Compared to other Picantos, X-Line has plastic wheelarch surrounds and unique 16-inch wheels

Compared to other Picantos, X-Line has plastic wheelarch surrounds and unique 16-inch wheels

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Ford, with its just-announced Ka+ Active, isn't the only manufacturer trying to see if Europeans can be tempted by tiny crossovers. Kia Motors is in this segment already with the new Picanto X-Line.

Creating the X-Line out of the year-old Picanto is all about attempting to lift margins in the A segment. Rivals will be watching closely. Small crossovers have thus far been popular only into three markets: Japan, India and Brazil. Such models are also beginning to appear in China, too, mostly introduced by state-run brands, although none is (yet) selling in big numbers.

The Chevrolet Beat Activ hasn't been much of a success but one A segment crossover to find a high level of take up has been the Renault Kwid. While its Indian market sales have faded somewhat in recent months, last year, it ended up in ninth position. Yet in January, the December total of 6,953 units fell to only 5,590 deliveries (-19%) in a rising market. Perhaps demand for the car has peaked as consumers turn to newer alternatives?

It also telling that Kia Motors has not chosen an A segment model as its first locally built vehicle for India but instead a B-SUV. This is still being developed, and a prototype, the SP, was recently shown at the New Delhi auto expo.

Tiny crossovers might not be the next big thing then for Kia and its rivals. That hardly matters. The appearance of the new Picanto X-Line shows that the company is trying a new way of bringing in conquests to the brand - Kia is moving further away from its once no-frills image.

The Morning/Picanto introduced a new Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) small car architecture.

Will people pay upwards of GBP12,595 for this model, when a base Picanto starts at GBP3,100 less? The X-Line has only been available since January so it's too early to say, and yet other Picanto variants, such as the those in GT-Line time, are priced at just below GBP12,000 and go as high as GBP14,510 (GT-Line S). 

JA, the current generation Morning, went on sale in South Korea during January 2017. The Picanto-badged car for Europe and certain other markets then made its world debut at the Geneva motor show six weeks later. Sales in EU countries commenced from April 2017.

Available only as a five-door hatchback, the Morning/Picanto introduced a new Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) small car architecture, which Kia Motors calls 'H platform'. Incidentally, there might yet be a third name for the car, should the Dongfeng Yueda Kia (DYK) joint venture manufacture it. DYK models tend to start with a K, so this one could well become the K1 in China.

It's quite a small vehicle, measuring only 3,595mm from end to end, but has a longer wheelbase (2,400mm). The X-Line shares that dimension but its bigger bumpers extend the footprint to 3,670mm. A suspension lift means height rises to 1,500mm compared to 1,485mm for the standard Picanto, while those wheelarch extensions mean width expands from 1,590mm to 1,625mm.

Fiat has been present in the same segment as the new Picanto X-Line for a couple of years with the Panda Cross, while the Panda Trekking goes back a lot further than that. The big differentiator with these two is the Italian brand's inability to command high pricing, at least for any form of Panda - versions of the 500, mind, if you include Abarth variants, are certainly not cheap though.

The X-Line feels different to drive to its Fiat rival. More grown-up, would be a good to define the difference. Even though this is a version of Kia Motors Europe's least expensive vehicle, in looks and in interior feel, it is a step up from many Japanese and European mini-cars.

The wheelarch extensions cheekily echo the jigsaw puzzle piece pattern of the Range Rover Evoque.

The grey plastics and faux leather upholstery look anything but bargain basement thanks to some yellow stitching, the shade of which, by the way, matches certain exterior highlights.

The wheelarch extensions cheekily echo the jigsaw puzzle piece pattern of the Range Rover Evoque, and this was also copied by Opel for the latest Insignia Country Tourer. It's a minor detail but it does work to make you think "where have I seen that shape before?" and it will be satisfying to owners to have their tiny crossover associated with far bigger, more expensive vehicles.

There is only serious error of judgement in the X-Line, and that's the decision taken by Kia to fit the car with old-tech gearboxes. The manual has just five speeds and that makes motorways a buzzy affair, not to mention a none-too-economical experience if you keep up with the 80mph flow. I saw an average of just less than 34mpg, although that shot up into the 40s around town. There is an automatic option but it too lacks the right number of ratios for super-economy, having only four speeds.

Kia is likely aware of the transmissions issue and while it hasn't flagged up news of replacement gearboxes, there has at least been a statement concerning a new to the Picanto engine: HMG's existing three-cylinder 1.0 T-GDi will become available "later in 2018".

For such a small model, the X-Line has a relatively big boot, its volume being 255 litres, which Kia claims is a class-best. That is also 55 more than the previous Picanto had. The price to pay is a rear backrest which is more vertical than anyone used to sitting in a larger vehicle might like, but really, this isn't the sort of car which people who regularly ferry back seat passengers buy.

Unique touches for the X-Line include 16-inch wheels instead of the 15-inch ones in other Picantos, stainless steel pedals, bespoke bumpers (with skid plates), side sills, 'satin chrome' door handles on the inside and body-coloured on the outside, twin exhausts, plus privacy glass for the back windows and tailgate.

The X-Line is a clever move by Kia, at a time when it is challenging the ideas of what its brand stands for.

As long as you've never driven an Abarth 595, it's easy to think of this little city car as a bit of a pocket rocket. Well, not so much in its acceleration, which is nothing special, but its handling. Roadholding is good, just not class leading and the tyres struggled sometimes on slithery February roads.

The 84PS of the little petrol engine (there is no diesel option in any Picanto) is probably enough although it could do with more torque than the 122Nm on offer.

Kia quotes 0-60 (not 62km/h) in 11.6 seconds, and 13.2 for the automatic. CO2 is 106g/km and 124g/km respectively. As for average economy, this is claimed to be 61.4mpg and 52.3mpg. Maybe that's possible if you only drive the car fairly gently.

To sum up, the X-Line is a clever move by Kia, at a time when it is challenging the idea of what its brand stands for. Witness the performance, looks and pricing of the new Stinger at the other end of the model scale which starts with the Picanto. It also increasingly is being thought of as an SUV brand due to the success of the Sportage and the appearance of ever more crossovers such as the Niro and Stonic, with the range topped off by the Sorento, prices of which now reach beyond forty thousand pounds.