First look: new Kia Picanto unveiled at Geneva Motor Show
IT'S easy to get lost in the glitz of unaffordable exotica at international motor shows, but arguably the most important models on display are the production-ready cars people will actually be buying in coming months.
And they don't come much more affordable than Kia's Picanto city car.
The third-generation Picanto was unveiled to the public for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show today, high on youthful style, clever packaging and appealing specification.
Under the bright lights of the giant Geneva show hall, the new car looks a winner. Cute, stylish and with a greatly improved cabin, the new Picanto is set to arrive in Australian showrooms from May 1.
As Australia's best-selling micro car it's a hugely significant model in a segment that's bounced back into favour in 2017 (up 26% year-to-date).
The new Picanto has a sportier body design, modernised and more spacious cabin with a 'floating' 7-inch touchscreen, reversing camera and desirable Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration as standard.
No Australian pricing has been decided upon as yet, but Kia Motors Australia CEO Damien Meredith said he was hoping the new Picanto's entry cost would remain close to the current $14,990 drive away, despite all the new technology.
Introduced to Australia for the first time last April (despite already being a five-year-old model), the Picanto has found huge favour amongst Australia buyers - typically the very young and retirees - drawn to that compelling price point, its quirky good looks, five-star safety rating and Kia's ever-appealing seven-year warranty.
It has been consistently outselling its diminutive rivals - the Mitsubishi Mirage, Holden Spark and Fiat 500 included - and more sales success should come with the arrival of this funky third-generation Picanto.
Carried over from before is the simplicity of a single engine and specification level.
That means a frugal 62kW/122Nm 1.3-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine is your only option, but unlike the current Picanto which came only with an automatic gearbox, this new car will arrive in Australia in five-speed manual and four-speed auto guises.
Offering the three-pedal option should help to keep that entry-level price low. In Europe - where Picanto is a huge sales champion - a 49kW/96Nm 1.0-litre is offered too, while it also scores a 74kW/172Nm 1.0-litre turbo engine later in 2017.
Mr Meredith said Kia Australia was doing it's homework on whether it would offer the 'warm' turbo engine for Australian Picantos in the future, refusing to rule it out.
This car also comes with desirable autonomous emergency braking safety tech - which would be a first for a micro car in Australia - which would also do no harm to the new car's appeal.
The new generation Picanto trumps the current model in terms of included specification.
Along with the seven-inch touchscreen there's a rear camera with dynamic parking, automatic headlights, cruise control and a first-in-class new torque vectoring system to reduce understeer and boost handling stability under cornering.
Kia's impressive local ride and handling tuning has already been carried out on the new Picanto, ensuring it is relevant to Australian roads and conditions.
City cars are typically targeted at young and often first-time buyers, so exterior style and customisation options are key. Kia hasn't dropped the ball here with the new Picanto.
Wheelbase has been extended, pushing the wheels further out to the corners and giving a more planted look thanks to a shorter front overhang.
In the metal it is a funky little offering, certainly a bit edgier than the current model.
The face features Kia's 'tiger nose' grille leading in to new wrap-around headamps, there are LED indicators and daytime running lights, and more distinctive lines along its flanks to help it look longer than its titchy 3.6-metre length.
There are 11 vibrant paint finishes to choose from, including new Lime Light, Pop Orange and Celestial Blue.
It still comes with 14-inch steel wheels, but optional alloys from 14-inch to 16-inch are available to boost the style.
Speaking of style, a brace of Geneva Show Picantos were shown in new GT-Line specification, as seen on the likes of Kia's Optima GT.
This brings red, silver and black highlights to the grille, side intakes, side skirts and rear valance, as well as chrome-tipped twin exhausts and a D-cut steering wheel. The GT-Line kit truly gives the Picanto a real sporting flavour, and shows the youthful exterior design at its best without a doubt.
Mr Meredith once again said they couldn't confirm the GT-Line specification would be coming to Australia, but remarked that "the target market would want it."
Kia's focused on modernising the Picanto's cabin and adding a greater sense of quality to go with the (slightly) increased interior dimensions.
Sitting in the new car it indeed offers decent space for a micro car, seats are nicely supportive and there is an ambience of decent quality here.
The 7-inch 'floating' touchscreen sits at the heart of the centre console, there's a satin chrome-effect strip across the dashboard and large vertical air vents.
Customisation is key, and while black and grey cloth seats come as standard, you have the choice of five optional colour packs featuring contrast artificial leather upholstery and stitching. The leather seat edges especially add a dose more premium feel, and the colour (blue on my test car) adds some welcome brightness.
Colours available are high gloss black, brown, blue, red and even lime if you're feeling properly fruity.
Kia's claiming class-leading boot capacity with the new Picanto too, up substantially from 200-litres to 255-litres: impressive stuff.
With 60:40 split-folding rear seats (which go down completely flat), there's a decent 1010-litres on offer.
The promise of an optional wireless smartphone charger will also pique the interest of the smartphone generation.
We'll have to reserve judgement on improvements to the Picanto's drive until we get some wheel time, but the current model is already a fun and rewarding little steer.
Kia promises greater ride stability and quicker more enjoyable handling thanks to stiffer anti-roll bars, its longer wheelbase and 13% quicker steering rack.
The Korean company also says it has the quietest cabin of any car in its segment thanks to noise, vibration and harshness improvements.
The Picanto may have only been on the Australian market for a year, but buyers have quickly found favour with it and this new generation model looks set to continue the trend.
Fresher styling, cabin upgrades, custom options and key specification boosts were required to keep the Picanto at the top of the class, and if the new car's price stays right, it's hard to imagine the little Kia being knocked off its perch.
Low price and that seven-year warranty are still Kia's trump card with the Picanto, now firmly backed up with modernised style and on-trend standard inclusions to seal the deal.