and equipment you’d expect to see from a higher class of car. Its interior bears a contoured three-spoke wheel, legible dials with multi-info display, and a floating infotainment system crowning the center console. The driver will find sporty steel pedals and steering-mounted controls. Passengers, on the other hand will enjoy the large storage areas that abound in the vehicle, particularly the large one-liter storage space under the sliding console armrest.
Despite being designed for the young, the Picanto is still accessible to more seasoned drivers. Though noticeably more high-tech, the interior is still quite easy to understand and operate, with fewer intimidating buttons and clever design making it easy to adjust both the stereo and climate controls. The visors are also equipped a mirror and dual LED lights, making it perfect for a quick fixup just before meeting friends.
Behind, the broad seat can comfortably accommodate three adults. The seat back can be split 60:40 to fold down for more cargo space. Nonetheless, there’s more than enough room for a pair of overnight bags behind. The movable cargo floor also has two levels, to keep items stored above and under the cargo floor.
Of course, the real treat was experiencing the vehicle on the wide variety of Europe’s roads. With our home base in Sitges, just outside the city of Barcelona, our route entailed driving through the highway, some winding mountain roads, and even very narrow cobblestone and paved streets in the smaller towns in between.
Powered by a 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine with multi-point injection, the engine provides adequate power for the car’s size. Take note that the multi-point injection makes it fussier with the type of gasoline put in, yet the power improvement is palpable. The vehicle took on steep slopes and inclines with ease and had more than enough pep to overtake.
One of the most enjoyable aspects is the vehicle’s improved ride and handling. Fitted with a electric power steering, the Picanto is light to drive on a regular basis. The steering is quick and accurate, requiring less turns to reach each end. There’s also a bit of a safety feature wherein it stiffens when quickly changing from a sharp left to a sharp right, preventing suddenly jerking the wheel and potentially making it unstable. Finally, the brakes have really good bite, bringing it to a quick stop, with the benefit of ABS. As such, it’s agile at the right speeds but can also discourage some hooliganism should any parent have worries about it being their kids’ first car.
At higher speeds the Picanto is also remarkably quiet, stable and comfortable. The engineers have gone to great lengths making the cabin quieter. On highways, the Picanto is easy to keep in lane thanks to the speed sensitive power steering and stable suspension. Passing large vehicles like trucks and buses are also less likely to blow it off the lane. And finally, whether with two passengers or five, the ride is quite pleasant, soaking up much of the bumps and even smoothening out the few cobblestone streets we passed.
This being a European spec model, there are a few accessories we won’t see in our local model. For one, the multi-info display with navigation will be replaced by an infotainment system with a smaller screen but still positioned prominently on the dash. Philippine Picantos will not have cruise control, however, the steering-wheel mounted stereo controls will be kept.
Nonetheless, the Philippine Picanto is quite a feature-packed small car. The youthful design, peppy drive and handling, as well as smart and snazzy interior will easily win over the hearts of young drivers. Yet the sporty drive, agile handling and comfortable ride are something many can appreciate. Finally, with so much thought put into its design, both inside and out, it feels far more sophisticated than just Kia’s smallest offering. It may be a small car, but won’t disappoint in the city or on long drives.
The Kia PicantoGt is now available at P625,000 for the 1.2-liter M/T and P685,000 for the 1.2-liter A/T.