Model: Kia Picanto Ice
Engine: 1.1-litre petrol
P erformance: 96mph, 0-60mph in 15.1 seconds, 64bhp at 5,500rpm, 97Nm at 2,800rpm53.3mpg
Worth considering: Fiat Panda, Proton Savvy, Toyota Aygo
More and more people are taking notice of Kia these days. That's mainly because of the impact made by the launch last year of the Korean company's Golf-sized cee'd, a car designed from the ground up to appeal to Europeans – an aim in which it succeeds handsomely.
But before the cee'd came along, it was the little Picanto, launched in 2004 with a cheerful and imaginative high-profile advertising campaign, that introduced customers to the previously unfamiliar notion that they might buy a Kia – or any Korean car, for that matter – because it was cute or desirable, rather than just because it was cheap.
Not that the tradition of keen pricing has been abandoned with the newly revamped version of the Picanto sampled by our readers this week. The cheapest version of Kia's smallest car costs just £5,995, while the Ice model featured here costs £1,000 more but offers lots of standard kit, including such items as air conditioning and a leather -trimmed steering wheel.
There's more to the Picanto's interior than a generous equipment list, though. With its dark grey trim and decent plastics, this car's cabin is much more Euro-tasteful.
I'm not sure whether the Picanto can be said to be truly piquant in the way that characterful small French and Italian cars used to be.
But out on the road it shows an appealingly eager nature – although if you load it up with passengers and luggage, a few limitations do become apparent. The short wheelbase, for example, can make for a slightly pitchy ride and the engine can run out of puff a bit on hills, although it rarely sounds harsh or strained.
But all in all, with its four-door body and rear seats that fit adults, the Picanto offers an awful lot for a product that's thousands of pounds cheaper than some more mainstream European small cars.
The truth is that for most of the journeys most of us make on this small and congested island, the Picanto is all the car we really need.
Roland Yates, 56, Building surveyor, Farnham, Surrey
Usual cars: VW Golf GTi and Lupo
The styling is fairly unremarkable, and the headlights are large and slightly out of proportion. Inside, the black upholstery and dashboard have a look and feel of quality that was unexpected. Engine noise was noticeable under acceleration. Mechanical and wind noise was minimal even at the legal speed limit; no need to raise your voice to chat. The ride on rougher surfaces was choppy, but acceptable on smooth roads. Cornering and handling felt safe and secure, although without feedback. Pushed in corners, body roll became more noticeable. It's excellent value for money, with lots of standard features. I was pleasantly surprised by the Picanto. It would make an excellent second family car, useful for school runs.
Graham Cockram, 32, Monica, 31, Joshua, 18 months, IT consultant and teacher, Sutton, Surrey
Usual car: Vauxhall Astra Estate
Graham: If you want a car that will get you from A to B with no fuss – and without setting your pulse racing – this is the one for you. Having said that, I found the driving position too high, the rear view was obscured by the third brake-light and sitting in the back was uncomfortable due to the seat and ride quality.
Monica: I found the car to be easy to drive, but it was hard to judge whether I was in the right gear. Speaking as a mum, we were just able to fit our pushchair in the boot, but there wasn't much room to fit in the weekly shop as well.
Joshua: I loved it because I was able to see out of the window from my car seat.
Barry Raphael, 45, IT consultant, Addlestone, Surrey
Usual car: Porsche Boxster S
I was struck by the Picanto's contemporary looks, inside and out. All the mod cons (air-con, ABS, power steering, CD player) are present, and fit and finish are as good as anything in its class. The 1.1-litre engine has enough power to shift the car with sufficient gusto, at commuting as well as motorway speeds. The ergonomics are right for this type of car, and the driving position very comfortable. Its handling for a short wheelbase vehicle was adequate for town/urban driving, although it pitched over bumps about as much as any short wheelbase car I've driven. Road noise was very low other than from the tyres. Visibility was excellent and I did not feel intimidated by larger vehicles. Well done Kia!
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