JOHANNESBURG – Facelifts, tweaks, call them what you want, but many South Africans like their vehicles to look a bit different from the regular crowd. And when you’re on a limited budget that’s not always possible which is why the Kia Picanto 1.2 X-Line is a welcome breath of fresh air. Okay it does stand at the top of the Picanto offerings, but at almost R240 000 it’s relatively affordable in the budget crossover segment and lined up against the competition it’s the funkiest of the bunch.
A redesigned grill, rear bumper, LED lights front and back, faux skid-plate, flared wheel arches and rounded off with 15-inch alloy wheels the X-Line has a cheeky appearance that is sure to find favour with buyers.
And while “budget segment” may have images of tacky, plastic-style interiors, it’s certainly not the case here.
The fit and finish is good and despite being relatively compact inside it feels almost premium. Decent materials abound with two-tone artificial leather seats and a leather trimmed steering wheel giving it a nice touch. The fascia layout is easy to use and uncluttered with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system dominating the dash that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible via a USB port.
Not so budget too are electric windows all round, manual air conditioning, USB/Aux/Bluetooth connectivity, fog lights, daytime running lights, rear camera and rear parking sensors. If you so wish, you can order it with a sunroof.
Driving the front wheels is Kia’s 1.2-litre normally aspirated 4 cylinder petrol engine that delivers 61kW and 122Nm via a five speed manual transmission in the test unit but there is the option of automatic.
While smaller turbo-charged engines are becoming the norm and have proven their reliability, as an owner there’s the knowledge that less can go wrong and it’s cheaper to repair.
It’s a willing engine that doesn’t mind being given a heavy right foot while the clutch is light and gear changes are swift and effortless.
Loaded with three or four adults that’s a good thing because there’s likely to be a number of gear changes when the road’s gradient increases especially in the highveld. It does however sit comfortably at the national speed limit and picks up speed easily enough when you need to pass slower traffic.
In urban traffic though it’s a pleasure. The Picanto eases into gaps where most wouldn’t, it’s quick off the mark and maneuvers easily between lanes and taxis.
Passenger space is acceptable but on long trips is likely to become cramped for taller people and with four up an overnight bag will have to do as a result of the 255 litre loadbay. With two up the rear can be folded down which should suffice for a longer holiday.
On my usual test run around the Cradle of Humankind and Magaliesberg the Picanto felt solid on both tar and gravel. Steering was light and direct and while it’s no hot hatch, it wasn’t shy to take bends at relative speed without too much fuss.
With its light steering, rear parking sensors and camera, inner city and tight mall parking should be a cinch even for the most nervous drivers.
As you would expect for a small car fuel consumption is one of its strong points and over the week I drove it that included school runs and urban commuting averaged 5.4l/100km, slightly over Kia’s quoted 5.0l/100km.
There’s hardly a stretch of road where you won’t come across a Picanto such is its popularity. The Kia Picanto X-Line adds a funky spin on a successful recipe and in a relatively cluttered segment gives it an appeal that most competitors don’t have.
All Picanto models come with an unlimited kilometre, five-year warranty (including roadside assistance) and a two-year/30 000km service plan which can be extended at a cost.