New Picanto is same length as previous model  - 3,595mm - but has longer wheelbase (2,400mm)

New Picanto is same length as previous model - 3,595mm - but has longer wheelbase (2,400mm)

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Known as the Morning in the country of its manufacture, the Picanto is one of Kia Motors Europe's best sellers. As an import from South Korea it won't ever be the regional segment's number one against the likes of the built-in-Europe VW up! and Fiat Panda. That doesn't mean that the new shape model isn't as good as these two or other A segment hatchbacks.

Good looks but is it roomy too?

If you haven't driven one of the younger models from this size class in a while, it will be surprising just how much value you get for your money. That means from GBP9,450 in the case of the Picanto. These tiddlers somehow pack an extraordinary amount of head, shoulder and leg room not just for the front occupants but sometimes for those in the back too. The down side is usually a tiny boot and strange looks due to a tall stance and short wheelbase. Not so with the new, JA series Picanto.

Fresh platform

The little five-door hatchback is claimed to be the first car for an HMG architecture although as usual Kia Motors doesn't tell the media what the platform's name is. Compared to the old shape Morning/Picanto, this one has shortened overhangs but a stretched wheelbase. The other great thing is that for once, there is decent space for cargo, this now being well over 200 litres (255). Drop the back seats and this will rise to as much as 1,000 litres. Just remember it's less than 3.6m long overall so a Rio, cee'd or Sportage would be a better bet for IKEA.

The current car is still fairly new to the European region, going on sale in South Korea during January after a December production start at Seosan. The Picanto-badged model made its world debut at the Geneva show, with the first LHD EU and EFTA countries receiving cars from April.

No diesel but a turbo petrol coming soon

An older Picanto was once available with the option of a diesel engine but the new model comes only with petrol power. Still, there is a choice of two engines and emissions can be as low as 101g/km. The range which went on sale in Britain during May offers nine variants in five trim lines. These are badged '1', '2', '3', 'GT-Line' and 'GT-Line S'.

Both GT cars have modified styling inside and out but no extra power. Later this year the most powerful engine yet for a Picanto will be added. This is a 99bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi turbo. I was surprised by just how zippy the non-turbo 1.0-litre was in 2 spec. This is a 998cc three-cylinder unit which produces 66bhp at 5,500 rpm and 96 lb ft at 3,500rpm. Top speed is a respectable 100mph and 0-60 (note that Kia doesn't quote 62mph) takes 13.8 seconds.

Nimble dynamics

In reality, the car feels faster than it is. Charge into an empty roundabout and be early on the throttle and keep the revs high-ish and this little hatchback could almost be a BMW i3. Only the Kia has more grip courtesy of wider tyres. And more roll but the lean is benign - it hangs on. Few owners will drive it like this but the point is that Kia has made sure even its cheapest shopping basket is anything but a sloppily-engineered boring-mobile. Which speaks volumes about where the brand is now, and where it is headed.

The steering has less play in it than rivals such as the Panda and at only 2.9 turns from lock to lock, that also makes it a dream for darting around town at those times when there isn't much traffic. I powered it up the M5 for an hour and a half and nothing frightened it. Trucks in the slow and middle lanes never sucked it in, and it was a joy to hammer along in the overtaking lane. Amazing.

Maybe the seats are a bit thin of padding but I can't think of anything else to say about the interior, other than it's a textbook example of logically laid-out controls. For a car which weighs from just 935kg the lack of droning noise at high speeds is remarkable. No wonder it is outselling the far inferior Chevy Spark in its home market (1 Jan-30 Jun sales: 23,937 and June sales down by 31 per cent). I'm not the world's biggest fan of the Vauxhall Viva (Opel Karl) at motorway speeds and remember, these two are close relatives of the Spark.

So it's good, but will it sell?

Kia Motors told the Korean media in January that its domestic sales target for the year was 85,000 units. As at the half way point, Morning deliveries had reached 36,638 deliveries and in June, sales were up by 11 per cent, which outpaced the market. Worldwide, the goal for CY2017 is 145,000.

Picanto volumes for the rest of the world are not available but Kia itself is having a tough 2017 due to ongoing issues in the Chinese market. The US has slowed too, numbers as at the end of July being 352,139 versus 388,296 for the first seven months of 2016. The shrinking of the small car segments is the main issue - the Soul has had a huge run of success for years but now everyone wants crossovers. The Sedona minivan is also in trouble, and for the same reason.

What's ahead for the Picanto?

Sources have indicated that a version of the Picanto with raised suspension is due to be on sale in Europe and certain other regions by 2018. It could even premiere at the Frankfurt IAA but there is no official information about that as yet.

Tiny cars do well in some parts of China and Kia certainly does need some additional models to help correct a sales collapse which has taken place in 2017. The Dongfeng Yueda Kia (DYK) joint venture might also manufacture the new generation model, selling it as the Kia K1, though a crossover derivative would probably be the better bet.

DYK will be hoping that the rage over the THAAD missile programme which has been stirred up in China into anti-South Korea fever will steadily die down. Hyundai too has seen sales of its Chinese market vehicles fall dramatically although this isn't the full story: both brands do need more SUVs in their line-ups and these are coming.

Back to the Picanto. Should it have the same production life as the old model, a styling freshening should happen in 2020 and then a replacement would appear in 2023, which would likely use an updated version of today's car's platform. Will Kia Motors also manufacture the Picanto at its under-construction plant in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh from 2019? No-one knows as yet but certainly, five-door hatchback and crossover variants as well as a sedan could be successful.

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