Published on Saturday 19 April 2014 20:33
Ten Second Review
The Kia Picanto is a vehicle already renowned for its excellent fuel economy, but to date it has offered a choice between a slow but economical 1.0-litre or a quicker but slightly thirstier 1.25-litre. With EcoDynamics, you get the best of both worlds, boosting the economy of the punchier 1.25 engine. Huge equipment levels mean the cars aren't as cheap as perhaps they should have been.
Can you have too much of a good thing? If it's black bean burritos we're talking about then yes, I can attest you can. I'll never look at another. But what about fuel consumption and emissions? Is less always better? Kia would probably answer in the affirmative, as the launch of the EcoDynamics models across its range would suggest. But what of the Kia Picanto? Here's a car that can average over 60mpg in standard guise. Is it worth paying extra for a model which will eke a handful of extra miles to the gallon?
The Picanto is a city car that has earned some healthy sales for being straightforward and simple. It's a model that tends to sell best in its cheaper forms, and it's also a car that often covers fairly modest mileages. This might make selling the EcoDynamics model a bit of a tough ask.
So what is the difference in driving characteristics between a normal Kia Picanto 1.25-litre and one of these EcoDynamics models. You'll find out as soon as you pull to a halt in traffic and the engine cuts out. Yes, that's right, it's fitted with a Stop/Start system. This makes driving in nose to tail traffic surprisingly relaxing. The start up isn't quite as smooth as some systems I've tried, with a little whinny of starter motor each time. The gearing is surprisingly long and you suspect that the 1.0-litre engine just wouldn't have the mumbo to drive such a long gear on motorways.
The 85bhp 1.25-litre engine still needs a bit of rowing along if you're to make progress but it rarely feels as if a downchange or two isn't going to get you out of a spot. The front suspension has been tuned for better straight line stability, although the steering feels a little disconcerted at high speed. Kia reckons it has not only improved the ride with softer springs but made the handling a little keener with a much stiffer rear axle that helps quell understeer. The Picanto's all-disc braking system is backed up by Electronic Stability Control and an anti-lock system, electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake assist systems. Stopping distances from 100 km/h (62 mph) are among the class best at 41.0 metres. Refinement at speed is notably good for such a small car, partly helped by the long gearing but also a testament to clever aerodynamics.
Design and Build
It's hard to believe Kia today is the same company that launched the original Picanto. It's now one of the most progressive car manufacturers in terms of design and much of the credit for this goes to Peter Schreyer, the man who designed the original TT and now works as Chief Design Officer. Under his direction, Kia is turning out some seriously handsome cars and the Picanto is no exception. It features the now trademark 'tiger nose' front grille, but it also exhibits deeply scalloped flanks with the door handles sitting atop a sharp, longitudinal crease. Available for the first time in both three and five door body styles, the Picanto offers a different look for each body style, the three-door car featuring a more aggressive frontal treatment. Both look a little under-wheeled, but that tends to be the nature of city cars in general. Go for the 15-inch alloy wheels and it looks much better balanced.
The cabin is cleanly styled and again it's clear that Kia is forging its own personality and brand identity on its cars. The 'three cylinder' instrument panel design is spread across the Kia range while the centre console brings the air conditioning and stereo controls within easy reach with big, easy to operate buttons. Metallic finishes lift the feel of the fascia and while some of the plastics are a little hard to the touch, the overall effect is an interior that punches well above its price point.
Market and Model
Kia has been a little sly in pitching these EcoDynamics measures with a trim level where there's no equivalent non-EcoDynamics version with which to directly compare. Therefore it's impossible to say exactly how much you're paying for that Stop/Start system. Equipment levels for the Picanto 2 trim that you get with the five-door car are reasonably good with automatically controlled air-conditioning, electronic and heated folding door mirrors with side repeaters, automatic light control with 'escort' and 'welcome' modes, steering wheel mounted audio controls and retractable dual cup holders amongst the Picanto's equipment list. There's also wheel-mounted audio controls, heated door mirrors, leather trim on the steering wheel and gear lever and there's Bluetooth hands-free with voice recognition.
Go for the Halo trim which is offered in three-door guise and is really well appointed for a city car. How many other tots can you name that feature heated seats, a heated steering wheel and reversing sensors? There's also a very nice contrasting high gloss white fascia finish and an alloy pedal set. Prices? You'll pay £10,195 for the five-door car and £11,695 for the better-equipped three door. Does that represent great value for money? I'm not so sure, especially when true fuel misers will probably be drawn to the base £7,795 1.0-litre car.
Cost of Ownership
The EcoDynamics measures do have an appreciable effect. Take the fuel economy figure for example. A standard five-door Picanto 1.25 will achieve a combined figure of 60.1mpg while the 1.25 EcoDynamics will squeeze 65.7 miles from a gallon of unleaded. Emissions are rated at 100g/km. You'll get exactly the same figures if you choose the three-door car.
Other fuel saving technology used in these EcoDynamics models includes advanced alternator control, upgraded starter motor and low-rolling resistance tyres. Couple the tiny fuel bills with free road tax and cheap insurance and you have a car that makes all kinds of sense for city drivers. It's exactly because it stacks up so well on the balance sheet that residual values are reasonably good, despite the oversupply of used city cars that has been spawned by the scrappage scheme.
It feels a little churlish criticising Kia for launching more efficient cars, but I can't help but feel that the positioning of these EcoDynamics models is a little strange. You might well have imagined that those models that offer the biggest fuel savings would be the most cost effective to buy, but no, Kia only offers these eco measures on relatively high specification cars.
Taken in isolation, both the three and five door Picanto EcoDynamics models are extremely impressive. They're well equipped, super efficient, good to drive and smartly designed. Sales would undoubtedly be a lot stronger had Kia put these energy-saving measures in a basic car priced at significantly less than £10k. These cars feel like showcases rather than serious commercial propositions. It's impossible not to be impressed though.