Road Impressions – Kia Picanto 1.2 Smart

As one of its most successful models ever – with the outgoing generation having sold more than 1,4-million units worldwide – the Kia Picanto is something of a stalwart in the ‘A’ segment of the market and the new, third generation, ups the ante.

As with all Kia new model designs since Peter Schreyer took over as head of design, the look has concentrated on a global appeal – and the latest generation is a collaboration between the design centres in Korea and Germany.

With the wheelbase extended to 2 400 mm (an increase of 15 mm), the wheels have been pushed further out to the corners for a 25 mm shorter front overhang, making the car look more planted on the road. Strong, straight lines run horizontally across the front of the car, emphasising the ‘tiger-nose’ grille and angular new wrap-around headlamps. Vertical lines that encompass the side intakes and lower grille enhance the Picanto’s more confident new ‘face’.

In profile, the new Picanto is characterised by distinctive lines running along the side skirts, shoulder and around the wheel arches, although, at 3 595 mm in length, the Picanto is no longer than the outgoing model.

Exterior styling needs to complemented by underbody engineering and I, fortunately, have an intimate knoweldge of this from the previous generation after being involved in a violent crash in a rented car when a ‘bakkie’ pulled out suddenly from a side road, leaving me no room or time to avoid T-boning him.

Other than monstrous bruising and aching muscles from the safety belts, neither of us in the car at the time had knee contact with the dashboard or head contact with any part of the car. The Picanto was a write-off, but the impressive part was the fact all doors opened – ie the safety cell did its job properley.

This happened at a time when perceptions tended to go against the build quality of Korean vehicles on the South African market compared to more established Japanese offerings.

It certainly changed mine.

With a stronger body than ever before, 44% of the new Picanto’s bodyshell is cast in AHSS (up from 22%), while improving tensile strength by 12%. The new, stronger steel has been used to reinforce the floor pan, roof rails and engine bay, as well as the A and B-pillars, strengthening the core structure of the car.

The new bodyshell also uses more than eight times the quantity of structural adhesive found in the outgoing model (67 metres of joins throughout the structure are now reinforced with the adhesive). Overall, static torsional stiffness has been improved by 32%.

With the new car,  the suspension – independent by MacPherson strut at the front and torsion beam at the rear – changes were made to reduce the body roll angle under cornering by up to 1° and enable more immediate reactions to steering inputs.

The Picanto’s anti-roll bars are 2% stiffer and mounted slightly lower at the front and 5% stiffer and slightly higher at the rear. The Picanto’s revised dimensions – with a longer wheelbase and slightly shorter front overhang – also enable the pitch centre of the car to be placed further towards the rear of the car, helping to naturally reduce ‘nose dive’ under braking without firming up the suspension and potentially compromising ride comfort.

In addition, the longer wheelbase contributes to a natural improvement in ride quality and stability on all roads. The torsion beam rear axle has been reshaped and features newly designed trailing arms, helping to reduce weight by 1,8 kg over the rear axle with no loss in component rigidity.

A new rack for the column-mounted motor-driven power steering means the steering ratio has been quickened by 13% over the outgoing Picanto, from 16.5:1 to 14.3:1. Not only does this enable more immediate responses to driver inputs, but reduces the turns of the wheel lock-to-lock (from 3,4 to 2,8 turns).

The nett result of this is a a much more go-kart type of feel along with more solid high-speed cornering and a genuine point-and-squirt going through the twisty bits. Front end ‘plough-on’ is reduced and there is less feel – fear! – the shortish wheelbase might inspire unexpected end swopping.

Inside, the dashboard is now more centrally aligned, with a large ‘floating’ HMI (human-machine interface) sitting at the heart of the centre console and moving many of the car’s controls further up into the driver’s line of sight.

The base of the dashboard has been moved upwards by 15 mm for greater knee and leg space for front passengers.

High specification models, such as our top of the line Smart,  are fitted as standard with two-tone black and grey leather upholstery.

The boot grows from 200 litres (VDA) to a maximum 255 litres and is available with a two-step boot floor, which can be raised or lowered by 145 mm to create additional space as required, as well as create an under-floor storage area.

The rear seat bench can be folded down with a one-touch lever for maximum ease of use, boosting cargo capacity to 1,010 litres.

Powering the Picanto Smart is a four-cylinder 1,25-litre MPI engine that produces peak power of 61 kW and 122 Nm of torque.

While not designed to break land speed records, the Picanto is more than just a city car and the willing engine will hold its own on any highway, cruising comfortably with far fewer downshifts needed to cope with undulations than some other vehicles in this class.

Using similar materials to those found in the luxury Optima, the Picanto seats are now more comfortable and more supportive, making long journeys much less intimidating.

With anti-lock braking as well as a driver and passenger air bag,  the Picanto is also safer than ever before!

Top of the range Picanto Smart models have bi-function projection headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED rear combination lights, electrically-folding, heated side mirrors with integrated LED indicator lamps, aluminium pedals, two-tone cloth and leather upholstery, a leather-upholstered steering wheel and gear knob, the 7-inch full colour infotainment system, Bluetooth with Voice Recognition and a Rear Park Distance Control system with integrated Reverse Camera with dynamic guidelines.

It comes with a 5-year / Unlimited Kilometre Warranty, inclusive of 3-years / Unlimited Kilometres Roadside Assistance, as standard. A service is available as an option through KIA Financial Services.

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