IAIN ROBERTSON

Volume carmakers have to appeal to an immense array of potential customers and, highlights Iain Robertson, if they cannot offer a decent breadth of model availability, they will lose out, which makes the innovative approach of Kia worth observing.

Perception is such an awkward word to define, mainly because it relies on individual responses and they may not always be in agreement. Yet, while Kia Cars could be said to be bucking trends, perhaps even altering consumer opinions and doing so with a confident sense of alacrity, perceptions of the brand are so broadly even, with most observers, even critics, keen to see eagerly what comes next from the company, that it could already be hitting that vital spot.

While Elon Musk, of Tesla Electric Vehicles and rechargeable battery fame, can take-off a multi-million-buck space rocket and re-land-it-on-a-sixpence, not once but several times, that would make potentially two trend-buckers capable of hitting a precise mark. You cannot get away from the ‘free’ publicity that they both enjoy, mainly because everyone and their dog regards them as hot discussion topics. While not ‘unique’, they are in the vanguard of tastier firms willing to give alternative marketing options a bit of a shot.

Ironically, they also both benefit from being relatively fresh to market. The astronomical development of the two firms over a very short period of time has been little more than stultifying. In either case, they have either given their main rivals a severe headache, or set the proverbial cat-among-their-rivals’-marketing-pigeons, which factors in some interest to a scene that is in dire political and economic trouble at present. However, I have to applaud Kia for its strength of purpose, combined with its phenomenal subtlety, because, in less than twenty years, Kia has rocketed into the foreground, from having been little more than a budget-conscious ‘also-ran’.

Mind you, being careful is important, because if your eyes slip off the Kia ball for anything more than a second, it will score another goal before you even notice it. In fact, the cute and cuddly Kia Picanto is a valid case in point. While the market does appear to have consumed enormous quantities of SUV pie-with-gravy, it is easy to forget that at the other end of the dining scale is the small car sector that may not have the same levels of profitability attached to it but which is every bit as enthralling in model range and timely introduction terms.

Although the base Picanto is priced affordably below £10k, for a couple of thousands more, you can be driving an up-market variant in either X, or GT-Line trim, or at £14,245, an even better equipped, top-of-the-shop GT-Line S model (like the test car pictured) that leaves its owner wanting for nothing, because its specification includes everything that you might desire and a few bits more besides. Superficially, Picanto GT-Line S has 16-inch alloy wheels clad in low-profile rubber (195/45 section), body-colour mouldings, a full compliment of LED lighting, privacy glazing and more tastefully sporty addenda than you might care to shake a stick at. It is a very complete and integrated package and does not look as though you raided a car accessory shop en-route. Like I stated earlier, Kia plays a subtle card.

Crack ajar a wide-opening door that is first-class for access and you will spot the red-highlighted black leatherette facings for the front seats, stainless steel pedals, hide-wrapped steering wheel, laden with micro-switch controls and push-to-start (and stop) button, which means that the key-fob can remain in your pocket. This is all upmarket gear, which provides the customer with a feeling of indisputable high-end pleasure. You see, Kia has recognised that most car buyers prefer up-spec’d models. While many of them will opt for the middle-ground version at dealer level, then indulge in a personalisation programme that can factor-in several thousand Pounds’ worth of extras, the Picanto GT-Line S is on-the-money, right out of the blocks.

Looking a little closer at the details, the 7.0-inch touch-screen that gives access to Bluetoothed electronica, sorts out audio options, provides the sat-nav mapping facility and also the full-colour rear-view camera image fills the top of the dashboard centre-stack most proficiently. In the storage tray beneath it is a wireless phone charger, another luxury accoutrement. Ahead of the driver is the customary large diameter and, thus, laudably clear speedometer and rev-counter, with smaller flanking fuel and engine temperature gauges, complete with on-board digital trip read-out. An electrically operated glass sunroof floods the cabin with light, once the blind is slipped back. Sadly, there is no ‘soft-touch’ dashboard moulding but the overall impression is of high, merchantable quality.

The airy cabin is surprisingly spacious for a car of just 3.5m in length, just under 1.6m width and 1.5m height and its excellent proportions conceal a double-height boot floor with a class-leading 255-litres capacity (1,010-litres, with the rear seats folded). Its front seats are bolstered for additional hip-hugging, should you put the car’s excellent handling to the test. Unfortunately, lacking even a manual height adjustment is a strange omission but at the least the steering column can be varied across a wide range of rake and reach. The driving position is cramped for somebody of my enormous dimensions but four average stature adults are unlikely to complain.

Powering the Picanto is a 1.25-litre, naturally-aspirated, 16-valve, four-cylinder petrol engine. It develops a modest 83bhp and 122lbs ft of torque and, while it does not complain at being revved hard (a turbocharged 1.0-litre ‘triple’ is being installed later in 2018), if you wish to replicate its 0-60mph time of 11.6s and, in the appropriate location, reach its maximum speed of 107mph, you will need to work it. Tipping the scales at 939kgs kerbweight, its power-to-weight ratio enables a 61.4mpg fuel economy potential. Its compact 7.7g fuel tank will allow a maximum distance in excess of 450-miles between tanksful of two-star unleaded, as long as your right foot is not too heavy.

The five-speed manual gearbox is sweet and crisp, slotting readily between leggy ratios and accentuating the fun attributes of the car. Its suspension is conventional in layout and firm but compliant, aided by excellent body rigidity that allows it to work proficiently. However, this top-spec Picanto is equipped with every electronic traction and stability program, as well as torque vectoring, which adds further to its big car appeal, at small car money. Kia believes wholeheartedly that a compact hatchback does not need to be a spartan one.

Conclusion:    Although Kia’s key rivals seem content to believe that compact car buyers will opt for a costlier and larger model, rather than an up-spec’d baby, Kia is leading the market with what the majority of consumers actually desire. Customer satisfaction is a core attribute to Kia and nobody will feel short-changed by its Picanto.

 

 

 

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).