Mazda 2 2017 review
The Mazda2 is the favourite small hatch for private buyers. While others have fallen away, the 2 has held firm, its stylish sheetmetal and quality interior setting it apart in its class.
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For many, micro cars are probably not top-of-mind when it comes to spangling new vehicles. But they're often front-and-centre for young, first new car buyers, as well as a more mature group looking for reliable, comfortable and convenient transport.
And on that basis, you have to hope the little Kia Picanto is going to be a dependable companion that will stand the test of time.
On first impression, things are good: there's a whole bunch of standard kit, there's a seven year/unlimited km warranty, and it even comes with Auto Emergency Braking (AEB). Impressive, considering it lists at a dash over $14,000 plus on-roads.
But is there any substance behind the gadgetry - some good-old honest machinery. Or is it all just a facade?
Put simply, anyone can make a car and fill it with toys to make it look good. But making a basic, comfortable runabout... that's what some people are more interested in.
So on that basis, is the Picanto a viable option?
First off there's the looks. As I found out, while emerging from my dilapidated bachelor pad on Saturday morning, the styling probably won't make you go weak at the knees. It's a relatively tidy design - one that looks much better than the out-going model. But the front and rear seem to have been created by different design groups. It doesn't look 'tied together' somehow.
I can see the designers tried to further spice up the micro-car segment, but I think it just looks like a rental with funky headlights. Each to their own, I guess.
Not that you could argue the outside is all bad; the dimensions of the vehicle are tiny. And that means it's a gem to park and a pleasure to dart through traffic. Brilliant, in a 'self-preservation society' type of way.
It continues on the inside, too. There's the raft of hard, scratchy plastics that you'd expect from a car in an entry-level price-bracket, but the interior is lifted nicely by Kia's 'floating' 7.0-inch touchscreen. No, it doesn't feature in-built sat nav, but it does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality which makes the maps app available on-screen. Everybody loves that.
There's also a handy display button that kills the screen at any time. It's not that amazing, I know, but it's far better than having it located in a menu, then a sub-menu, inside a sub-menu. Which, unfortunately, seems to be common practice currently.
I particularly like the air conditioning and rear de-mist buttons. Instead of hiding in the dash as boring, flush-fitting switchgear, they hang out as big, fat buttons. Like a fighter jet. Cooool.
The ergonomics are spot-on, too. The indicators are easy to use, the controls feel good and are where you'd expect them to be, plus the instruments are all clear, concise, and easy to read. Everything is laid out in a purely functional way, yet it manages to look pretty good.
This quality was also reflected on the open road. Pulling out onto the street and heading for Orange in Central-West, NSW, the 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol engine pootled me along with little noise and vibration. There isn't a huge amount of power in reserve – the Picanto makes a grand total of 62kW at 6000rpm and 122Nm at 4000rpm – but it's at least delivered with relative smoothness and linearity.
Naturally, such an engine requires a bit of 'motivation' for high-speed overtakes, particularly in the deeper bowels of the Old Bells Line of Road in the Blue Mountains, but the little multi-point injected unit got up and worked hard without dismantling the entire cabin and blowing out my ears.
It's reasonably geared, too. In the five-speed manual version tested, the engine turned over at a comfortable 2750rpm per 100km/h – great for the highway. While it would've been nice to have a six-speed 'box – something that's becoming more and more commonplace – the gearing was at least efficiently spread across the range.
That can't be said for the automatic, unfortunately. When the four-speed variant passed through the CarsGuide garage recently I found it to be as sluggish as modern transmissions get. Best to avoid that one.
The manual also has the auto knocked for fuel efficiency. We found that the Picanto would sip just 4.8L/100km on the highway and 5.0L/100km in towns and city suburbs.
Like most of the offerings in the micro-car class – with the exception of the 1.2-litre Fiat 500 – the Picanto will be happy to take 91 octane fuel, too, so that's another plus.
But while the Picanto's strengths lie in its confidence-inspiring warranty, the Holden Spark's five-star ANCAP safety rating (the Picanto scores four), and the driving enjoyment of the effervescent Mazda2 make it a difficult tug-of-war.
For your money you get the 7.0-inch touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay/Android auto and Bluetooth), a reversing camera with rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic headlights, front and rear fog lights, two ISOFIX anchor points in the rear, and AEB. You also get a neat hill-holder function on this manual variant.
The only option you can get on the Picanto is premium paint ($520) – which seven of the eight paint schemes are – and an automatic transmission ($1500).
It's also important to note that while the Picanto comes with AEB as standard - and is the cheapest car in Australia to offer such tech - the safety conscious buyer will be let down by the fact it has only scored a four out of five-star ANCAP safety rating. And that's a hard blow.
After arriving in Orange, following a quick midnight dash over the Blue Mountains and down to Bathurst, two things stuck out: the monotone, four-speaker sound system is unlikely to see the Picanto used as a mobile disco, and two, there's a surprising amount of refinement at speed.
It's not an executive limo by any stretch, but noise, vibration, and harshness levels are kept at a respectable level. However, the front seats put more than a little strain on my back and legs due to a lack of lumbar and thigh support. That said though, climbing out after a three-hour voyage the overall experience wasn't as strenuous as I thought it'd be.
Nor was the journey particularly boring. Despite having relatively standard suspension, with McPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear, the little Picanto was a delight to drive. Stable handling - thanks to the wheels being pushed out to the far edges of the car - and a respectable level of adhesion, meant that enthusiastic cornering was predictable and secure. You can really press on in the Picanto.
There's a good boot, too. Massive, considering the dimensions of the vehicle. I didn't use all of it - partly because I'm a single 23-year-old, and therefore only carry a mobile phone - but there's good volume for stowage; about 255 litres (VDA) on offer with the seats up, or in other words, 37 per cent more than the Holden Spark.
As expected though, the Picanto is equipped with a temporary space-saver spare. Something I'm glad I didn't need to use as I turned back around and headed home.
I must say, however, that on the night-time drive to Sydney the Picanto's headlights really came over as a huge oversight. Whether you're on standard bulbs or have selected high-beam, the intensity and dispersal of light (and as a result, your response time) is irritatingly short. Driving around in the dark at 100km/h in 'roo country isn't something I'm keen on, AEB or not.
Regardless of which, the Picanto proved to be a solid performer through the entire journey.
Heading into the welcoming, carcinogenic arms of Sydney, the little Kia surprised me with just how polished some micro cars have become in the past few years. It's a testament to how much car you can get for such little money.
|AO EDITION||1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN||$14,900 – 17,790||2018 KIA PICANTO 2018 AO EDITION Pricing and Specs|
|GT (TURBO)||1.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN||$17,888 – 17,990||2018 KIA PICANTO 2018 GT (TURBO) Pricing and Specs|
|GT-LINE||1.2L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO||$14,990 – 18,500||2018 KIA PICANTO 2018 GT-LINE Pricing and Specs|
|S (AEB)||1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN||$13,000 – 15,190||2018 KIA PICANTO 2018 S (AEB) Pricing and Specs|
“While the Kia Picanto is best described as plain-Jane in the looks department, that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider it.It's practical, well-priced, has an industry-leading warranty as standard, offers extraordinary value-for-money, and is competent in all departments. Yet despite the Kia's (admittedly annoying) foibles, I couldn't help but look back on my 800km weekend test with content. It went through a lot, and it took it all in its stride. The Picanto could very well be the stand-out car in its class.”