AS FAR AS toe-in-thewater exercises go, Kia Australiaís experiment with launching the pintsized Picanto last year was a success.
With just one model grade, engine and transmission on offer, Picanto buyers werenít exactly spoiled for choice. That said, Kiaís staff clearly have an aptitude for reading the market, as Picanto sales quickly clinched top spot in the normally price-sensitive sublight hatchback market.
Accordingly, thereís been little inclination to mess with the basic formula. The mostly new 2017 Picanto is still a single-spec, single-engine entity, though this time around thereís a manualequipped variant to sit alongside the established automatic.
The four-pot engine and four-speed automatic carry over, but everything else, from platform, suspension, interior and bodywork, are entirely new.
A 7.0-inch colour display in a tombstone-style housing is the centrepiece of the interior, and though integrated sat-nav is still missing from the spec sheet, provision of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay means you can still put map data up on that screen.
A rear parking camera is also new for 2017, joining the alreadystandard rear sonar sensors.
Private buyers are the target, not fleets, hence the healthy spec list.
That up-spec aspiration flows to the rest of the interior. The toy-like dashboard of the previous gen has been swapped for slicker-looking furniture. Thereís some design flair, too, with neat crosshair air vents linked by a thick silver bar to give it some visual width.
Thereís fractionally more space, too, thanks to a 15mm wheelbase stretch. Front-seat passengers benefit the most with increased legroom, but luggage capacity also swells from 200L to a more acceptable 255L.
Front-seat comfort is good, with plenty of room around the shoulders, decent bolstering around thighs and kidneys, and a height-adjustable driverís seat.
Rear-seat headroom is shaved by 2mm, but every other dimension either grows or stays the same.
The backrest is reclined further too, yielding a more natural posture that should deliver better long-distance comfort.
More insulation material and revised engine intake ducting yields better refinement, though itís not quite up to the task of quelling the Picantoís substantial tyre roar on coarse-chip roads.
And while the engine remains a willing, if not especially powerful little unit, itís the transmissions that could use an update.
Four-speed autos are fairly oldhat these days, and an extra ratio would help the Picanto cruise more quietly and frugally on the freeway. The manual is more versatile, but a spongy and vague clutch pedal lets it down.
The suspension hits the mark, though. Kia Australiaís local tune delivers decent compliance and control on highways, alongside respectable handling for something that runs on ecofocused tyres.
The electric power steering was also fettled. A faster rack ratio reduces the amount of carpark wheel-twirling, but it also boasts a pleasingly light weight and good on-centre feel. It feels stable at speed as well, something at which sub-light cars donít always excel.
The old Picanto may have already proved sub-light Kia hatchbacks could lead the segment in terms of sales, but its replacement demonstrates that the Koreans can cut the mustard on qualitative terms as well.
Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Kia Picanto S 1248cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v 62kW @ 6000rpm 122Nm @ 4000rpm 4-speed automatic 995kg 13.7sec (claimed) 5.8L/100km $15,690 (drive-away) Now
Four-speed auto lets down the team; increased fuel consumption More interior space; value for money; winning suspension tune
The addition of a snazzy touchscreen, reversing camera and handlingenhancing brake torque vectoring definitely enrichens the Picanto experience, but thereís still room to grow. Euro markets enjoy bingle-avoiding autonomous emergency braking Ė on the menu for Australia later this year Ė along with six-speaker audio (rather than four), a wireless phone charging pad, a sunroof and even a 1.0-litre turbo-triple GT. Given that local suspension tuning of the manual-only GT has already been completed, expect to see Kiaís baby warm hatch some time around Christmas.
The Spark has plenty of merit in its own right, with segment-leading power, smartphone miroring and a grown-up feel, but Picanto undercuts it on value.
Upright Celerio lacks features compared to the Kia, but it is roomy, surprisingly enjoyable to drive and easy on fuel. Dowdy design and soggy CVT however, place it behind the perkier Picanto.