Tiny Picanto is top of class

2016 Kia Picanto front 3/4 in motion.
2016 Kia Picanto front 3/4 in motion.

KIA’S Picanto is a late arrival to the micro-car segment, but is priced to cause headaches for rivals.

Although the baby Picanto is making its debut on our shores, the city runabout has been around overseas for 12 years.

The price starts at a tempting $14,990 and the pressure from head office means buyers are in a strong bargaining position.

Or you could also wait for the new Picanto to come out – it’ll have more in-car tech and a different look – but you can also bet on it costing more.

The car comes in only one specification – the Si – and is powered by a 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a four-speed auto transmission.

It undercuts the $15,990 Holden Spark and $15,290 Nissan Micra but can’t beat Mitsubishi’s $14,250 Mirage or Suzuki’s $13,990 Celerio on price.

As with most micro-cars the Picanto’s standard features contain just the basics. There’s a CD player and radio, Bluetooth, USB port, airconditioning and power windows in the front and back.

It has a five-star ANCAP crash test rating, rear parking sensors, a space saver spare, disc brakes front and back, three top tether anchor points and two mounts for child seats. An omission is a reversing camera.

The Picanto has carved out a healthy niche in Europe, where it is perfectly suited to narrow village laneways and country roads.

But Australia presents different challenges. The local launch took us through some urban and rural areas and then a large stretch of freeway.

The four-speed auto is fine around town but on a flat part of highway at 110km/h the Picanto is revving at 3500rpm and pleading for a fifth gear.

Combine this with no cruise control and it’s not ideal for long-distance driving.

There are no complaints about how it felt on the road though – yes there’s tyre roar on course chip, but the car is easy to drive, the seats are comfortable and supportive and the steering is great.

The car felt planted even at high speeds with cross winds, where some city runabouts can be a little spooky.

The engine feels a little underpowered at times, especially when overtaking at higher speeds, but against its direct rivals it has more than adequate grunt.

The Picanto is happiest in urban environments where it will spend nearly all of its time.

The lack of a reversing camera is partly compensated for by great visibility out of the big rear window.

The 9.8m turning circle is super tight, which is handy for city manoeuvres, while the brakes are above average, with discs all around compared with drums for some rivals.

The Picanto is made in Korea but the suspension in the Australian model has been set up for European roads. We didn’t notice any issues – it’s no limo but the ride is smooth and cornering ability surprisingly good.

The interior is beginning to show its age – there’s no display screen, no Apple Carplay and Android Auto – but aside from the outdated look the cabin feels airy and roomy up front. Headroom is excellent.

Storage is good throughout. The boot has a capacity of 292 litres – about the standard for cars in this segment.

After about 300km of highway and urban driving I was averaging 5.7litres /100km fuel use – not bad considering Kia claims 5.6.

Verdict: The Picanto has arrived into Australia’s micro-car segment a better product than the majority of the others.

The sharp price and Kia’s exceptional warranty make it a competitive package.