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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Road test: 2018 Kia Picanto

Practical and pocket-friendly, Kia’s latest Picante is an attractive proposition

The Picanto has a 'Tiger Nose' grille. Gautam Sharma
The Picanto has a 'Tiger Nose' grille. Gautam Sharma

As a general rule, cars in the tiddler category (formally referred to as the A-segment) get you from A to B, but are typically as dull as dishwater, doing absolutely nothing to make your commute a remotely entertaining one.

So it is a refreshing change to sample a vehicular minnow that packs some pizzazz – both aesthetically and dynamically – while still ticking the requisite boxes in terms of practicality and affordability. Kia’s latest Picanto carries over the same basic recipe as its predecessor, but there is a newfound interior spaciousness, thanks to a wheelbase that has been stretched by 15 millimetres. What’s more, the wheels have been pushed out closer to the corners of the car, making for a beefier stance.

Kia aficionados, if there are any out there, will also have picked up on the newbie’s “Tiger Nose” grille and aggressive wraparound headlights, which bring it into line with the brand’s latest design language. Peer inside and you will find cabin quality/presentation is of an appreciably higher standard than in the oldie, and new for the third-generation Picanto is a floating centre console that houses a 3.8-inch monochrome display for the audio system.

If you are prepared to splash extra cash, there is the option of a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment display offering Bluetooth connectivity (it supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), while other extra-cost goodies include rear-parking sensors, reversing camera, climate-control air conditioning, cruise control, electrically folding door mirrors, sunroof and keyless entry/start.

Handily, the boot grows from 200 to 255 litres (Kia claims it is now the biggest in the class) and is available with a two-step floor that can be raised or lowered by 145mm to liberate additional space as required, or provide an under-floor storage area. The rear seat bench can be folded down with a one-touch lever, boosting cargo capacity to 1,010 litres (60:40 split-folding seat backs are also available).

The seats are comfortable and supportive, but one annoying gripe is the lack of reach adjustment for the three-spoke steering wheel. Other than this, the cabin has a bright, airy feel, especially when equipped with the optional sunroof, and visibility is good in all directions.

Spearheading the new Picanto line-up is a tarted-up GT Line model, which comes with chrome-tipped twin exhausts, red/silver/black highlights on the front fascia, side skirts and rear valance. But if it were my money, I would opt for the more understated (monocoloured) EX model, because the Picanto is perky and eye-catching enough without any superficial fiddling.

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Once on the go, it is clear the third-generation Picanto is a more mature package than its predecessor in terms of its ride quality and refinement, which are up there with some of the best in the class – if not better. On the minus side, the 84hp 1.2-litre engine is a tad anaemic, lacking oomph off the mark and in the cut-and-thrust of the urban jungle. But where the drive-train is lacklustre, the chassis over-delivers in the context of this segment, with a surprising level of poise across a range of road surfaces.

All in all, the Picanto is a winsome little offering that is more enjoyable to punt than most other bargain-basement offerings out there. The little Kia’s funky styling and keen entry price makes it an attractive proposition, not only for the fleet buyers who swallow up a vast chunk of this segment, but also retail buyers with tight budgets.

The specs: 2018 Kia Picanto

Price: From Dh39,500

Engine: 1.2L inline four-cylinder

Transmission: Four-speed auto

Power: 86hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque: 122Nm @ 4,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 6.0L / 100km