IN a day and age when the buying public seem to be queuing up to get behind the wheel of any type of crossover or SUV, it's worth remembering that the city car still has a huge part to play in everyday lifestyles.
In fact, the mini car-segment accounts for about 130,000 sales every year in the UK so getting the perfect mix of size, styling, practicality, technology and performance can be quite a juggling act.
But it would seem that Kia has achieved the impossible with its latest all-new third generation Picanto, which is priced between £9,450 and £13,950.
At launch there are refined versions of the existing 1.0-litre 66bhp and 1.25-litre 83bhp normally aspirated petrol engines with improved economy of up to 64.2mpg and lowered carbon emissions from 101g/km. Later this year Kia will introduce a third 99bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi turbocharged powertrain.
The new Picanto is available in five trim levels called 1, 2, 3, GT-Line and GT-Line S and all models now have five doors as there was very little demand for three-door cars.
Designers have to strike exactly the right balance when considering the size of a city car and Kia has been very clever in that department.
For despite still boasting the exact dimensions on the outside (3,595mm length and 1,595mm width), the new Picanto offers improved passenger and luggage space. It is 5mm taller than its predecessor and the wheelbase is 15mm longer and that means extra room for occupants plus an increased boot capacity of 255 litres making it the best-in-class.
But numbers and dimensions aside, the car features a far sportier stance with a wider grille and air intakes flanked by neat light clusters. At the rear there are larger C-shaped lights and the waistline is lower and flatter to accentuate the athletic styling.
Move inside and the car adopts Kia's more recent styling trait of a horizontally-structured dashboard split into display and control areas which are separated by a chrome strip. The vertical air vents each end of the dashboard act as bookends and also help to convey a wide design ethos.
The seats are lower and positioned slightly further back so the front occupants benefit from extra head, leg and shoulder space while the room in the back is virtually the same as on the outgoing model.
The introduction of improved materials and trim help to give the Picanto a more upmarket feel and there is wealth of on-board technology to explore.
For example, entry level 1 models feature electric front windows, tinted glass, a two-speaker radio with aux and USB ports, remote locking, a tilt adjustable steering wheel, automatic lights and lots of safety aids.
Step up to level 2 - which Kia believes will be the biggest seller - and you will see the likes of air conditioning, electric rear windows, Bluetooth with music streaming, leather-trimmed gearstick and steering wheel, a four speaker sound system and plenty more besides.
Grade 3 models feature autonomous emergency braking as standard, more upmarket instrumentation, 15-inch alloys, front fog lights, automatic air conditioning, electric folding mirrors with LED indicators, a 7-inch floating central display screen with sat nav and full connectivity, Bluetooth with voice recognition, a DAB radio, six-speaker sound system and a rear parking camera.
GT-Line models are sportier in their appearance boasting a dual exhaust, 16-inch alloys, black and red faux leather seats, sports bumpers and side sills, satin chrome interior door handles and steel pedals.
Finally, range-topping GT-Line S cars add a wireless phone charger, electric sunroof, heated front seats with a heated steering wheel, a seven-inch display screen with sat nav and a dual height boot floor with luggage net and hooks.
We tried out the new Picanto models on a varying road route around the Italian countryside and they performed beautifully.
Initially we questioned whether a tiny three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine would have enough gusto to carry two adults along with luggage as we climbed the hills of Tuscany, but any fears were laid to rest as it skipped up the inclines with ease. And on faster motorways, a cruising speed of 70mph was easily achieved without any screaming from the engine.
This car can reach 60mph from a standing start in 13.8 seconds and maxes out at 100mph. It can deliver combined economy of 64.2mpg with emissions of 101g/km.
Kia has worked hard to improve the insulation and ride quality on the Picanto and that's very apparent with virtually no noise intrusion even at higher speeds.
We tried the higher specced cars too and while the GT-Line S is beautifully crafted and will certainly turn plenty of heads you do have to pay quite a lot more for the sophisticated styling.
In fact, our first car which was in ‘2' trim level was priced at Â£10,750, but the GT-Line S 1.5-litre model carried a Â£13,950 price-tag.
It does react slightly quicker with a 0-60mph sprint time of 11.6 seconds and top speed of 107mph but buyers will have to weigh up the costs against the looks and performance when choosing their model.
Both cars handled beautifully and the road-holding was certainly confident and assured even when driven pretty enthusiastically. The steering is quite light but nice and responsive and the all-round visibility is excellent which is a ‘must' for any city car where squeezing into tight parking spaces is the norm.
All in all, the latest Picanto really turns up the heat in the city car segment. It looks fabulous, drives beautifully and it would seem there is a model to suit all tastes and budgets. Factor in the world class seven-year/100,000-mile warranty and it's easy to see why Kia is proving such a big hitter these days.