In an SUV-loving nation, it comes as a bit of a shock to realise the strongest sales increases are coming from the micro-car sector — a segment dominated by just one car: the Kia Picanto.
Micro and light cars are winning friends on price, size, ease of driving, features and cheap motoring.
The irony is, a year or two ago this sector was dumped by buyers and led to the end of the Volkswagen Up, Nissan Micra, Mitsubishi Mirage and Holden Spark.
Now it could be the segment to bring in the bucks for the players left in the game.
KIA PICANTO GT-LINE
Kia’s second-generation Picanto is so good many buyers may shop it against Kia’s bigger Rio. It’s the right size for the city, has loads of features and attractive pricing.
Best of all, it drives with confidence and has a heap of safety equipment and a long warranty.
There are not a lot of quality small cars around at this price and 460 Australian buyers a month agree. The Picanto attracts with its style, functionality and features.
The range starts at $14,190 (plus costs) for a less-equipped manual but the top-spec GT-Line here is suited for buyers wanting a bit of glam.
The GT-Line has automatic transmission, imitation leather seats, a subtle sprinkling of red trim, neat 16-inch alloy wheels, 7.0-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, alloy pedals and six-speaker audio. The warranty is an excellent seven years and unlimited distance, with seven years of roadside assist and capped price servicing.
Over three years, the servicing will cost $979. Glass’ Guide gives it a three-year resale value of a modest 47 per cent of the purchase price.
There’s not much a designer can do with a two-box design but Kia has made the most of the long wheelbase by coming up with a cling-wrap car meeting all the space requirements of the category.
It’s distinctive without being weird, which carries over to the fresh, open cabin. Although there’s a lot of hard plastics, good use of colour and design soften the commercial looks. The GT-Line uses a perforated artificial leather with stylish contrasting red stitching.
Standard safety equipment is excellent, with autonomous emergency braking, with collision alert, six airbags, reverse camera, rear park sensors and heated mirrors. The spare is a space-saver.
Short front and rear overhangs give more room for people and luggage and being able to nimbly tackle city streets and tight park spaces. There is room for four adults — it may be a bit tight for knees in the rear but short distances are tolerable — and decent luggage area. Front occupants have generous footwells thanks to the narrow centre console and a big glass area bringing in light to combat claustrophobia.
The boot is a liberal 255 litres — bigger than a Corolla hatch — expanding to 1010 litres with the rear seat’s 60:40 split, folded. There are cup and bottle holders front and back, and personal storage space ahead of and behind the gear shifter.
Australia misses out on the whiz-bang 1.0-litre three- cylinder turbo but the engine is adequate. The 62kW/122Nm 1.2-litre aspirated four-cylinder is spirited enough but needs stirring to compete with other traffic, when it can get noisy.
The four-speed auto is better than expected for smoothness.
Ride comfort is good and the car is generally quiet unless hurried (engine noise) or on coarse bitumen (tyre noise). Fuel use is a claimed 5.8L/100km (7.7L/100km on test).
SUZUKI IGNIS GLX
Technically, this is classed as an SUV but we’re not fooled.
Yes, it’s 110mm higher than the Picanto but it’s not an all-wheel-drive and its external and cabin dimensions are on par with its rival. This maintains Suzuki’s place in the tiny car segment in which it has formidable expertise.
The Japanese-made Ignis is $1700 more expensive than the Kia but there is a cheaper version available. Standard features are ostensibly better, including satellite navigation and LED headlights.
It shares with its rival the two Isofix baby seats — or three child seat tethers for Australian seats — and perks such as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, touch screen, six speaker audio, 16-inch alloys and tilt steering wheel adjustment. The three- year/100,000km warranty is nowhere near the Kia’s but service the car at a Suzuki dealer and Suzuki will extend it to five years or 140,000km.
Service intervals are every six months and over three years will cost $1234. The capped price program lasts five years. Glass’s Guide’s three- year resale estimate is 45 per cent of the purchase price.
Like the Kia, this is a cute package. It looks smaller than the Picanto but is actually 105mm longer and a bit wider.
The fluted C-pillar is a hallmark of Suzuki’s early days and gives it a distinctive look.
It is a neatly chiselled shape highlighted by the C-pillar and the bold headlights, with the daytime running lights as eyeliner.
Inside, it is equally as clean and polished with a contemporary two-tone contrasting dash and trim. The single-dial instrument panel reflects the simplicity of the car. Safety equipment is not up to the Picanto, missing out on AEB and collision warning.
It does have brighter LED headlights, rear park sensors and reverse camera and space-saver spare.
The Ignis will also seat four adults with a bit more knee room in the rear. It has a bigger boot than the Kia, with a small-car like 264 litres increasing to 1104 litres with the 50:50 rear seats folded.
Personal storage is good with bottle holders in all doors, cup holders and a cubbyhole ahead of the gearshift lever but it doesn’t have a lidded centre box like the Kia.
Power output, and performance, is on par with the Kia with a similar 1.2-litre four- cylinder engine boasting 66kW/120Nm for a claimed 4.9 L/100km (6.7 L/100km on test). It uses a continuously variable transmission, making the engine rev a bit excessively on hills or under hard acceleration.
Unlike the Kia, it needs 95RON fuel and has rear drum brakes (compared with the Kia’s discs) which didn’t make any difference when driving, though may be more costly to replace further down the ownership line. It feels nippy and light to drive and is more fun than the Kia.
Both cars do their job as efficiently as possible. The Kia has more gear — especially the AEB — while the Suzuki is a bit roomier and gets satellite navigation. But cheaper ownership costs and the seven- year warranty tip the balance in favour of the Picanto.