Fantastic Little Car From Korea
Will Buyers Have The Faith To Look Beyond Weak Brand Image?
If This Was A Toyota, Thered Be Queues Around The Block
Manchester - The Kia Picanto is a very pretty, stylish and well priced little car with a terrific interior. It is loaded with goodies, and seems to have been put together with some care.
Unfortunately, its qualities are probably going to remain unnoticed by the great car-buying public because of the weak image of Kia, which is a subsidiary of the huge Korean car maker Hyundai. But given that other Asian and Japanese car manufacturers are making great headway at the moment, maybe justice will be done and the Kia Picanto will be a great success.
The other contenders in this sector, which include the European Car of the Year the Fiat Panda, the Ford Ka, Nissan Micra and Vauxhall Corsa, have a formidable new competitor in the Picanto.
We all know that first impressions are very important, and as soon as I first set eyes on the Picanto, at the Frankfurt Car Show last September, I was impressed. Its looks were captivating and judging from the admirers around the stand, this was very much a majority reaction.
I recently drove the Picanto on the roads in and around Manchester, and I was delighted again. Some Korean cars, even though they are well designed and often provide terrific packages, lack a quality feel.
Not so with the Picanto. As soon as you grab the door handle, it says top stuff. The interior is, well, beautiful, with high quality materials, a nicely designed dash and tactile switches and buttons. You could sit back and think you were in a car costing twice as much as this the 1.1 litre Picanto SE that I drove costs £6,995 (10,500 euros). The entry level model the 1.0 litre GS starts at £5,495 (8,250 euros).
The SE model includes air conditioning, remote central locking, electric windows, front fog lights, and leather steering wheel. Even the base GS model provides power steering, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, CD player with MP3 player, central locking, tilt and adjustable steering wheel and tinted glass.
Kia reckons that the GS, at £5,495, is not only much cheaper than rivals like the Ford Ka (£6,775), Daewoo Matiz (£5,995), the Suzuki Alto (£5,995), the Fiat Panda Active 1.1 (£6,295) and Daihatsu Charade (£6,295), but has goodies including the CD audio player, ABS, central locking, body coloured bumpers and front electric windows which are worth about £2,000, and which are mostly absent from these rivals. And the Picanto still hasnt played its trump card a 3 year unlimited mileage warranty with 3 years European roadside assistance.
The driving experience with the 1.1 SE was quite acceptable. The steering and handling are fine, the ride quality was good, the 5-speed gear box did the job well, and the performance was adequate. Lets face it, anyone buying this car will be seeking a more of city runabout than anything else. But on the highway at cruising speed the Picanto was quiet and stable.
The rear seats fold down neatly to give loads of room for lugging stuff around. There is plenty of head room in the back.
Group Test Winner
Kia proudly tells us that the Picanto convincingly won a group test in the German car magazine Auto Bild, with testers praising the engine, suspension, seating and overall quality of the car as well as an excellent emergency braking performance that was almost as good as a Golf Sized car. It didnt say that that the group test was only against two other cars. But one of those was the Fiat Panda, which I have driven and which is certainly a great little machine. The other contender was the Daihatsu Cuore.
Next year a 1.1 litre diesel engine will be available. The Picanto only comes with 5-doors. The 1.1 litre engine has an optional 4-speed automatic gear box.
Neil Winton June 1, 2004
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