Perhaps if you asked people about the Kia Picanto back in the 2000s, you would most likely be met with a groan and be promptly escorted to another brand by whomever that recommendation is coming from. Since then, Kia has transformed into a completely different beast, now with a new lineup and under new management – that just so happens to enjoy surprising us with the cars that they unbox.
Speaking of surprises, here’s a model that did surprise us and managed to make us smile ear to ear in some way shape or form, this is the Kia Picanto 1.2 EX AT. It turned our heads sideways and made at least some of us in the office do a full 180 when thinking about this model.
Proportions are as you’d expect from a car of this segment, and it doesn’t seem generic either. The sheet metal is not composed of just straight lines and cuts, which means that you get an angle almost everywhere you look. Kia’s even incorporated its “Tiger-nose Grille” in the region where the windshield and the roof meet, it’s peculiar and interesting. Instead of being straight as an arrow, there are twists and turns that Kia took to be a little more daring, and that’s quite alright by us. To sweeten the pot, the generation you see here is actually a Red Dot Design Award winner when it initially unveiled.
While it is expected given its price point, the Picanto gets a pair of halogen headlamps as standard, however, upper trims will get projector halogen fog lamps. Both lighting fixtures are adequate for most situations. On the other hand, you do get a nice set of 15-inch alloy wheels, and the rear also features halogen bulbs for the lighting array. All in all, the Picanto is kitted out well for its class, and has enough features for your everyday needs.
We do have to remark about the Pop Orange color that the Kia Picanto comes in. It’s not just a generic orange like most, there is some dimension to it, just like a holographic sticker, if you look at it from a different angle, you might be able to see a shade of purple which is even more apparent when the sky reflects off it.
Now, this is where the Picanto does start to feel like its size. With a short wheelbase, you can only expect so much from the little hatchback, however, room for four average-size adults is adequate. On a high note, the headroom for all passengers is pretty good, even for those that stand around 6 feet tall, the legroom in the front is good, though the legroom in the back is a little sparse. The exhaust tunnel is no big deal as well.
In terms of the overall design of the interior, we’re impressed with what Kia has opted to do with the Picanto. It is one of our favorites with regard to design. It’s not luxurious, though, it is not a bad place to be in either. The seats are soft and bolstered enough without being too tight, the dashboard is well laid out with ergonomic controls, and it has one of the coolest deployable cup holder designs that we’ve seen in a while that swivels when you need it. Just push a button and it flips out so you can seat your drinks nicely in the slot. Predictably, the doors, dashboard, and center console consists of a matte plastic, which is leagues better than the piano black finish found in other models.
Cargo room is pretty decent for a small hatchback, it may have a tall lip and a rather small opening, but the rear door reveals a trunk with a fair amount of room considering its size. You can even fold the rear seats for even more space. The volume you can carry is rated at about 200 liters worth of space, however, if you fold the seats, you can expect 870 liters to open up, which is about average for the segment.
This is one of the areas where the Picanto shocked us. On the road, it was one of the better-riding city cars that we have tested. The chassis was very well behaved and even at speed, wind noise and road noise were kept to a very acceptable minimum. We’ll chalk this up to the fact that the Picanto is a global model, meaning that it has to be able to stay comfortable even when going down a stretch of European or American highway, and that’s another thing, we noticed that the Picanto is a car that was built to a higher specification, and it’s noticeably refined.
If we’re talking about behavior over bumps, the Picanto is fair game for its price and segment. Featuring a MacPherson strut in the front and a torsion beam in the rear, the small hatchback returns good amounts of comfort in the city and on the highway. Going over potholes of reasonable and safe sizes is not that jarring. It’s just well behaved.
Kia is pioneering a standard in the Philippines, well say. Infotainment systems are quickly becoming non-negotiable aspects when it comes to cars in this day and age. Back then, digital LCD display was all you needed along with a good set of speakers and your CDs or an audio jack, but standards change and Kia has kept up with and even surpassed the market in terms of standard kit with its 7-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are arguably a necessity if you own a smartphone and use navigation apps like Waze or Maps often. As for audio quality, the Picanto’s 6-speaker-set sounds fair, and well-adapted to the small sound stage that this small car has.
Accompanying this screen is a backup camera that is quite clear and has dynamic guidelines. Kia went the extra mile here to add the camera, but it would have gone the extra-extra mile if it had parking sensors, but hey at least we got the longer end of the stick. Output of the rear camera is also quite good, and also quite clear.
In the safety department, you do get standard features such as the dual airbags up front, ABS, and ISOFIX tethers, but that’s about it though. Not too much safety kit for the highway since this is an affordable economy car, but at the very least, prior models scored a four out of five rating from the ASEAN NCAP which is a good thing by our standards.
Driving and Handling
With a very short wheelbase and a length that is so compact, the Picanto is a cinch to drive. For novice drivers, you can expect to get used to the Picanto almost immediately. The adjustment for its size for veteran drivers will take all but a few minutes, while the adjustment for a totally new driver could be a couple of days. It’s just that manageable, which we will admit is a given for the category. However, the light and rather sharp steering feel allow for precise inputs, and the well-behaved chassis allows for you to take turns at speed with confidence, though not too much because it’s not a sports car, so please drive responsibly.
Being a light car, with a short wheelbase, and a small engine, the Kia Picanto was able to give us some stellar fuel economy figures. In the city, we managed 12 km/L at a speed of about 50 km/h in light city traffic. When the roads clogged up, the number bumped down to about 10, which is still double digits and quite good. Meanwhile, on the highway, we got 25 km/l at 90 km/h which is absolutely great.
The car is a really good fit for the Philippines. Quite frankly, it’s one of the best cars that you can buy if you are into this body style at least in terms of equipment. While its style isn’t going to launch a thousand warships, the overall package kinda makes you smile when you drive it. When we were reviewing this car, it just made us grin for some reason. We don’t know if it was the cup holders or whether it was the handling or the disbelief that something this small could have great NVH, great fuel economy, and even some advanced features.
So at P745,000, the Picanto compared to its rivals has an engine that is quite alright for its size, a chassis that is quite refined, style that is inoffensive and could spark some joy in your eyes, and a lot of features that – to us at least – set the bar on what a modern car should at least come with in 2020.