Small car, big feat

Driving Kia’s all-new Picanto in Barcelona

The all-new Picanto is KIA’s safest A-segment car.

The all-new Picanto is KIA’s safest A-segment car.

Long before there was a surge of micro-compact cars here in the country, the Europeans had it good with their benefits that went beyond what’s merely practical.

Yes, with their small engines and diminutive dimensions, they were very economical to run and maintain. Zipping in and out of tight spaces, narrow cobblestoned streets, and alleys was a cinch.

If you’re alone or with just one passenger, they were just a lot easier to get around in.

The first A-segment cars (as micro-compacts are categorized) I’ve ever driven left me totally unimpressed, and got me thinking that those who’d acquire them must be willing to accept the huge compromises: the lamentable power and performance, very spartan features, cramped interior space, and the uninspired design.

With cost as the main reason, everything that could be skimped on was.

All that has changed when I got to first drive the second generation Kia Picanto a few years ago in Istanbul.

Crossing the huge bridge that connected Asia to Europe at a respectable 120 km/h cruising speed made us journos nod in approval, in unison.

The Picanto is out to  become the  car to beat in the A-segment.

The Picanto is out to become the car to beat in the A-segment.

The Picanto felt reassuringly stable and safe, and considerably adequate to be sharing the fast lane with some of the larger cars.

Seating was comfortable, space was ample, and the interior amenities and exterior design was laudable.

It set the benchmark for me for cars in the same category, and I felt it was the huge step up that everyone in the market deserved, and what the industry should follow.

I vividly recall asking myself what they’d do eventually to top this. Well, I didn’t expect to get my answer years later, in beautiful Barcelona.

Now on its third generation, the all-new Kia Picanto is bound to impress those on the lookout for a small car with bigger features. This includes those who are actually aiming for bigger cars.

What was almost totally eradicated in the new Picanto is the small car feel. Well, that may be a tall statement, but objectively speaking, it certainly didn’t feel small where it mattered.

Several significant improvements were made to work in order to achieve what may well be the best handling car in its class.

Two engines power the new Picanto, a 3-cylinder 1.0-liter and a 1.2-liter MPI 4-cylinder 12-valve gasoline engine that are rated at 66 hp and 83 hp respectively.

Only the 1.2-liter variant comes with an automatic transmission as an option to a 5-speed manual.

Two engines power the new Picanto, a 3-cylinder 1.0-liter, and a 1.2-liter MPI 4-cylinder 12-valve gasoline engine.

Two engines power the new Picanto, a 3-cylinder 1.0-liter, and a 1.2-liter MPI 4-cylinder 12-valve gasoline engine.

(Actually, there’s third 1.0-liter turbocharged T-GDI variant available in Europe, but it remains to be seen if clamoring from our end would convince Kia Motors Philippines to bring it in.)

Though the numbers may not be impressive, the way the power and gear ratio are mapped, optimal torque is delivered on lower speeds, which is advantageous when negotiating tight fast-moving traffic in the city, and bringing the car up to highway cruising speeds without much effort, and in respectable time.

According to Kia, the all-new Picanto is the safest A-segment car it has ever built. It doubled the use of high-strength steel on its bodyshell from 22 percent to 44 percent, while reducing the weight by 23 kilograms.

The use of stronger steel reinforced the floor pan, roof rails, and engine bay, as well as the A and B pillars, and strengthened the core structure of the car.

It’s a given that a lighter, stiffer body bids well in terms of power optimization and handling, especially for a small car.

Speaking of handling, the new Picanto’s wheelbase has been lengthened by 15 mm, to 2,400 mm, while its wheels were pushed slightly outward to the corners, for a more squat and sporty look.

We’ve been able to test this quite extensively on the well-chosen route we were assigned to cover, which was peppered with tight and narrow twisties that alternated with stretches of highway, and lots of roundabouts.

On our second day of driving, we all decided to take just one Kia Picanto, of which I was the designated driver, to head to busy and bustling downtown Barcelona with seats filled to capacity.

It was the litmus test, I muttered to myself, for earlier test drives involved only myself and a single passenger.

Surprisingly, the Kia Picanto (1.2-liter GT-Line variant) performed exceptionally well, delivering ample acceleration when merging on uphill on-ramps on the highways, maintaining three-digit cruising speeds without much effort, and feeling quite planted while taking on tight turns and quick lane changes—all while being packed with five full-sized occupants who weren’t the least frazzled due to the comfortable ride and ample leg and head room.

Kia has succeeded in transcending what they’ve achieved on the previous Picanto with their all-new third generation offering.

With marked improvement in looks, performance and overall refinement, the all-new Picanto has got to be the small car to beat in the A-segment, and that definitely is no small feat.

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