IAIN ROBERTSON

Believing that, if he wishes for things hard enough, they will appear, Iain Robertson considers that proof-positive has arrived in the form of the Kia Picanto X-Line, which is a judicious piece of market-play by a car company as flexible as they come.

Affluence, however thin-on-the-ground it may appear sometimes, is a measure of modern society. As consumers, we are most demanding of the manufacturers established to produce to our needs and desires. Whether in production, or the provision of services, from funding to foodstuffs, it could be stated that we are insatiable at times.

We want less fat on our steaks…less sugar in our fizzy drinks…more air in our plumped pillows…and more pile in our carpets. The use of the American term ‘premium’ is a popular descript in the advertising intended to grab our attention and wrest our money from our bank balances. This alone increases the demands upon us and the more we desire stuff, the more obvious becomes the drain on our resources.

Let’s face it, we are to blame for our children’s perpetual desires to have the latest gizmo now and not be forced into saving-up, or waiting for it. It is another by-product of an affluent society, the one we are often told we have, through news reports and comparative studies carried out around the world. Let’s face it, with a mix of funding options for motor vehicles and fewer people actually handing over hard-earned ackers for the latest ones, today’s propensity for ‘rental’ but not actual ‘ownership’ is relieving (very slightly) the pressures of ‘The Englishman’s Home is His Castle’…while not exactly reducing the burgeoning levels of national consumer indebtedness.

As Kia recognises, second-guessing is a science to which it subscribes wholeheartedly. For many years, I have wondered why the luxuries inherent to costlier and larger cars had not been passed down the line to the respective brand’s most popular, smaller models. After all, even the most basic of tiddlers benefits from antilock brakes, traction control, lane discipline systems and even frontal, or rear-end crash mitigation programs these days, such are the prolific advances in technology and governments insistences on us being controlled by them.

It is this attention to detail that sees the introduction of X-Line on Kia’s Picanto model. With retail prices starting at £12,595, the latest, loaded Picanto is an answer to my questions and might be the response to your automotive prayers. Read past the marketing clap-trap that highlights its crossover influences (rugged looks, raised ride height), because this is not an attention-grabbing SUV. Its drive is stoically front, through a five-speed manual gearbox, or a four-speed automatic option.

However, the alloy-look, lower bumper skid-plates fore and aft, the black cladding on the flanks and wheel-arches, allied to the lime green highlights on the radiator grille and front foglamp surrounds, while kitsch, are also surprisingly alluring. The up-market visual appeal is helped by body-colour door handles, privacy glazing to the rear windows and tailgate, the twin exhaust tail-pipes, shark’s fin antenna, projector headlamps and larger 16-inch diameter alloy wheels clad in 195/45 section tyres.

The lime green theme is carried into the car to bolster its enhanced funkiness, with appropriate stitching on the flat-bottomed steering wheel, gear-lever gaiter and the armrests. A white but lime green-enhanced panel is mounted on the door cards. The perforated leather-look (it ain’t real) upholstery factors in a classier cabin environment, matched by the stainless steel foot-pedals and impeccably detailed interior. However, there is some substance to the Picanto X-Line, beyond the eye-candy appeal.

Kia realised that its Picanto, which features regularly in the Top Five best-selling sub-compacts in the UK, needed to meet and preferably exceed safety expectations. Apart from its exceptionally rigid bodyshell, it is packed with electronic aids that include traction control, stability control, hill-start control and even torque vectoring, all of which ensure smooth, effortless and safe conduct for the car and occupants. Yet, equipping it with autonomous emergency braking enhances its stopping capabilities at urban and suburban speeds of up to 50mph, to avoid clashes with other road-users and errant pedestrians, even providing it with additional braking potential at higher speeds. It makes the Picanto one of the best-equipped tiddlers currently on sale.

Naturally, comfort and practicality sell well and the Picanto is available in strictly five-door form. For such a compact car, it majors on available space for people and their belongings, although two-metre tall, hairy Scotsmen are not its true target (it was a bit cramped for me). A 255-litre boot can be expanded to 1,010-litres by folding the 60:40-split rear seats and there is copious space in door pockets, various trays and cubbies for most in-car paraphernalia.

Power comes from a 1.2-litre, 16-valve petrol engine, unusually in this class of car being of four, rather than three-cylinder configuration. The unit develops a refined 83bhp and a modest 90lbs ft of torque. It is enough to whisk the car from 0-60mph in 11.6s, before topping out at 107mph. Emitting just 106g/km CO2 from its exhaust means that it falls into the ‘standard’ classification for road tax (£140). However, its Official Combined fuel return of 61.4mpg clarifies a well-balanced power-to-weight ratio. Even on test, I was returning around 57mpg, which is highly laudable in my book.

There was a time, when the driver was totally disadvantaged by the smaller category of motorcar. They were invariably tinnier, less well-equipped and dynamically lacking. There are no such issues with the Picanto, which provides a delightfully grown-up feel, while driving, with lovely power-steering responses, a satisfyingly compliant ride quality and a level of cornering agility that does not call annoyingly on the various driver assist programs. Of course, some of this assured behaviour lies in the first-rate torsional strength of the Picanto’s construction, which means that the car’s suspension is allowed to work more proficiently.

Pedalling around the back lanes of Buckinghamshire and the borders of Oxfordshire, on dry roads made slippery by wintry over-zealous over-salting, the Picanto was a charming means of enjoying and occasionally extending the driving experience, teensy drifts notwithstanding. Its compact dimensions and zippy performance made the urban streets of Oxford and Henley less of a chore than they might have been in dense traffic conditions. The wrap-around appeal of a small car that works as well in town, as it does across country makes the Picanto’s popularity entirely understandable.

Conclusion:    Protected by a fantastic seven years (100,000-miles) warranty, which is transferrable to the next owner of the car, is a clear bonus. Low insurance (Group 7) is also a major attraction. When you consider that many buyers are still looking to downsize, for Kia to produce an up-market version of its gamey Picanto can only pay dividends all-round. It gets my approval.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).