From its very humble beginnings on South African roads, the Kia Picanto has made some quantum strides to be a firm fixture and, dare one say it, dearly loved member of the entry-level category of cars.
It is a car that initially raised only a few quizzical eyebrows, mine included. However, a very painful encounter changed that quite dramatically. A few generations of Picanto ago Mrs W and I were involved in a crash in a rental car (not our fault) that left the little car absolutely totalled.
At that stage only the driver had a crash bag. Fortunately our injuries were not life-threatening and limited to massive bruising and muscle pain – the point being the integrity of the car post crash. The engine went underneath, all four doors still opened and neither of us, despite the violence of the impact, came anywhere near the windscreen or smashing out knees into the dashboard.
This incident gave me a new-found respect for the progress Korean automakers were making in the chase to catch up with the standards already in place from Japanese and European car makers.
Next generations of the Picanto continued to improve, with dual front crash bags becoming standard along with other safety and luxury fitments.
Now the Picanto has had a mid-life refresh that introduced the X-Line, the subject of this review.
The new Picanto X-Line features a series of design details that make it stand out from its siblings. At the front, a redesigned radiator grille – a new interpretation of Kia’s well-known ‘tiger nose’ – and aggressive front bumper gives the X-Line a sportier stance, augmented by its LED headlights.
At the rear, a redesigned rear bumper with faux skid-plate detailing and full LED rear lights continue the visual changes, while crossover-inspired cladding, mud guards and 15-inch alloy wheels gives X-Line a ‘Go There’ stance.
Replacing the SMART derivative in the Picanto range, X-Line features ncluding two-tone artificial leather upholstery and a new 8-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system, allowing for screen mirroring services such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system also incorporates a reverse camera with dynamic guidelines.
The X-Line derivative is exclusively powered by a 1,25-litre engine. The engine develops 61 kW of power and 122 Nm of torque and my unit had the five-speed manual gearbox, but there a 4-speed automatic transmission option.
As an urban runabout it comes up against the likes of the Ford Figo 1.5 Ambiente, Renault Sandero 66 kW, and VW Polo Vivo 1.4 Trendline and is the most expensive of that grouping at R237 995.
However, it has the lowest claimed fuel consumption average of 5,0 l/100 km and lowest CO2 emissions at 116 g/km. On test the actual consumption was 5,7 l/100 km and a smilar upward shift would be likely with the other contenders.
It rides on 185/55 R15 tyres (as does the Renault) while the others are on 14-inch wheels and all of them have dual front crash bags, anti-lock braking, air-conditioning and steering column adjustment for reach and rake – the Picanto steps up with multi-function steering wheel controls and power windows front and rear.
The Picanto is the safest A-segment vehicle Kia has ever built, with 44% of its bodyshell cast in Advanced High-strength Steel (AHSS). This super-strong steel has been used specifically to reinforce the Picanto’s floor pan, roof rails, A and B-pillars and engine bay, strengthening the core structure of the car. Overall, 67 metres of joins throughout the body structure is also reinforced with structural adhesive, improving the Picanto’s torsional stiffness by 32% over its predecessor.
The Renault does take a safety bow in this class as it has both traction and stability control standard (an option on the Polo Vivo) and not available on the others.
Since buying a car does come to emotional appeal, particularly for private buyers, the decision process is not an easy one. For fleet buyers, it comes down to overall cost of operation – again, all run in pretty similar territory.
On the road it is nimble and willing, although seriously not intended to any kind of racy fun and games but, that said, it will handle fairly neutrally when pressed a bit through a corner although I did find it liked to ‘float’ a little at higher speeds that even tyre pressure adjustment did not cure.
Still, it’s fun to drive, easy to park and frugal enough to keep fills to a monthly minimum.