Review: Kia Picanto 1.2 EX – Exceeding expectations, leaps and bounds

Cheap and cheerful; even for a car that serves nothing more than to get me from A to B, these are the minimum requirements and I think it’s safe to assume the same for most of you out there.

Growing up, I had the first-generation 2006 Perodua Myvi to drive to school and college before my youngest sister took it over against my will. It’s still serving her very well till today, with only minor wear and tear replacements and repairs to groan about.

Practical and reliable, the now 12 year old Myvi was also a very useful yardstick then, when I got to try and compare the hatchbacks (of different makes) driven by my friends. Among them included a Peugeot 208, a Chevrolet Aveo and my then girlfriend’s first-generation Kia Picanto, coincidentally.

Having spent a fair amount of time in the latter, I can honestly say, it’s shit. It was so shit that I remember saying (countless times) that if I were to ever get into a fatal accident in the Picanto, I hoped for my body to be flung so far away from the car that they wouldn’t relate me to the accident and the car.

Like the new 2nd generation Picanto, our photography has also come a long way.

Then came the second-generation launched sometime in 2013. Not a piece of news I’d normally jumped straight into but seeing as a handful of motoring writers were so impressed with the car, for more reasons than one, that they actually went on to buy it for their daily use, I had every reason to believe that Kia’s new candidate to give the new Myvi a good run for its money, would be something to shout about.

And it was.

The Kia Picanto 1.2 EX at launch. Check out what it offers in detail here.

I remember being at the Picanto’s local launch earlier this year and when the price was announced, it was met with an applause. The positive reception was unprecedented but not unwarranted. And even after SST kicked in, it still bears the same RM 49,888 on-the-road without insurance price tag.

At that price you wouldn’t really expect much from the Picanto or a car really, especially if you’ve not heard of or taken notice of the car before, but then again, that’s actually the car’s biggest charm – its power to surprise.

Mention a sub-RM50,000 hatchback and you’d often picture a flimsy, dull-looking car that can’t be excited even with a lethal shot of adrenaline but as the pictures will tell, the Picanto isn’t any of that.

Granted, it may not be for everyone but I dig how it looks. It’s a little hatchback that isn’t afraid and doesn’t try too hard to look mean, with its U-shaped Daytime Running Lights within the aggressively-styled headlamps.

Paired with Kia’s signature front grille and the gapping design of the front bumper, the new Picanto looks like an angry and fidgety puppy but one you’d still want to try to pat.

The same can be said about its rear end too. The lines flow; they don’t end so abruptly that it makes the car look curvaceous in the front but square and boxy at the back.

Compared to its predecessor, the new Picanto definitely sports a sharper, more aggressive outlook as a whole but what they provided in terms of sportiness and dynamic design, they held back on equipment because those wheels are an utter buzzkill. Almost disappointing especially when its predecessor received a set of more striking wheels.

On the inside, it’s the same story as well. The new Picanto doesn’t try too hard to impress. If anything, it exudes this discreet sense of the confidence and competence from the moment you close the door – to the tune of a very stocky clunk.

And then when you examine the panels, the trims, the fit and finish, it all just feels right – especially when you consider what the car costs. As a whole, it did not make me react in the same way I would’ve when a date expresses her self-entitlement to free meals. Gross.

That said, it’s by no means a lavish interior, but more importantly to me, it wasn’t pretentious. Everything was where you’d expect it to be; they’re easily comprehensible and pleasantly functional with precise and clear displays.

I’m not big on the Android Auto nor Apple CarPlay offered in the new 7-inch touchscreen display but it’s definitely something to brag about to Myvi and Iriz owners, especially because you paid less for it.

What’s even more impressive are the six speakers and airbags inside the cabin. Mind you, for such a privilege, the nearest option is more or less RM 20,000 away in the form of a Honda Jazz. For most of us looking at a car in this price bracket, that’s easily another 2-3 years worth of painful monthly repayments.

Good things may come in small packages but they too, are not perfect. While the Picanto does offer more than it should at RM50k, with noticeably more headroom than before, its rear legroom is constant reminder of those dreadful Air Asia flights.

But then looking at the sheer petite dimensions of the Picanto, expecting abundance of space from its little frame is like expecting a three-course meal with champagne on a RM 200 return ticket to Bangkok in an Air Asia flight – you’re ridiculing no one but yourself.

Surprisingly, what the Picanto does offer that an Air Asia Airbus A320 flight wouldn’t, is refinement. At launch, Kia said that the new car comes with a number of soundproofing measures for reduced noise, vibration and harshness.

Most times, hearing such remarks from the marketing peeps, I’d just smirk with skepticism of the highest order but having driven the car, it made me feel so wrong to be so cynical.

With our roads paved to the smoothness of the Moon’s surface, the Picanto still offered the refinement of a car twice its price and even at triple digit speeds (when you finally get there), wind noise was blatantly on the lower end of the decibel scale.

And from behind the wheel, the power to surprise was even more…well, surprising! The steering was taut and sharp, with Kia claiming to have given the new Picanto a quicker steering rack. With that, it even allowed the Picanto to be mischievous to some degree, despite the lack of grunt.

Looking at the spec sheet, you wouldn’t expect much from a little 1.2-litre engine with 84 hp and 122 Nm of torque to its name and you’d be right. What I did notice (and you will most certainly too), was how rev happy the engine was, although it doesn’t really amount to much forward movement.

Paired with a four-speed automatic gearbox, it was always very eager to drop a gear and give you every ounce of performance it can muster – certainly a better match than the Rio’s dumbfounded engine and gearbox combo.

On how thirsty the Picanto is, you might find yourself refueling once every five days or so, if you lived in Cheras and work in PJ like I do, because the Picanto only comes with a tiny 30-odd litre fuel tank.

Even so, with my natural disability of a heavier right foot, the Picanto still managed to repay over 350 precious kilometres from the puny tank so I suspect you wouldn’t find it too challenging to hit 400 km in it.

Summing up, I couldn’t help but think of the Picanto in the same way I would describe my 5-year pair of worn-in, leather loafers. In many ways, everything about it just feels right, it’s dependable and sturdy in its construction.

While it may have been likened several times to an Air Asia plane, an Air Asia X flight is what the new Picanto really is. Like the long haul flights on-the-cheap with the budget airline, the new Picanto offers so much more for so little. It simply exceeds all expectations.



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