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Kia Picanto

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Kia PIcanto
7/10

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Road Test

Kia Picanto 1.25 EcoDynamics driven

Driven August 2011

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It might be Kia's bestselling car of the past seven years, but if we're honest, the outgoing Picanto is a bit gawky. This one - new from the ground up - changes things. With the designer of the original Audi TT (Peter Schreger) now in charge of the crayons, giving us cars such as the new Sportage, the company is hurriedly untangling itself from its old image.

Where the previous version looked skinny and malnourished around the arches, this one appears more solid - and just looks good, dammit. The bold line that streaks forwards from the tail light to the top of the front wheel disguises the tall sides and shallow windows, and the chunky front end creates the illusion of a bigger car. It shares its basic skeleton with the Hyundai i10, but here the metal hangs more confidently around it, with more prominent creases. The new Picanto is 6cm longer than before, and that, plus some neater cabin packaging, has upped bootspace from 157 litres to 200.

There are two engines and three levels of trim to choose from - helpfully named 1, 2 and 3. But here's where it gets tricky, as you can't just pair your favoured engine with your favoured spec - if you want the smallest engine with the highest spec, tough luck. If we listed all the permutations, we'd run out of ink, so let's make it simple. The best combination is level 2 trim with the 1.25-litre EcoDynamics petrol engine, which includes stop/start. It will cost you £10,195, deliver 100g/km of CO2, average 65.7mpg and go from 0-62mph in a respectable 11 seconds. Standard kit includes 14-inch alloys, aircon, fog lights and electric windows. The smaller 1.0-litre three-cylinder is a playful thing, but it's 2.9 seconds slower to 62mph and only one gramme of CO2 better. However, it's the only engine available with level 1 trim, a combo that costs £7,995. For that, you get steel wheels and you have to wind the windows yourself.

The new platform also features softer front springs with longer travel than before, so it cushions speed bumps and smooths over cracked surfaces better. It bobs around on faster roads, but a stiffer rear torsion beam stops it bouncing into the brambles. Electric power steering is standard on all models, and assistance is reduced at higher speeds to save energy drawn from the engine, improving fuel efficiency. It behaves fine at parking speed when you need a light, twirly wheel, but on the motorway it's not so nice, and you have to constantly nudge it back to the straight-ahead position.

Later this year (and for the first time on a Picanto), there'll be a three-door version, which should look even better - perhaps not as cute as the Fiat 500 or Ford Ka, but the fact they appear in the same sentence shows how far things have come. And if you need a clincher, consider this: whichever version you go for, it will come with a reassuringly massive seven-year warranty. Cheap and cheerful? It's in fashion.

Dan Read

We like: Big-car looks in small-car package
We don't like: The odd electric power steering
The verdict: Sharply styled, thoroughly decent city car. Kia's on a roll
Performance: 0-62mph in 11.0secs, max 106mph, 65.7mpg
Tech: 1248cc, 4cyl, FWD, 84bhp, 89lb ft, 930kg, 100g/km CO2
Tick this on the options list: Level 2 trim
And avoid this: The automatic 'box

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