FIRST DRIVE | Updated Kia Picanto will appeal to those on a budget

25 April 2024 - 09:55
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Kia’s popular hatchback gets a major styling makeover.
Kia’s popular hatchback gets a major styling makeover.
Image: Supplied

The third-generation Kia Picanto has been on the market since 2017 and its replacement is still two or three years away.

It’s an unusually long product cycle for a model and the little hatchback has been given its second enhancement — after a similar exercise in 2020 — to keep it fresh until its fourth-generation successor comes along.

An important model for the Korean brand, the Picanto is Kia’s second-most popular seller in South Africa after the Sonet SUV. The latest refresh aims to keep it on shoppers’ radars in the competitive A-segment, which includes compact hatch rivals such as the Renault Kwid, Toyota Vitz, VW Polo Vivo and Hyundai Grand i10.

More than 100,000 Picantos have found owners in South Africa since the first generation was introduced here in 2004. The car is most popular with people aged 26-32 years followed by the 50+ age group.

There are no mechanical or technology tweaks and it’s only a cosmetic upgrade, albeit a major one that makes it look like an all-new model. The radically changed front has a new bumper with an updated “tiger nose” grille and reshaped headlamps.

Kia says the new visage gives the little car a wider, more confident stance, which is reiterated at the back with redesigned tail lights that are horizontally connected over a reshaped bumper.

Three new exterior colours are available: Sporty Blue, Smoke Blue and Adventurous Green metallic.

The cabin has aged well and has an 8-inch floating touchscreen incorporating a parking camera.
The cabin has aged well and has an 8-inch floating touchscreen incorporating a parking camera.
Image: Supplied

The line-up has been reduced to a six-model range with three grades: LX, EX and EX Plus. The X-Line crossover model is discontinued but a panelvan version will later be offered, as before.

The range-topping EX Plus offers a bountiful comforts list including a smart key with push-button start/stop, LED tail lights, 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, rear park distance sensor, high-gloss interior trim and artificial leather upholstery.

One step down, the EX model has 14-inch alloys and cloth seats but retains features such as automatic headlamps, digital instrument cluster, hill-start assist and electronic stability control (ESC). The EX and EX Plus are powered by a four-cylinder 1.2l engine with outputs of 62kW and 122Nm.

The entry-level LX, which I drove at the media launch in Cape Town earlier this week, downgrades to a three-cylinder 49kW/95Nm 1l engine and steel 14-inch wheels with plastic wheel covers, and has no ESC. However it retains ABS brakes, dual front airbags, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, manual air conditioning, and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system incorporating a reversing camera.

The infotainment has Bluetooth connectivity and wired Apple CarPlay and Android, though I couldn’t get the latter to work with my Android phone. Kia was unable to confirm whether this was because it requires a special data cable as some cars do.

Android Auto failure aside, the baseline Picanto 1.0 LX manual acquitted itself well on my short urban and freeway drive in Cape Town. The facelift hasn’t affected the Picanto’s dimensions and it retains a minuscule length of 3,595mm, but there’s sufficient space inside the cabin for four adults — albeit at the cost of a tiny 255l boot.

At sea level the little three-cylinder engine delivers sufficient suburb-hopping power and doesn’t feel overwhelmed on the open road, where it’s able to cruise at the 120km/h speed limit and more.

The seven-year-old Picanto has aged well in terms of refinement and it’s a quiet little operator, without sounding buzzy when the engine is revved hard.

It has good ride comfort and neat handling, with great visibility that makes the little car easy to thread through busy traffic.

With a solid feel and modern cabin ambience the cheerful Korean hatch is a pleasant steer in the budget car league.


1.0 LX Manual — R260,995

1.0 LX Auto — R278,995

1.2 EX Manual — R284,995

1.2 EX Auto — R302,995

1.2 EX Plus Manual — R307,995

1.2 EX Plus Auto — R325,995

Prices include an unlimited-kilometre/five-year warranty and two-year/30,000km service plan. A variety of plan extension options are available.

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