Launched back in July and recently announced as a finalist for the 2018 South African Car of the Year (COTY) awards, the arrival of a rather eye-catching top spec Picanto Smart in a colour dubbed Celestial Blue made for a erm… smart sight the equally impressive vehicle that preceded it, the funky Suzuki Ignis.
While it might compete in a totally different part of the market compared to is fellow COTY finalist, what could not be ignored was how much the Picanto had gone from an already good looking little car into something you would want to take a second glance at.
Although claimed to be more youthful than the old Picanto, the newcomer’s interpretation of famed designer Peter Schreyer’s signature tiger nose is all out aggressive with a bulging front bumper, bold wraparound headlights with an LED daytime running light strip, slightly flared wheel arches, integrated roof spoiler and a set of stylish 15-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Nexen HD Plus rubber.
Modern yet compact interior
Step inside and you are met by arguably one of the best looking and indeed modern interiors in the sub-R200 000 segment. Highlighted by a new seven-inch touchscreen display with Bluetooth, voice recognition, USB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, perceived quality is excellent for a vehicle of this type with soft touch plastics on most surfaces, sporty satin silver inset on the steering wheel and gear lever, faux aluminium strip underneath the aforementioned display and even drilled driver pedals.
In addition to being ergonomically pleasing, scrolling through the new infotainment system proved easy with the Bluetooth connection to my smartphone being fast and without much hassle. Unfortunately, the biggest gripe of the Picanto still prevails despite the new model benefiting from a 15 mm increase in overall wheelbase.
While spacious up front with comfortable seats, head and legroom in the rear is best described as tight and really only suitable for children or young adults for short trips. The same applies to the boot which despite growing from 200-litres to 255-litres with the rear seats up, looks small on first glance, although lowering them results in a rather capacious 1 010-litres.
As with most Kia’s though, it is the Picanto’s list of standard equipment that wins it back some ground. On the Smart, this includes electric windows all around, auto on/off lights, four-speaker sound system, multi-function steering wheel, reverse camera with rear parking sensors, heated folding mirrors, a 2.6-inch TFT instrument display, dual front airbags and ABS with EBD.
Frugal and peppy powertrain
In addition to its new looks, the Picanto has also seen revisions underneath the bonnet, albeit not the 1.0-litre T-GDI mill offered in Europe. Instead, the top flight naturally aspirated 1.2-litre Kappa unit in the Smart has had its power output reduced from 65kW to 61kW and torque oddly upgraded up from 120Nm to 122Nm.
With a maximum kerb weight of 961kg however, the drop in power does not translate into ponderous progress even up here on the Reef, as the Picanto feels spritely and eager to get on without feeling underpowered or top heavy. Taking it on the highway was just as impressive with a well insulated cabin and a engine that remained quiet even at the national speed limit.
A big delight was the five-speed manual gearbox which apart from being slick and well matched to the engine, featured a rather sporty shifting action whether going up or down. Despite verging on the firm side, the ride remained comfortable with the suspension coping well and only throwing the white flag on really badly patched surfaces. Another surprise was fuel consumption which came to 5.2-litres/100 km, some way off the claimed the 4.6-litres/100 km, but still impressive after a week and some 280 km.
Already a star performer as evident by the monthly NAAMSA sales figures, the new Kia Picanto has more than what it takes to remain the class leader of a segment where value-for-money speaks the loudest. While the Smart’s asking price of R195 995 appears somewhat pricey, it does come packed with features and a zippy drivetrain some of its cheaper rivals are sorely missing out on.
Article written by Charl Bosch