2017 Kia Picanto S long-term review, part one

By Cameron Kirby, 08 Oct 2017 Car Reviews

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2017 Kia Picanto S long-term review, part one

The new arrival of the Picanto S, Kia's cheapest offering, is quickly adding some much need zest to Cam's now longer commute to work.

THE KEYS to Kia’s cheapest and smallest offering, the Picanto, have only been in my frost-bitten Queenslander mittens for a couple of weeks, and I’m already warming to this plucky little car.

The name Picanto seems to be derived from the Spanish word picante, which translates roughly to mean ‘spicy’ or ‘zesty’ in English. And so far, my little orange spice pot has put plenty of zest into my daily commute.

When fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox, the Kia Picanto S is a very keen $14,190. My car has just one option fitted: Pop Orange metallic paint costing $520. It should be noted the only paint colour not charged for is the Kelvinator-inspired Clear White.

That manual gearbox has me high-fiving myself, especially after my panning of the transmission in my last long-termer, the auto-only Suzuki Baleno GLX.

I think I’m in safe company to say this: a manual ’box should be the first choice for any discerning enthusiast.

However, the stark reality is manual sales are on a crash course for rock bottom, and modern autos are now so good that even ardent car lovers defend and support their choice. The perception is an auto is easier live with day-to-day, but let me, and the Picanto, offer a counterpoint.

Not only is the manual gearbox in this little hatch $1500 cheaper than the auto – around 10 percent of the purchase price, so it’s significant – but it’s a genuinely likeable set-up thanks to a light, progressive clutch action, and an easy, positive shift feel. You can simply breathe on the lever and the Kia will pluck another gear.

I have several more months with the Picanto to see how the transmission improves or hinders my day-to-day commute, but so far so good.

It’s only been on our fleet for a few weeks but the Picanto has already attracted plenty of attention from the rest of the Wheels team, many of whom are accustomed to driving much quicker and significantly pricier metal.

A combination of annual leave and the need for a larger vehicle for my social plans has meant requests for a steer have been obliged for the most part.

But not anymore, for their desire to get a taste of the Picanto is only outstripped by my infatuation with it. My recent move has provided a longer, and much more interesting commute to work that has allowed me to lap up the extra layer of involvement the Picanto’s manual ’box provides.

Inside the cabin, my expectations were for more austere drunk tank than well-trimmed grand tourer, but the Picanto surprises.

It’s not a world of luxury but for the class and price point, it’s a rather pleasant place to spend time. The 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is a sleek unit, and despite the prevalence of plastic, it’s not the shiny, scratchy stuff that can plague this segment.

On-road impressions have been relatively brief so far, but overwhelmingly positive. Kia’s efforts to tune the suspension for Aussie roads have paid off, with the Picanto feeling both nimble and chuckable, with a ride that the Aussie team can be proud of – there are no light-car jitters here.

But the real joy so far has been the engine. The 1.2-litre naturally aspirated four cylinder might sound uninspiring on paper – it makes just 62kW and 122Nm – but it’s rev-happy and plenty gutsy enough to whip the sub-tonne hatch up to speed. Sure, it’s not going to break any records, but it never feels sluggish or underpowered.

I’m eager to delve deeper into the ownership experience of the Picanto in the coming months to see if the buzz from our first few weeks can be sustained.

Tell in-built nav where to go

Among the Picanto’s list of standard features you’ll notice a glaring omission: sat-nav. In fact, you can’t even order it on the Picanto as an option. For the majority of the population this won’t be a problem as the little Kia comes with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone connectivity as standard, meaning its screen integrates with your phone’s in-built guidance. Once you go Google Maps, which is smarter and faster than most others, you won’t go back.

Parking joys

The new Chateau de Kirby is — like any good millennial dwelling — an inner-city apartment building. This means regularly navigating an underground carpark. Throw in a rather obtrusive cement pillar and a neighbouring SUV, and my daily parking routine has become quite a test of the Picanto’s manoeuvrability. Happily, the light steering, great vision, minimal overhangs, crisp rear camera, and diminutive stature make it a breeze. Fits like a glove, every time. Attempting
the same move in a Kia Carnival? Not so much…