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Kia takes Picanto beyond city limits 

THE city is far from the limit for Kia’s new Picanto.

That was clearly the case when I attended its launch in Italy.

My drive started on arrival at Grosseto Airport and a route of two and a half hours took in many winding and hilly roads.

The Picanto proved to be as lively and enjoyable as the wine I sampled later in the day in the Tuscany sunshine.

This is the third generation Picanto – there was an earlier Pride model that Kia brought to the UK in 1991.

It was all about being cheeky and cheep for the Korean car company then and this practical little car was a popular new arrival.

Fast forward the years though and you will discover that the Picanto has evolved to become MUCH more than that.

The bar has been raised in many areas, including design, build quality, performance and small-car driving enjoyment.

With more quality players arriving in the A-segment since the previous Picanto’s launch in 2011, Kia has responded to the challenge with this stunning new model.

It’s no larger than its predecessor but delivers greater space and practicality.

With 15mm added to the wheelbase, clever packaging improves passenger and luggage space with the boot’s capacity going up by 55 litres to a class-best 255 litres and increasing to 1,010 litres with rear seats folded.

There’s also plenty of head, elbow and legroom for driver, front and rear passengers in a more spacious and higher quality interior.

The Picanto is a little eye-catcher with Kia adding more sporting touches to its exterior.

The front gets wider grilles and air intakes, bumpers are bolder, and prominent wheel arches give it a more squatter, sportier stance.

It now comes in just five-door style and there are more sporty exterior changes depending on the spec.

Kia sticks with its 1, 2 and 3 trim levels but has also adds sporting GT-Line and GT-Line S models to the range.

There is a choice of two petrol engines from launch – a three-cylinder 66bhp 1.0-litre and 83bhp 1.25-litre – with a turbo 99bhp 1.0-litre due later this year.

My first drive was in a Picanto 2 featuring the smaller-powered engine.

This will be the most popular choice in the range and buyers won’t be disappointed.

Out on the open road it proved to be a quieter performer than the outgoing model.

Greater insulation has helped to bring reduced noise vibration and harshness, and it did cruise along well at motorway speeds.

It moved quicker out of the blocks than the zero to 60mph time of 13.8 seconds would suggest.

I liked the five-speed manual gearbox that provided slick, smooth chan-ges.

The engine was perky enough going through the gears and responded well when dropping down a gear for some extra midrange acceleration.

Suspension modifications have brought improved handling, and cornering roll has been reduced so it was great fun tackling bends at speed.

Kia introduces torque vectoring into its city car with Picanto and this assists handling stability in corners and is standard on all models.

There was also a good firm feel while cornering on some twisting roads at high speeds.

The new motor-assisted power steering is responsible for that and it was also light and quick enough when it came to driving in the city and parking manoeuvres.

Further drives allowed me to sample the1.25-litre engine that was a bit quicker off the mark, reaching 60mph in 11.6 seconds and capable of 107mph against the 1.0-litre’s100mph.

The added power meant fewer mid-range gear changes and it was slightly quieter at motorway speeds but I would happily opt for the 66bhp-engined version that I enjoyed in city and country-road drives.

The re-engineered engines offer better fuel consumption and lower emissions, with the 1.0-litre capable of 64.2mpg combined, 1.25-litre 61.4mpg and 101g/km and 106g/km respectively.

Kia tends to provide high equipment levels in its models and the Picanto is no different.

The 1 features include electric front windows, tinted windows and tilt-adjustable steering wheel.

Grade 2 adds items such as aircon, electric rear windows, electric heated door mirrors, Bluetooth with music streaming, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear lever and a four-speaker, rather than two-speaker audio system.

Interior and exterior enhancements include high-gloss black centre fascia trim, body-coloured door handles and side mirror housing, chromed grille surround and 14-inch alloys.

Grade 3 benefits include centre armrest, auto aircon, cruise control with speed limiter, seven-inch floating central display with satnav, Bluetooth with voice recognition, DAB radio, rear parking camera and sensors, front fog lights, electric folding mirrors with LED indicators and 15-inch alloys.

For those who want to stand out from the crowd the GT Line brings more eye-catching features that include larger sports front and rear bumpers and red highlights within the upper grille and side air intakes, along the side sills and in the lower rear bumper, as well as twin exhaust pipes.

There’s also 16-inch alloys, black and red faux leather seats, privacy glass on rear windows and tailgate, bi-function projection headlamp units, LED daytime running lamps and rear lights, chrome beltline strip and stainless steel pedals.

Step up to the top-of-the-range £13,950 GT-Line S 1.25-litre and the extra goodies include wireless phone charger, electric sunroof, heated front seats and steering wheel, smart key and push button stop start.

Picanto is a popular car in the UK with almost a quarter of its European sales.

And with prices starting at £9,450 – plus Kia’s market leading warranty of seven years or 100,000 miles – the new arrival is set to blow away its city rivals.