Kia Picanto EX AT – A holistic approach

I’ve always liked a good, small hatchback. Buyers today are very lucky because the segment, despite its affordability, has become so good that they’re not just a bare bones vehicle. I’m also very familiar with the limits of their class since I’ve driven the Brio and Wigo many times already, and I daily drive a Celerio.

When this Picanto EX came in, I honestly wasn’t not expecting much. Majority of that snobbishness came from the spec sheet. It’s 2021 already and yet this comes with a dated 4-speed automatic, at a time where CVT has made its way into the segment of affordable cars. All I could think of was “man, this is going up against the Brio, and they can’t be bothered to put a CVT?” Sure, it has a 1.2-liter 4-cylinder engine, but to pair that with a dated transmission seemed like a waste.

The Picanto was quick to prove me wrong though. What seemed to be its greatest weakness turned out to be its strongest point because the 4-speed auto under the Kia Picanto is just too good. It’s quick from stop, very responsive and shifts smoothly. It’s also more intelligent about when to stay in current gear and when to shift up, depending on how you step on the throttle, and leaves even the best CVTs in its segment behind. If anything, the Picanto just proves that dated tech can be better than newer ones if the execution is right.

The 4-speed auto was also stellar in making the 1.2L engine shine throughout my drive. It felt more powerful, despite having only 83 horsepower on tap and 122 Nm of torque. It’s also demure in its consumption, reaching 8.3km/l in traffic and going 13km/l when there’s less congestion on the road. As much as I hate to admit it, this combination from the Picanto surpasses that of the Brio.

What’s more surprising was the ride. Despite having basically the same suspension as others in its class, the Picanto rides way smoother than all of them. I’ve driven my Celerio and this Picanto in the same portions of the truck lane in C5 and the difference was significant in that it was almost like a sedan in its behavior. Not even the Honda Brio was able to absorb the imperfections that well.

There are only a few stories to tell inside the Picanto, first of which is that the materials feel very budgeted, like the pre-refresh Wigo. Aesthetically I appreciate the unique design implemented on the dash that gives the Picanto a more modern appeal. There’s also more functionality here thanks to the 7-inch touchscreen that has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reverse camera with dynamic guide lines, 6-speaker system, and the backseat that can be folded split 60:40 for versatility in cargo hauling.

The only ‘off’ thing for me in the Picanto is the controls on the driver’s side. Usually when I place my arm on the armrest of the door panel, my hand lands on the control for the windows, locks, and side mirrors. This is applicable for all the small hatchbacks I’ve driven. In the Picanto, I have to pull my arm back a bit just to get to those controls. It’s a small matter, but worth noting for those who are very particular with their ergonomics.

In terms of looks, the Picanto doesn’t do it for me since I prefer a more mature design like that of the Brio. I can see the appeal of this Kia though and know that some people will like its petite aggressiveness.

As for the price, this Kia Picanto EX AT is the second most expensive in its class at P745,000, next to the Mitsubishi Mirage CVT. It’s inevitable to raise your eyebrow at that price point, considering that it sports old tech underneath while its competitors at that range have a CVT, Push Start button, and power folding side mirrors. But do you really need them?

The Picanto is a holistic car that focuses on core necessities and made sure it does them all well. Modern touches like smartphone interface and reverse camera, versatile cargo space, great powertrain and a smooth ride adds up to a great driving experience. Not every car in its segment can claim they can provide all of those in a single package.

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