If the Picanto was a footballer, it would be an agile and surprisingly stylish player that impresses the fans – and only the manager would know about the drink problem.
Anyone who drives one in London must feel a twinge of conscience every time they drive a congestion-charge free Picanto into the central area. It has an official CO2 figure of 99 g/km (and 67.3 mpg), but our example has managed 39.6 mpg overall, and rather less than that in town. 39.6 mpg in petrol car equates to 167 g/km of CO2, which is no-one's idea of environmental awareness.
In fact most things related to fuel usage are a source of annoyance on the Picanto. The fuel gauge assures you that you have a full tank for ages, and then suddenly drops from ¼ full to empty in minutes. Then the stop-start system is next to useless: on our car it engages on less than 10% of the occasions the car stops at a traffic light. Indeed at the time of writing, it has actually engaged once in 400 miles (and all the while, the car was reporting that it was switched on).
The only small chink of light is that the final tankful, after 300 miles of exclusively motorway mileage, resulted in a figure of 49.5 mpg. We were pleasantly surprised, until it occurred to us that a 1.0 litre car driven at an indicated 75 mph should be doing better than that. Interestingly, Autocar, based in suburban Teddington, recently reported an overall figure of 42.8 mpg from their Picanto long-termer, so it is not simply an issue with our one car.
Assuming your mileage is not high enough to make fuel consumption terribly important, how is the Picanto? It is actually a good car, which makes its refuelling issues even more frustrating. We are still impressed with the styling, both inside and out. It looks so much more sophisticated than would have seemed possible for a Korean car only ten years ago – and more sophisticated than most European equivalents. It is also quite bearable on the motorway. We drove from London to Warwickshire and London to Hampshire (for CarFest) on successive days, and it was quite happy to cruise at motorway speeds. Only the rather weedy radio seemed fazed by the journey – on one occasion, we were startled to find that in order to listen to Radio 4, we had the volume turned up to maximum and it was still no louder than normal conversational level.
The dynamics are generally as grown-up as the design. The ride, handing and steering are all at least as sophisticated as you would expect from a city car - if anything the ride and handling are a pleasant surprise, and a world away from the thoroughly depressing experience of driving a small Korean car of ten years ago. The only parts of the dynamics that do require improvement are the pedals. We have got used to the vague clutch now, but it is, objectively, a poor piece of engineering. In this day and age, clutches should just work without the driver having to think about them. The throttle is over-light, which is the last thing you want if the clutch is vague, and the brakes are very sharp indeed. You subconsciously adapt to them in a few miles, but we spent a week driving a car from the 1980s and then came back to the Picanto to find our first red traffic light turned into an unintended emergency stop.
So how does the final scorecard read? We rated the Picanto very highly when we drove it on the launch in France – but on a launch, you never refuel the car. If it got within 20% of its official fuel consumption figure, we would still highly recommend it (take off 20% has long been the rule of thumb for converting official fuel consumption to real-world figures). However, having to take off 40% on most trips is just too much.