As a member of the judging panel for the 2012 Car of the Year, Mambaonline’s motoring editor Brent Ellis puts the smallest finalist through its paces. Could this little imp actually be worthy of the title?


The first Picanto from Kia, which hit the local market back in 2004, was quite something to shout about. Here was an all-new small car with economic engines, dinky proportions and a clean sheet of paper with which to build its reputation. Fast forward seven years to the second generation and we find yet another reason to start blabbing to the masses. The Korean manufacturer’s latest city car is all about funk – from the looks to the drive. It came as no surprise to the motoring media that it was nominated as a finalist for next year’s Car of the Year competition. So, is it worthy of the title?


Sporting the latest Kia design language, the new Picanto is all about style. The cheeky face sports the “tiger nose” grille, with an aggressive stance – thanks to a gaping air dam and large, swept-back headlights. The side profile, which appears lower and longer than the Picanto’s Hyundai i10 brother, features a strong shoulder crease, and in this EX specification, attractive 14-inch alloy wheels. The rear is pert and swoopy, with a chunky bumper and boomerang tail lights. When it was first unveiled internationally, the Picanto was touted as the only car in its class to feature all-LED tail lights but sadly Kia doesn’t make them available in South Africa. Not that the lights we get are disappointing, but it’s a pity the flashy LEDs were scratched from our spec sheets indeed.

The inside is a beautiful mix of black and silver, with the cloth-covered seats featuring line patterns to match the edgy exterior design. The steering wheel is a two-spoke design and features a silver-painted plastic accent, which carries over onto the dashboard to give the Picanto a premium feel and look. The facia is simple and uncluttered, with a host of audio and air conditioning controls making up the bulk of it. Dials are clear and bright too, and the Picanto uses red and white backlighting for its after-dark ambience. If I had to criticise, I would pick on the LCD radio display screen, which also features red lighting, and can be difficult to see in harsh sunlight. Overall though it’s a lovely place to sit.

Comfort and Features

While small cars like the Picanto are never going to be full of luxuries and top-quality finishes, this little tyke sure does give you lots to play with. The audio system has CD, radio, aux-in, MP3 and USB/iPod compatibility and while the six speakers are not the greatest in terms of bass, they are clear and can withstand a good dose of volume. Then, there is Bluetooth for your cellphone and with steering wheel-mounted controls for the phone and audio, safe driving is a given. Picanto also features automatic headlights which, on a car like this, makes you really happy with the thought of one-upmanship over its competitors. A comprehensive trip computer is also fitted, with readouts for fuel consumption, two trip meters, range, average speed and trip time included in the mix.

The 200-litre boot is not the biggest, just like the old Picanto’s, but with hidden under-floor compartments you should have no trouble with the shopping, or a bit of well-packaged luggage on a road trip, if that’s what you’re into. The rear seats fold forward too, in the event of larger items finding their way to the rear. The seats are comfortable, and while I tend to battle to sit comfortably behind the wheel of small cars like this, a wide range of seat adjustment and rake-adjustable steering meant I quickly found the comfort zone and enjoyed the drive a lot more. Electric windows all-round and electric and heated mirrors feature, too.

Ride and Handling

New Picanto drives quite nicely I must say. The clutch takes getting used to, as it is highly-sprung and quite sensitive (as are the brakes), but after a few minutes you get used to it and any irritation disappears. The steering is light which makes the car easy to manoeuvre at low speed but I found it to be slightly unnerving at higher speeds as it tends to be too sensitive and you end up weaving as a result. The narrow tyres augment the problem somewhat, and on a windy day the car does feel a little light on its feet. It’s not a massive problem though and many cars of this size share the same flaw. Handling in the corners however is confident and sure-footed.

Performance and Economy

The biggest surprise though was this little car’s legs! Powered by a 1.2-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine, the EX makes mincemeat of acceleration. With 65kW and 120Nm and a 5-speed manual gearbox, it sure knocks one out of the park! Kia claims it will get to 100km/h from standstill in 11.6 seconds and top out at 169km/h, and while on paper that doesn’t sound like much, trust me in the real world you will be baffled by the performance.

Fuel consumption is claimed to be 5.0-litres per 100km and carbon emissions are pegged at a convenient 119g/km, which means you won’t pay emissions tax on this car and you will probably forget where the fuel flap is located. The Picanto is also fitted with an “eco mode”, which reveals a green eco light to indicate economic driving in conjunction with a shift point indicator, helping you achieve the best economy possible. After my lengthy test (and after the fuel gauge eventually started dropping) I returned 6.2-lires per 100km, with a projected 600km possible on a 35-litre tank of unleaded. Should you take a long drive on the open road, I shudder to think how much further this car would go!


EuroNCAP awarded the Picanto a maximum five stars for safety, and once you delve into the list of standard safety items, it’s no surprise. ABS (anti-lock brakes) with EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and ESS (emergency stop signal), two airbags, pre-tensioned seat belts all-round, ISOFIX child seat anchors in the rear and a bout of body strengthening means that should the going get tough, you should emerge unscathed. An alarm and immobiliser are also fitted as anti-theft measures, as well as remote central locking.


For R115 995, this Picanto is serious value for money and the price includes a 5-year/100 000km warranty. But in such a buzzing and popular segment of the market, what else can you get for the same money? If you asked me, I would probably park the Hyundai i10 1.2 GLS (R109 900), the Chevrolet Spark L (R115 495), Ford’s Figo 1.4 Ambiente 5-door (R118 670), the Nissan Micra 1.2 Visia+ (R119 500) and the Suzuki Alto GLS (R119 900) in the same garage as the Picanto.

And if you asked me to whittle those down further, I would boot out the Spark immediately as it is horribly under-powered. The Micra and Alto come with 3-cylinder engines which are not as powerful either, so they would go too, and while the Ford Figo is bigger, it doesn’t offer as many luxuries as the Picanto. And so that leaves the i10, which is very closely related to the Picanto. While I enjoyed that car earlier in the year, I prefer the “squat” appearance of the Picanto, and the i10’s interior is nowhere near as nice, either.

If it were my money and these were the cars to choose from, I would definitely go for the Picanto, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it were crowned as the 2012 Car of the Year.


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