Focus on the new Kia Picanto

The Kia Picanto may have slipped under the radar in recent years. However, the small city car is about to get its share of the limelight, because the next generation model due for release this year is superb.

Chris Knapman of the Telegraph says: "As far as launching new cars goes, basing your latest model on the established class leader, then making it better looking, makes a lot of sense. The latest product from Kia does just that."

AutoExpress says: "Kia has succeeded in moving the Picanto upmarket. The new look, inside and out, adds to the appeal, and if Kia can price it right, the Picanto could be a serious challenger to the established Ford Ka and Fiat 500."

AutoCar says: "It does feel more grown-up, more refined and much better finished, offering road tax-free, economical motoring if it’s not rushed. With that in mind, the probable starting price of around £8000 has a distinct whiff of a bargain about it."

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you may not have noticed Kia’s steady rise towards the mainstream in the UK with a string of good-looking, well-equipped cars with strong engine choices and that superb seven year warranty.

The Kia Sportage was a major breakthrough for Kia, but the Picanto is the bread and butter of the brand because it represents such a large segment – the small car market.

Now, the Kia Picanto has been sprinkled with Kia’s magic dust and the result is a car which will have plenty more people lining up to praise it before the year is out.

So why should the likes of the Fiat 500 be nervously glancing over their shoulder at the arrival of the once overlooked Picanto in 2011?

Why should I buy a new Kia Picanto?

The Kia Picanto was always a good looking small car with a solid if unspectacular interior and decent amount of equipment, but it wasn’t capable of challenging the leaders.

However, with the latest model it just may do this. The design team led by Peter Schreyer has reworked the Picanto with the now familiar makeover and the result is one of the best looking models in the small car segment.

The ‘tiger face’ is simple but attractive, and the small car moves away from the often ‘cute’ looks of rivals.

Moving inside, the leap forward in interior quality is instantly noticeable and the biggest indicator yet Kia is moving away from its budget image in the UK.

Equipment is improved as well in all three trim levels, helpfully named 1, 2 and 3, and the interior is larger than previous versions.

Engine choices are equally impressive, with a frugal entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine delivering free road tax and exemption from the London congestion charge.

A more powerful engine, the 1.25-litre petrol, also falls into Band A of VED and Kia has also hinted at a performance version in future – something we’d be delighted to see in Perrys dealerships from 2012.

What will it cost?

Five-door models will be available initially at, amazingly, under £8,000. This is all the more impressive when Kia’s seven year warranty is taken into account.

Three-door versions are expected to be cheaper as well, making it one of the most tempting and affordable small cars on the market.

The Kia Picanto will go on sale this year, replacing the current generation model with a genuine city car contender.