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Kia believes its new Picanto small car – known as the Morning in South Korea where it was  launched this week, will help it increase its dominance of the domestic city car market while boosting sales overseas.

Last year, Kia sold 101,000 Picantos locally. This makes it the company’s best-selling model and also South Korea’s most popular small car with around 63% of the country’s 160,000 or so city car segment; GM Daewoo’s Matiz is its main rival.

The company says it aims to sell 100,000 units on the domestic market and 120,000 units overseas this year with exports expected to increase to some 140,000 next year.

Calling the new Picanto a “masterpiece,” Kia president Seo Young-jong said that the vehicle’s performance, segment-topping fuel economy, and convenience and safety features provide “values that go beyond the city car”.

Longer than the previous model, and with an extended wheelbase, the new Picanto promises more passenger comfort and 27% increased cargo space. 

Offered for the first time with a choice of five-door and three-door bodystyles – the three-door will not arrive in the UK until the autumn – it is set to completely redefine its position as one of the most competitive  vehicles in the ‘city car’ A-segment. It brings a vehicle stability system to city car drivers for the first time as well as a voice recognition navigation system.

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Across the globe, buyers will have a choice of up to four new, efficient powertrains – three versions of the one-litre, three-cylinder Kappa engine (petrol, flex fuel and bi-fuel) and a single 1.2-litre petrol Kappa I4. The choice will vary in individual markets.

Power outputs will range from 69 to 85PS, with maximum torque between 94 and 121Nm. Exhaust emissions have been significantly reduced, so that regular models in the new Picanto line-up will have a CO2 rating of 95 to 105g/km. The bi fuel one litre engine will generate 82PS and 94 Nm of torque. Fuel economy for all of the engines is also improved.

In the UK, some models will be available with Kia’s fuel-stretching ISG technologies, cutting emissions to between 90 and 100g/km and further improving fuel economy.

The engines will be mated to a choice of five speed manual or four speed automatic transmissions, depending on model.

The new Picanto is destined to be a highly competitive newcomer in the A-segment.  As well as offering new levels of powertrain efficiency, it boasts a distinctive exterior, sophisticated interior, and numerous ‘large car’ advanced comfort and safety features like LED daytime running lights, button start with smart key, grip-type outside door handles and six or seven airbags, depending on model. 

With round 40% of buyers women, the Picanto has features designed to appeal to female motorists include grip-type handles to minimise damages to fingernails ? a complaint common among female drivers ? and a storage compartment under the front passenger seat, said Kim Boo-sik of Kia’s domestic product team.

“Our strategy is to dominate the city car market with performance and safety that goes beyond the limits of city cars,” Suh Choon-kwan, head of the company’s domestic marketing group, said. He added that the company will be operating joint marketing schemes with other brands that have a significant female customer base.

Domestic prices have raised an eyebrow however with prices starting at KW8.8m (US$7,800) and going up to KRW11.05m or KRW14.95m with every option included which is only KRW500,000 ($490) short of the price of the most expensive Hyundai Accent, a subcompact. Kia noted only 1% of buyers specify all options.