IS it possible for cars to go through a sex change?, asks Keith Ward.
In redesigning their best-selling, seven-year-old Picanto supermini, Kia say it has gone from the original’s “cute and feminine” to the “mature and handsome” new version, with “muscular wheel arches, low and wide rocker panels and wide-set alloy wheels”.
From the front its prominent lights actually give it a slightly bug-eyed look. But what may continue to catch the economy-minded customer’s attention is not so much any eye-candy, more the Korean company’s industry-best, seven-year warranty which has helped win the little Picanto almost 78,000 UK sales.
At prices from £7,995 to £11,195 - around £1,000 up on the old model - the new Picanto stands just 60 mm longer than before, on the same new platform as its impressive Korean-built, Hyundai i10 sister car. But some clever internal sculpting has expanded luggage capacity by 27 per cent and won extra legroom, so that four average-height adults can access, and sit comfortably, in the five-door frame.
The boot remains short, but the rear seats do tip and drop forward, albeit leaving a step in the extended floor and exposure of some foam padding.
A six-strong range perms two new petrol engines - quicker, cleaner, with more mpg than before - with three levels of trim, badged 1 (lowest), 2 and 3.
Common to all are height-adjustable driver’s seat, tiltable steering column, electric front windows, the usual electronic safety features and front, side and curtain airbags. Top Picanto 3 versions get such as climate control, six audio speakers instead of four, heated front seats, 15-inch alloys and automatic headlights.
We tried the entry model. In this, the new one-litre, 68 bhp, three-cylinder petrol unit needed stirring with the five-speed manual box to bowl the car along on country roads around Bordeaux, even if you sometimes withdrew from overtaking so as not to run out of breath. But the car is notably quiet. And its strength is around town.
The benefit is in a 99 g/km emissions figure which gives you zero annual tax and an official combined fuel consumption approaching 70 mpg.
Obviously livelier is the alternative four-cylinder, 84 bhp, 1.25-litre engine, also employed in the i10, which was sampled with its optional ISG stop-start system, cutting fuel and CO2 and contributing again to a zero annual tax disc. An automatic box is available with this engine.
The base 1-level trim in the one-litre at £7,995 omits air conditioning, a miss in the high-20’s temperatures experienced in France (as well as the UK) during press previews. It has prompted Kia to now offer it in a one-litre 1 Air version, inserted into the range at £8,595.
For a while, customers will be able to compare old cutie and new butch Picantos side-by-side. Kia’s UK sales director Yaser Shabsogh, born in Saudi Arabia to Jordanian parents, who spent some years with Ford based in Yorkshire, says the old model will continue “probably to the end of July”. He targets a minimum 10,000 sales a year for the new model, up from a current 8,500 for the old.
What’s next? Aiding the sales boost, a first-ever three-door version of the Picanto will follow later this year, promising a sportier look.