KIA'S third generation Picanto city car is now good enough to challenge the best in its class.
It goes on sale next month and will match or better any of its rivals for style, quality and comfort.
Bursting with equipment, more refined and better to drive than the model it replaces this all-new Picanto is an exciting addition to the sector.
The Picanto arrived in the UK back in 2004 and was and still is the Korean company's smallest and most affordable car. It was cheap and cheerful and a much improved replacement for their Pride model.
A new and very successful model arrived in 2011 and became a big seller for Kia UK and is their most important model after the Sportage.
Many other car makers have now joined the fight for sales in this demanding sector and Kia has introduced the new Picanto to keep them at bay.
This new car is a considerable improvement on the current model and offers a more spacious cabin, higher equipment levels and greatly improved technology.UK customers will be able to choose from a choice of three engines including a new three-cylinder turbocharged unit and on average the new range will cost about £750 more than the outgoing line-up.
The first view of the new car in the Tuscany sunshine put a smile on my face as the designers have managed to retain its cheeky looks while updating it to sit with the rest of the Kia range.
The tiger-nose grille is now bigger and bolder, the lines cleaner and although the dimensions are just about the same, the new model looks bigger and offers more space inside.
An extra 15mm has been added to the wheelbase and the wheels pushed back and this has created the extra interior room as well as increasing the boot space to a handy 255-litres - more than any of its rivals - and allowing for 1,010 litres when the rear seats are folded flat.
Four adults can now travel in comfort and the newcomer also has a tighter turning circle, making it a joy to drive in towns where it will spend most of its life.
It is very agile, easy to park and is ideal for life in the urban jungle.
Out on the open road or on motorways it is just as good and changes to the suspension and steering make it feel more grown-up.
It is considerably quieter than before thanks to more noise suppression and it handles well and gives you lots of feedback. Torque vectoring control is standard on all versions and the gear change feels more positive and you are rewarded in performance if you make good use of it.
The Picanto is now only available in five-door form and is initially with a choice of two petrol engines - a 1.0-litre with or a 1.2 with 83bhp and they will be joined later in the year by the new turbo three pot which will offer 100bhp.
The launch engines are not new but have been updated to reduce emissions with the 1.0-litre now rated at 101g/km and 106 for the 1.2 with five speed manual transmissions.
That also results in claimed official fuel returns of 64.2 and 61.4mpg respectively.An automatic is available with the 1.2-litre model and that returns 52.3mpg with a CO2 figure of 124g/km.
I tried both engines on a variety of Italian roads and both units performed well. The smaller engine is capable of 100mph with the sprint to 60mph taking 13.8 seconds and the 1.2 can hit 107mph and takes 11.6 seconds to reach 60mph.
The smart new interiors and equipment levels are impressive throughout the range and the top GT-Line S model features a touchscreen display with sat nav, smartphone compatability, emergency braking, heated seats and steering wheel, automatic air conditioning, sun roof and a high definition reversing camera.
The new Picanto is available in five trim levels - 1, 2, 3, GT-Line and GT-Line S - with the latter two grades directed towards younger customers.
With sporty features such as coloured trim inserts, a more aggressive nose and some mesh in the front grille, the Picanto will turn a few heads and the GT-Line cars also have twin exhausts and stylish 16-inch alloys. Leather-effect upholstery complete with coloured inserts, smart, gloss red gloss flashes in the door pulls and sporty metal pedals complete the package.
The other GT-Line Picantos are based on level 2 trim which means they lack the touchscreen and its functions but still have most of the other extras.
With prices starting from £9,450 through to £13,950, the new Picanto is plusher and more refined and a tempting purchase for motorists of all ages.