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Kia Picanto considered for Australia

The new little Kia will go up against the Suzuki Alto and Holden Barina Spark.

Showrooms are expected to next year be dotted with sub-light cars - the best example being the Suzuki Alto - as Australian cities increasingly succumb to traffic and parking congestion, consistently strong fuel prices and creeping car maintenance costs.

Kia hinted this week that the Picanto - a sub-light category five-door - could take on the recently launched Holden Barina Spark in this segment and lay the ground rules for future like-sized imports.

The current Picanto is targeted at European buyers but the 2011 model is predicted to have wider appeal, says Kia product manager Ji-Hoon Han.

Kia Australia is keen. It says while the current Picanto is off the radar, it is playing a wait-and-see game with the next car. "The new model could change the dynamics of placing the car into the Australian market," says Kia Australia spokesman Kevin Hepworth. “We are certainly looking at it and how it will fit here, both in terms of its features and pricing."

Kia next June launches its all-new Picanto and Rio, with debuts expected at the New York and Geneva motor shows.

The possible introduction of the Picanto into the small end of Australia's car range indicates that the new Rio may stretch out in size and features.

Kia - at the launch of its mid-size surprise sedan, the Optima, in Dubai last week - states it is easing out of the budget segment and aiming upmarket as its products mature.

"The Sportage and Optima are the latest examples of our maturing and high quality range," says Mr Han. "We are now positioning ourselves as a maker of cars with value, rather than cars that meet certain price levels."

The next Rio has to be good. It will arrive as a five-door hatch and then three-door and sedan to take its fight into the light-car brigade that includes the Hyundai Getz (and i20), Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Micra and Toyota Yaris.

The new Rio will sport a 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre engine choice - well above the 1-litre to 1.2-litre powerplants of the sub-lights such as the Picanto.