Good things do come in small packages

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 08:04 11/01/2012
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The Kia Picanto is small but big, and cute as a button.

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The festive season is a time of relatives, presents, and loads of food.

It's a time when, for days on end, there's a succession of visits to other peoples' places - usually with a car full of all

KIA PICANTO RX

POWER PLANT: 1248cc DOHC petrol engine with continuously variable valve timing, 64 kW at 6000 rpm, 123 Nm at 4000 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front wheel drive. Four-speed automatic transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, coupled torsion beam axle at the rear. Electric power steering, full suite of handling aids.

HOW BIG: Length 3595mm, width 1595mm, height 1480mm, wheelbase 2385mm.

HOW MUCH: $20,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Good looks, roomier interior, peppy performance.

WHAT'S NOT: Auto is only four speeds, cargo room is small-car restricted.

OUR VERDICT: Nice little car, and the EX offers excellent specification for the price

sorts of stuff including equipment for sitting out in the sun, and plenty of food and drink.

It's also a time when the benefits of a sensible sort of car really come into their own.

But what is sensible for this time of the year? Large? Small? SUV? Ute?

I was reminded of all of that during the festive season just finished, because the car I was driving was one of the smallest on the market - a little 1.2-litre Kia Picanto hatchback.

Now this hatch might be bigger than the Picanto it replaced late last year, and it might offer those aboard (well, those in the front seats anyway), a surprisingly spacious motoring experience, but it is little. And perhaps the littlest part of the Picanto is its rear cargo area, which offers just 200 litres of space when all seats are in use.

Actually that's not so bad considering that this is a small car, and in fact it is 27 per cent more space than the previous model Picanto offered. And when the 60:40 split-fold rear seats are folded down, this increases to 870 litres, which I found to be sufficient to cart around most of the paraphernalia that came with visiting friends and relatives for the string of gatherings and functions over the festive season.

Except a pig.

This Christmas my son decided to host the wider family by roasting a pig on a spit. So I arranged to get one, and on Christmas Eve it duly became available to deliver to my son's house.

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But how? It certainly couldn't fit sideways into the little Picanto with its 1002mm interior load width; and even with the vehicle's rear seats folded down, it would almost have been a case of the pig's back legs poking over the back of the front passenger seat - which my wife said she certainly wouldn't appreciate.

Neither would have Kia New Zealand, if truth be known.

So we chucked it into a back of a ute instead.

So there you go, ladies and gentlemen. If you're going to require a vehicle capable of carrying substantial loads - such as a pig - then maybe a car the size of a Kia Picanto isn't for you.

But all joking aside, this new Kia does offer a surprising amount of interior space for its size. It is 60mm longer than the previous model, and its wheelbase has been increased by 15mm. As a result, front leg room has been increased by 36mm, which makes the cabin one of the biggest in its class.

It feels it, too. For those in the front seats there's plenty of room, particularly for the head and shoulders, and the seats feel nicely supportive. The dash area is well designed, and the two-spoke steering wheel on our top EX model had the controls for both audio and Bluetooth hands-free telephone system.

Standard items on all models include air conditioning, remote central locking, power windows, heated door mirrors, trip computer, daytime running lights, in-cabin headlight adjustment, and MP3 player.

The EX also gets 15-inch alloys instead of 14-inch versions, front fog lights, LED lights front and rear, the leather steering wheel with the audio and phone controls, more luxurious upholstery, height adjustable driver's seat, and reverse warning sensors.

In addition, whereas the lesser models in the Picanto range have six airbags, the EX has seven thanks to fitment of a knee airbag.

All the models also have the safety of electronic stability control, which works in conjunction with the electric power steering to help keep things under control. Picanto also has traction control, ABS braking, and even hill-start assist control that prevents the car from rolling backwards for two seconds when the driver takes his or her foot off the brake pedal while starting on a hill.

This car, which is Kia's smallest model, is powered by a new 1250cc petrol engine from Kia's Kappa family of power plants. It's an appealing little power unit that offers 64 kilowatts of power and 122 Newton metres of torque, which is 34 per cent more power and 24 per cent more torque than the 1.1-litre engine that powered the previous Picanto.

It's a nice unit that offers sound performance, with perhaps the only downfall being that in the case of the EX it is mated to a four- speed automatic transmission.

A couple of years ago, when I visited South Korea as a guest of Kia, I was told that all the marque's four-speeders were to be replaced with six-speed autos, so I don't know what's happened here. Maybe Kia decided that a modest little hatch, offering performance that's peppy rather than powerful, only needs a four-speed auto.

This new Picanto impresses as a good-looking little car which boasts Kia's signature 'tiger-nose' grille, pronounced crease lines down its flanks, and rear hockey stick-shaped LED tail lights that help give this hatchback a distinctive look. All models also have the daytime running lights, which are all the rage now.

Overall, it all adds up to what has to rate as one of the nicest new hatchbacks on the mini-car segment of the market. I have to admit that during the festive season I had a load of fun in the Picanto - even if it wasn't quite big enough to carry a pig.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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