Tuesday, April 18, 2017
First Drive: 2017 Kia Picanto 1.0 M/T
The opening montage says it all: Kia wants to turn a new chapter with the all-new Picanto. The video, filled with energetic 20-somethings showed them calling friends on their smartphones, getting a latte at a hipster café, and even high-fiving each other as they whip out their foldable bike before hitting a trail nearby. In-between shots of bright cityscape, pearly-white smiles, and occasional lens flare, the Picanto is there zooming and zipping around, doing what these youngsters want to live a happy, fulfilled life.
Understanding this audience is front and center to the Picanto. Dismissing the frivolous numbers game, the Picanto has instead focused on what the customer wants rather than just delivering best-in-class this, or class-leading that. Initially, this sounds like Kia was too lax in delivering any sort of substantial improvement in the third-generation Picanto, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
One example of how Kia innovated is through packaging. Compared to other vehicle segments, the small car segment has resisted what’s aptly termed “length inflation.” Growing at a miniscule 20 millimeters in the past decade, they’re relied upon for their small size and efficient packaging to navigate through urban traffic on a daily basis. As such, the all-new Picanto sits squarely in the middle of the small car segment in terms of size, yet delivers more interior room than ever thanks to improved packaging.
As with all other small cars, the focus of the Picanto is the front passengers. Two adults will find more than enough head and leg room upfront. It’s also wide enough ensuring they don’t rub elbows or shoulders (Kia actually snuck a 1-liter sliding console armrest to boot). The seats themselves are comfortable and supportive, not out of place in a more expensive car. And though the wheel only adjusts for height, the resulting driving position is ergonomically sound thanks to well-positioned pedals.
With a lengthened wheelbase, the Picanto can actually accommodate two adults comfortably in the back (three in a tight squeeze). And though knees will still occasionally brush the front seats, the increased recline offers better comfort supplemented by the adjustable headrests. Handily, the increased gap between axles and larger rear overhang means a bigger trunk space. It’s 25 percent larger than before and filled with some nifty touches including a height-adjustable luggage board that comes in handy when hiding items while parked.
The prevalence of SUVs and crossovers has put a bit of pressure on Kia to design an assertive small car; couple that with almost unchanged dimensions means they don’t have a large canvas to work on. Thankfully, the Picanto manages to deliver. Using more horizontal elements, particularly for its face, it looks more voluminous while also becoming more youthful and energetic.
The same can be said about the interior where the same horizontal theme contributes to a greater sense of width and space. Aesthetically, it doesn’t stray away from Kia’s new-generation of vehicles and while it doesn’t leverage any cutting-edge design, it also means nothing is out of place. The gauges are legible and straightforward, the switchgear is large and well-damped, and the fit and finish is solid and consistent. At the center of the Picanto’s new dashboard is, figuratively and literally, a large 7-inch ‘floating’ touchscreen HMI or Human-Machine Interface.
The outgoing Picanto is known for its immediate responses and comfortable ride, characteristics which are uncommon for a small car. Now, engineers have continued to push these to the next level while also realizing greater ride stability and even sharper handling.
Starting with the increased wheelbase and continuing to tweaks done to its suspension, the Picanto has excellent comfort and stability. On the highway, it’s composed when hitting bumps quickly and feels planted even alongside bigger traffic. It’s fun to drive with a body that’s always keen to turn into bends. The electric power steering, with its quicker steering rack, offers better precision but can still feel vague off center. Nonetheless, it weighs up nicely and consistently. Plus, with more weight shifted to the back of the car, the four-wheel disc brakes stop it flatly and without drama each and every time. In the urban setting, the Picanto not only has excellent maneuverability (4.7-meter turning radius), but also impressive comfort that’s only unsettled with the sharpest of bumps.
Refinement hasn’t always been a strong suit in small cars, but the Picanto has it in spades. A range of changes help isolate the cabin from unwanted noise and vibrations. Aerodynamic improvements, new engine mounts, more sound proofing materials are just some of the changes that help make it the quietest car at idle or even at cruising speed in its class.
The Picanto comes with a range of three engines, all of them small gasoline-powered to reduce unsprung weight over the front axle. There’s a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder in both normally-aspirated and turbo flavors and a 1.2-liter four-cylinder.
The naturally-aspirated 1.0-liter is the entry-point in the Picanto range and makes the most sense if you spend most of your time in and around town. Though carried over from the previous model, it’s gone through a host of modifications to make it more fuel efficient and cleaner. With 67 horsepower and 96 Nm of torque, it’s pleasantly peppy and refined, thanks in part to the accompanying 5-speed manual. It helps maximize the most out of its limited power and though the clutch itself can be sharp, the shifts are positive and smooth. When traffic parts though and you need a burst of acceleration, this 1.0-liter Kappa will need to work hard and that understandably comes with some noise. Still, a 0-100 km/h time of 14.3 seconds isn’t bad.
There wasn’t any chance to try out the larger 1.2-liter 4-cylinder engine, though it’s certain that the extra displacement would be welcome. It ups the power to 84 horsepower and 122 Nm of torque while dropping the 0-100 km/h time to 12 seconds. The much vaunted turbocharged 1.0-liter wasn’t available too, but at 100 horsepower and 172 Nm of torque, it’s the most powerful Picanto ever. Pity though that this direct-injection (T-GDI) engine requires Euro-6 fuel meaning the chances of it making it to the Philippines is slim at best.
Though it’s tempting to simply provide cheap motoring to buyers of small cars, Kia is having none of that. Understanding that small car buyers can just be as serious as those going for larger choices, the all-new 2017 Picanto arrives with more than just low running cost or even design in tow. Philippine buyers will have the opportunity to try out the third-generation Picanto for themselves as it makes it way locally by the middle of this year. With that, they’ll witness the next evolution of Kia’s design-led transformation: one that shifts the company’s focus to a more customer-centric experience that allows its buyers to live the lives they lead.