Kia adds space and

sportiness

Kia Picanto, side action
Kia Picanto, front action
Kia Picanto, front static
Kia Picanto, rear action
Kia Picanto, front seats
Kia Picanto, rear seats
Kia Picanto, dashboard
Kia Picanto, boot
Kia Picanto, upright static

NO matter that most buyers of small cars are from the more mature end of the age spectrum, the people who design them work hard for what they call a sporty and youthful feel.

And you'd bet they're right to do so: the oldies among us might not want to go everywhere at the speed of light but, hey, it's just fine to look a tiny bit cool as you potter around.

So no surprise that the latest Picanto from Kia has gone for the athletic look, even adding a version that pretends it has properly joined the hot hatch club. Except that it hasn't, to the certain benefit of insurance premiums and pay-per-month personal contract figures.

Precisely the same modest length and width as the outgoing car, the new third generation Kia is marginally taller, with a much bigger boot and a bit more space for passengers in the back thanks to adding distance between front and rear wheels.

More use of stronger steel - and applying a lot more glue to joints in the body - has added rigidity and helped the car lose a little weight while allowing the engineers to design a more responsive suspension and steering system in aid of that much vaunted sportiness.

Carrying over the old cars' 1.0 and 1.25 litre petrol engines with only modest changes to improve fuel consumption and lower tailpipe emissions means there are currently 66 or 83bhp to propel the cars, with a turbocharged 99bhp version of the 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine arriving late this year.

Top speeds for now are 100mph and 106mph with the sprint to 62mph in 13.8 or 11.6 seconds. So neither current car is remotely sporty, although owners are more likely to care about their emissions, with 101and 106g/km respectively promising affordable road tax (£140) under the recently revised regime.

Prices start several hundred pounds higher than before, now from £9,450. That's for a '1' grade Picanto with the 1.0 litre engine and in the bright blue paint that is the only finish not to attract a charge, either or £250 or £495 depending on whether you choose Optional or Premium paint.

The range then continues, you may guess correctly, to a '2' grade 1.0 litre at £10,750 and the single version Kia thinks will be the biggest seller of the new range.

We then move to '3' grade and the sportier looking GT-Line or GT-Line S, whose 1.25 litre model currently tops the price table at £13,950. There is a £11,900 automatic transmission version of the 1.25 litre Picanto but losing the clutch bring 124g/km and £160 a year road tax in year one.

The smaller engined model recorded 64.2mpg in the official test, which turned into 46mpg over 80 miles of mixed road motoring on the Picanto's press launch in Italy, which also revealed a car that is quiet and smooth on decent roads and still well behaved on anything approaching a typical British blacktop.

No ball of fire, though, and needing lots of encouragement via a slick changing 5-speed gearbox to make brisk progress. The larger engined version tried over less demanding roads actually did better on economy, showing 50mpg against the official 61.4mpg but felt scarcely any more lively.

That might have been down to an engine that had covered a mere 170 miles since leaving its Korean production line a few weeks earlier, but the upcoming turbo version, even without any officially quoted figures as yet, looks the better bet to anyone who likes to press on.

Regardless of your speed you'll notice that the likely favourite '2' grade comes pretty well equipped, with air conditioning, electric windows all round, heated door mirrors, Bluetooth, four speaker sound system and 14ins alloy wheels, which let the car ride notably better than the 16ins alloys and lower profile tyres of the GT-Line.

Move to a grade '3' car and you add autonomous emergency braking, 15ins alloys, big display screen with satellite navigation, DAB radio, six speakers, rear view camera and parking sensors.

Added visual sportiness arrives on the GT-Line and GT-Line S with side skills and bolder bumpers front and rear, electric folding mirrors along with dual exhaust and leather look trim for the seats.

Top of the tree GT-Line S pops on an electric sunroof, heated front seats and steering wheel and satellite navigation, illuminated vanity mirror for the driver - and a push button starter button.

So, it's a thorough reworking of an important car for Kia, where it's the company's second biggest seller, if the likely 14,000 annual sales will be dwarfed by the bigger, much dearer Sportage that makes the company money men smile quietly when they think of the bottom line.

Even so, the new Sportage has comfortably earned its place in the current Kia hierarchy.

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