Long-term test: Kia Picanto 2 EcoDynamics
It's a glib thing to say these days, but Kia is a company on the up (there, we said it anyways). That's probably nowhere better demonstrated than in a new Picanto - a car that happens to be on the Up.
The Volkswagen Up, that is. It's a testament to how far Kia has come recently that its littlest car can be mentioned in the same breath as the latest from the mighty Volkswagen - the Up is the widely acknowledged class leader. But in our humble opinion, the Picanto looks better, at least.
So it's with much excitement that we've taken delivery of Kia's runt as our latest long-term test car. It fills big shoes, too, replacing the Audi A7 that we ran for a few months; we've dropped from a car costing north of £50,000 to one that starts below £10,000.
But having run the Picanto for a few weeks, putting well over 1,000 miles on the clock, we can already tell you it's not been a crash landing.
Obviously we're not going to spend any time comparing the Audi and the Kia - the trolls would destroy us for that, for a start - but it's notable that the transition between the two, for a family of four, hasn't been painful.
Of course, the Kia is a city car, not a family car, but the fact is that buyers are increasingly downsizing, so runabouts like the Picanto are expected to do more - it's not unreasonable to expect two adults and two children to be fairly comfy in a car with five doors, plus have a bit of room for a few bags in the boot, is it?
As it turns out, the Picanto is proving an admirable school run facilitator, because it gets the basics right: there's enough legroom in the back, even when two full scale adult types are in the front; there's masses of headroom; driving position is spot on (the footwell is big enough for three pedals and two legs); the boot is a boot, rather than a rear glove compartment; and there are pockets galore in which to store the crap you can't be bothered to take out and put in the bin.
It's not perfect, though. A motorway car it definitely isn't - there's so much noise that the radio has to be set to actual MAX in order to make out the comforting, rational verbosity of Richard P Bacon on 5Live.
The Picanto also suffers from an oversensitive throttle, and a clutch that seems calibrated specifically to prevent smooth take offs.
We're slightly worried about the mpg, too. Ours is an EcoDynamics car, which means it gets a 1.25-litre petrol engine with 84bhp, spitting out 100g/km. Its official average economy rating is 65.7mpg, although its draining its tank at an alarming rate at present - and with 8,400 miles on the clock, it's not as though it needs broken in.
As it happens, at about the time we took delivery, What Car? launched its True MPG thing, and the Picanto tanked, scoring 26mpg less than Kia's average mpg claim. We'll obviously be keeping an eye on that in due course.
The ISG (start-stop) is working effectively though, initiating from very early on in a journey - some systems have to meet so many circumstantial parameters before they'll work (temperature, air con intensity etc) that they rarely actually engage.
But the resounding characteristic of the Picanto, apart from its lovely face, is how much good it is to drive. Yes, that's how much good. It could possibly do with a slightly sharper steering rack for tight manoeuvring, but it's no big deal, because the Picanto is in possession of that mythical driving quality that eludes many new cars - feel.
It's one of those cars that seems happiest when it's being thrashed. Granted, that's probably not going to satiate its target market too much, but it works for us.
Sadly, the Picanto's not going to be spending much time on the open road while we've got it...it's going to London, innit.
Yep, the Picanto will soon be heading to the City, where it'll replace our long-term Ford Focus. That's exactly the sort of environment that this car is made for.
So, we'll let you know how it goes...