April 23, 2018, 7:46 am
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KIA PICANTO: Economical is expected, but more surprises await

NO surprise, at least for those of us lucky enough to have tested the smallest of Kia’s vehicles locally, that it won best in fuel economy in its class from the Department of Energy (DOE) and Petron’s Fuel Economy Run.

The format of the economy challenge has changed, with media people contributing their weight and their wits in observing the way the cars are driven. There was a time when the media men were actually given a chance to drive the cars.  But that is not the point. The 1.2-liter GT Line version of the Picanto is not only sportier, it is also the most frugal.

Now frugal and sporty do not mix well in a cocktail. The young looking GT is obviously aimed at the millennials, so the sight of my 50-ish editor driving it brought some mixed reactions. Though his well-gelled hair was a bit frivolous for him, it did add a dash of youth. But his driving was extremely youthful and spirited. And I wasn’t sure if it was the hair, or the car. 

There really isn’t much “add-on” or “bolt-on” technology to the Picanto GT Line to enhance its speed or its handling. There is a 1.0-liter turbocharged version that seems promising on paper, but the 1.2-liter version we have is impressive and may be better suited for the congested roads of the metropolis. It looks sporty enough and drives sportier than most in its category and the surprises all come when the small car is in motion. Though a myriad of unexpectations are when it is totally still.

For example, the wheel and tire selection is at that “just sporty enough” level of the sporty car meter. Not forced, and not racy-boy. Slightly safer in the design selection as it fills in the wheel arches properly—having little room for air between arch and tire also gives it that big wheel, lowered effect—when it fact total ride height was not changed from the regular Picanto.

Now the sporty touches outside—little curvy air dispersing body moldings here and there, a tiny chin by the front bumper, a little air curtain, a small air dam by the side, and thankfully a decent and unobstrusive air spoiler in the rear—all contribute to that “look fast, while standing still” image to it. The red accents help a lot too, in communicating the message of youthfulness and energy. As one observer said “it is a red blooded Korean in the Philippines.”

Now, I do not know if that makes sense to anyone else, but it does make a lot of sense to me. It is like a Taekwondo practitioner, silent and sullen in his white dobok and red belt. I am not sure which kind of Taekwondo gives out a red belt, but Wikipedia did tell me that it is like one rank before the black belt, which is the highest.

This is a perfect analogy for the GT Line Picanto. Not that it is a second runner, second rater, but that is it doing what it does well with a few and modest tech changes.

For example the 1.2-litre four-cylinder, which produces 83bhp at 6,000rpm and a slight kick of just 90lb ft of torque from 4,000rpm. That does not seem much. But during the Car of the Year (COTY) testing event held recently in the Arca South, test drivers commented how much power there was with the Picanto where it was needed most—in accelerating out of corners or as a getaway from the traffic light, and keeping pace with highway speeds. 

Even with the automatic gearbox it can hit 0-100 kph in about 14 seconds. The COTY testers can even push it down to about 12 seconds but that requires more skills than what I currently have. This is not drag racing fast, but perfectly fine around TPLEX (still wide open), or at the NLEX, in SLEX (not during Christmas) and in SCTEX (almost anytime) or up the Skyway (except in the morning). Anywhere else one will never never go near such speed anyway.

After my calculations I think that the ability of the Picanto to deliver so much fuel economy is in the torque band. The DOE run had enough passengers to mimic a full load more than qualified for the High Occupancy Volume (HOV) lanes. And since it has proven its worth as a fuel miser, it has also shown itself capable in other performance aspects. 

Power delivery is smooth. Almost no vibration and that turning radius is just tiny. The ride is mostly refined except in the cobblestoned streets of Intramuros. The ride is stable given the nearly 3,600 mm total length, the wheels spaced almost as far apart as a slightly bigger Hyundai Accent or Ford EcoSport. 

Red plus the body color dominates the interior. The white piece on the armrests, center console and dashboard contrasts strongly with the red pieces and stitching on the seats. The total ambience and feel is another surprise. Solid, firm and sporty. Though the seats are not truly sport seats, the bolsters provide strong and confident support and thus it becomes doubly interesting and even daring. 

The Kia Picanto GT Line is an interesting and capable little car in Kia’s stable. There is nothing in it that distracts or that does not meet expectations. It simply creates many surprises.
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