The Picanto is a late arrival to the microcar segment but is priced to cause headaches for rivals.
Kia's newest arrival isn't that new.
Although the baby Picanto is making its debut on our shores, the city runabout has been around overseas for 12 years.
This particular model launched in 2011 and the next generation is due in 2017, so why doesn't Kia Australia just wait and kick off with the new model next year?
Local executives say they need to prove to head office they can sell the current Picanto before being guaranteed supply of the new car. The target is 300 sales a month — a brave call given city runabout sales are down by almost a third this year.
But Kia's bravery is a bonus for buyers. The Picanto starts at a tempting $14,990 and the pressure from head office means buyers are in a strong bargaining position.
But Kia's bravery is a bonus for buyers.
You could also wait for the new Picanto to come out — it'll have more in-car tech and a different look — but you can also bet on it costing more if it arrives at all.
The Picanto comes in one specification — the Si — and is powered by a 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a four-speed auto transmission. It undercuts the $15,990 Holden Spark and $15,290 Nissan Micra but can't beat Mitsubishi's $14,250 Mirage or Suzuki's $13,990 Celerio on price.
As with most microcars the Picanto's standard features contain just the very basics. There's a CD player and radio, Bluetooth, USB port, air-conditioning and power windows in the front and back.
There's a five-star ANCAP crash test rating, rear parking sensors, a space saver spare, disc brakes front and back, traction and stability control, three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts for child seats. The glaring omission is a reversing camera.
On the road
The Picanto has carved out a healthy niche in Europe, where it is perfectly suited to narrow village laneways and country roads.
But Australia presents different challenges. The local launch took us through some urban and rural areas and then a large stretch of freeway.
The four-speed auto is fine around town but on a flat part of the Hume at 110km/h the Picanto is revving at 3500rpm and pleading for a fifth gear. Combine this with no cruise control and it's not ideally suited for long distance driving.
There are no complaints about how it felt on the road though — yes there's tyre roar on course chip, but the car is easy to drive, the seats are comfortable and supportive and the steering is great. The car felt planted even at high speeds with cross winds, where some city runabouts can be a little spooky.
The engine feels a little underpowered at times, especially when overtaking at higher speeds, but against its direct rivals it has more than adequate grunt.
The Picanto is happiest in urban environments where it will spend nearly all of its time. The lack of a reversing camera is partly compensated for by great visibility out of the big rear window. The 9.8m turning circle is super tight, which is handy for city manoeuvres, while the brakes are above average, with discs all around compared with drums for some rivals.
The Picanto is made in Korea but the suspension in the Australian model has been set up for Europe roads. We didn't notice any issues — it's no limo but the ride is smooth and cornering ability surprisingly good.
The interior is beginning to show its age — there's no display screen, no Apple Carplay and Android Auto — but aside from the outdated look the cabin feels airy and roomy up front.
The back seats are tighter but at 190cm I can sit behind my driving position with my legs snug against the seat back. Headroom is excellent.
Storage is good throughout with two bottle holders and two cupholders up front. The boot has a capacity of 292 litres — about the standard for cars in this segment.
After about 300km of highway and urban driving I was averaging 5.7L/100km fuel use — not bad considering Kia claims 5.6L/100km.