I remember a conversation I had with Angelo Puyat in the old Kia Picanto on our way to a meeting.
"Yeah, dude, we're not gonna get any chicks in this car," he said.
"No man, we won't," I answered, "Because WE are the chicks in this car."
Indeed we were, as the sight of two grown men in a little, cutesy car isn't one for the books... we might as well have had Miley Cyrus playing on the radio.
Don't get me wrong, the old Picanto was fun to drive, but we felt that it was trying a little too hard to be cute. Well, that was just over two years ago, and now Kia has the next generation Picanto. How does it compare?
For one, it's not trying to be cute anymore. In fact, the looks of the new car is indeed very stylish, regardless of where you park it. The new Kia design language, thanks to Peter Schreyer, is applied aplenty around the new Picanto, and the little details like the grille, the lines, the curvy rear end and those cool smoked headlamps exude a dash of sophistication... enough for the car to be even a little sexy. Yeah, you read that right.
Then the there's the interior. Being in the budget class, I was expecting it to be cheap and cramped. Not so. Design doesn't have to be expensive, and the Picanto's does speak this in volumes. The dashboard doesn't feel plasticky and cheap, even giving a higher class, almost Euro feel to it. The centerpiece to the interior has to be the steering wheel, with the subtlety of the dashboard highlighting the seemingly MINI-inspired two spoke wheel with a Kia accent... the “tiger” grille.
It's also quite comfortable, even if you're not a fan of the upright driving position common for subcompacts and SUVs. Elbow room is okay, though there's a good chance that you'll end up bumping your hand on the passenger's knee when you change gears. Rear legroom is also pretty good, and they even shaped the back of the front seats to provide a little more space. Boot space is better than expected, as it can handle a volume of up to 200 liters with the rear seats up and 870 with them folded down.
Driving it around, and the 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder engine does provide all the pep you need to get going and have a little fun. It's pretty sprightly, even if its just a 3 banger, as 69 horsepower is a decent number for the 5-speed manual. For fuel economy, under our holiday traffic, the Picanto returned 12.4 km/l (moderate to heavy traffic) in the city and 17.2 km/l on the highway (light traffic).
There were some disappointing areas of the Picanto, particularly when it comes to the features. The stereo is good, the A/C is powerful, keyless central locking is standard, there's power windows and mirrors, but there isn't much in the way of safety features, as the Picanto doesn't come with ABS or airbags. It's a bit too barebones (it still has steel rims with hubcaps) when compared to the competition nowadays, especially as consumers are seeing the value of comparing one car against another when making a decision.
Another problem arose, but it's not really the car's or the brand's fault. Having undergone an intense test cycle on a racetrack with a group of journalists hasn't fared too well with the sedate little city car with just 4000 kilometers on the clock. The clutch seems to have been kicked in way too hard, way too many times and now has a massive amount of 'play'. The electronic power steering has been damaged too, and now feels like a worn out arcade driving game; sometimes you feel the wheel pull slightly to the left, sometimes it pulls a bit to the right. It's like playing Sega's Daytona USA again.
It's hard to fault Kia's engineering and reliability lately, as they have made great strides in both. Besides, if their cars weren't reliable, there's a good chance they would've been bankrupt by now with their 5-year, 150,000 kilometer warranty. Perhaps some of us just need to learn a bit of mechanical sympathy.
She may have been abused, but after several days behind the wheel, I can say the new PhP 545,000 Picanto has broken out from its overly cutesy past.
It's still a bit Miley... but a bit more grown up and a bit more sophisticated in every way.