Owner Review: The Underrated Gem - Why the Kia Picanto EX is the Perfect Car for a First Time Owner

Owner Review · Jul 09, 2020 08:00 PM

** This article is the personal experience of a 2018 Kia Picanto EX owner and does not necessarily reflect the views of WapCar.

Facebook:  Zenyu Loh


Choosing My First Car - A Straightforward Choice?

The story begins back in 2018 when I was scouting for options as my first ride. I have been heavily dependant on public transportation and good-will from friends and family alike for most of my commute needs up till this point. 

Naturally, as a fresh graduate, I would want something affordable and reliable with worry-free maintenance; but on the other hand, deep down I’m a car enthusiast so I desire something that could live up to my standards of a car, not just a simple A to B appliance as most would see it. I had a long wish list of rides that could fulfil this, but obviously budget was a limiting factor here and I would not want my daily transport to be a maintenance nightmare, not with my current financial standing at least.

So, I set down a budget - within the range of RM40K - 50K+. Looking at this price range the choice seems to be straightforward, it is either the Perodua Myvi if I am looking for reliability and practicality, or the Proton Iriz for its ride and handling. In fact, I remember during this period the Perodua Myvi is all the hype, having launched just the year prior in November. I was dead set on getting the Perodua Myvi, considering the full spec Proton Iriz was RM59k at that time minus the safety features and the unbeatable practicality gracing the Myvi. Going through social media and the Internet for owner’s experience on the Iriz, it seems the car was still plagued with inconsistent fit and finish and the infamous CVT was also constantly mentioned in the cons list. Also, Proton was in a bit of an uncertainty period here, with Geely taking ownership just months prior without a clear direction for the brand (except the Proton X70 on the cards). So, the choice is clear - money for the Perodua Myvi… or is it so?

Enters the Kia Picanto. I clearly remembered looking at teasers of the car prior to its launching and thinking along the lines of “Seriously what’s the point when you have the Myvi?”. Everything seems to be better in every way on paper at least for the Myvi and being a foreign brand there is no way this could undercut the Myvi’s pricing (considering the previous-gen Picanto was launched for RM60k). The Kia Picanto was finally launched in January 2018, 2 months after the Perodua Myvi with a rather surprising price tag of RM50k (49,888 to be exact) for the sole EX trim. This certainly caught my attention although I am still sceptical. 

About a few weeks later I decided to have a test drive of the Kia Picanto. Visited the Kia showroom at Glenmarie which conveniently is located on the same street with a Perodua showroom. To keep this part short, I will skip the driving experience, but I did have a test drive of the Myvi as well after the Picanto. 

It’s an eye-opening experience and my choice is more or less decided that day, reasons which I will go through in this review.

Purchase Experience - Disappointment and Joy 

Fast forward into May 2018, it is the 0% GST free holiday as everyone remembers it and I’m also ready to make my purchase. At this point, I had done enough research on the car, including watching and reading reviews from overseas, also joining the owner’s group for feedbacks and after-sales experiences. All in all, my decision is further solidified. 

Then this happened - a leaked brochure of the GT-line destined for our local market appeared in the community and with good news, the specs are as complete as you would want for this car - radar-based AEB, sunroof, TPM system, etc. Kinds of stuff that you will not find in cars at this price range. Best of all - the indicated price increment is rather modest for all the goodies, just an extra RM7k to make an indicated selling price of RM56k without GST. It was around June that time, and the new trim is rumoured to launch “very soon”, around July or August at the latest. 

Fast forward into August, still no GT-line in sight despite reassurance from various agents that it is launching “very soon”. Until today I still don’t know what’s the true story behind, but the saying is the main distributor had trouble getting approval for the sales price from the MOF, which is going through a big transition period after the 2018 GE. At this point, I am also presented with the dilemma of my number plate rendered invalid really soon if I don’t proceed with registration. 

Picanto GT-Line at KLIMS 2018. The GT-Line trim is eventually launched on Feb 2019.

At the end with heavy heart, I settled with a Pop Orange EX trim with discounted Novus body kit. 

I finally took delivery of the car nearing the end of August 2018. Not the GT-line that I look forward to, but none the less it’s one of the highlights of my life, taking delivery of the first car bought with my own money and it’s a car that I truly desired by heart. 

Ownership Experience - A Reminder of the Right Choice

As of the time of writing this article, my Picanto is nearing 2 years old now with 21k km clocked on the odometer. To me, this is considered low mileage for a car of this age, due to my job requiring me to spend most of my time working on oversea assignments for the past 2 years. 

I would like to first highlight the mods I have done to the car so these can be taken into consideration during the Pros and Cons, and also a major incident that required fixing. 

Mods list - 

  • Black vinyl wrapping on the wing mirrors and door frames. Matte carbon wrapping on rear spoiler and shark fin antenna.

  • 15x7-inch Konig Dial In sport rims with 195/50 Michelin PS3 replacing the stock 14-inch rims.

  • Plug-and-play OEM cruise control.

  • Interior lighting.

  • Soundproofing and deadening on the rear boot floor, front wheel arches and all doors.

  • Upgraded front stock speakers and tweeters with add on under-seat subwoofer.

The Hit-and-run Incident 

On December 2018, the day before Christmas, I returned to my parked car from dinner with the sight of a huge dent on the left front wheel fender. Won’t need to elaborate my feelings that time, those who’s a car person at heart will probably know how it felt, furthermore my car was only 4 months old at that time.

 

Luckily for me, I was able to make a police report and proceed with an insurance claim. The whole process from ordering of parts from Korea (yes, they ordered a new fender) to complete fix took around a month. I am not sure if this is the standard for other brands but at least for me, the process was straightforward with no hiccups in between, my car was also fixed like new in the end. 

With that away now let’s move on to the Pros and Cons.

The Pros

  • Design & Build Quality - Interior & Exterior

Design is entirely subjective, different people should have opinions here. In the case of the Picanto what I felt is a smart and safe design that will score a pass in most people’s eyes and will probably age well.

Starting on the exterior, the projector headlights have decent amount of details in them with the silver projector casing and surrounding LED DRLs, together with the black main casing in the background. Below the projector is a chrome strip which neatly flows into the lower front grille strip, and finally beneath again a couple of LEDs for the indicators. Yes, front LED indicators, not something you would find in this price range.

The front fascia is neatly designed with a touch of sportiness. Kia’s signature tiger grill is obviously present, and on both sides of the bumper just below the fog lights are ‘air intakes’ that have a passthrough to create an ‘air curtain’ effect when cruising at high speed, so to say… but hey at least you can’t argue those ‘intakes’ are totally fake right?

 

The side profile towards the rear is nothing to shout about for a typical small car but as mentioned, it is a safe design that should last the test of time. It is also a perfect match with this Pop Orange paint job which presents a different tone depending on the lighting condition. It is not even a premium colour but to me, it seems deserving even if it is. I am not ashamed to say it kind of reminds me of the Sakhir Orange colour that BMW use on their M models, don’t you think? 

 

The rear design has the unfortunate coincidence to share similarities with a popular model, but the similarities stop when the light is fully lit with a more sophisticated light bar design and LED effect. 

I’ve taken the initiative to further enhance the appearance of the car by adding on black and carbon accents as mentioned in my mods list. The body kit does its job as well. 

 

Moving on to the interior, it is largely the same ‘safe approach’ affair as the exterior with some unique touches. These include the oval-shaped side vents, black piano accents on the door cards and a floating style infotainment screen in the middle, more on that later. 

The centre instrument cluster is simple and clear to read, with the middle LCD display offering all the essential information you would expect. GT-line trim will have a more sophisticated MID with more functionalities, and user-adjustable brightness for the whole cluster. 

Worth highlighting as well are the 2 cupholders in the centre console with clever retractable separators and just below the gear lever, you will find another compartment. I felt the whole centre console had been cleverly utilised to offer the best practicality. 

 

Towards the end is a single cupholder for the rear passengers but I’ve sacrificed this for an aftermarket armrest with more storage. This is also available in the GT-line.

Design aside, everything is built well and feels more expensive when you consider the price. Hard plastics I know, but you need to consider the fact that the 2 closest local competitors at this price range do not offer this level of quality. I am sure many are familiar with the Myvi, just try getting in a Kia Picanto if you have a chance and you will get what I mean. 

There is probably a reason to this. Don’t take my word for it, but the popular saying is the Picanto is actually an SKD (Semi Knocked Down) model instead of CKD which many were to believe. Meaning the car is completely built in Korea and shipped to the final assembly here for final touches usually on the exterior such as the bumpers and wheels.

Sound insulation is well sorted as well but those who desire for more such as me would probably opt for additional tyre and road noise reduction. 

  • The Infotainment System

 

The 7-inch floating style infotainment system is clear, quick to respond and offers decent audio quality to most users delivered through 6 speakers. What I wanted to highlight is the fact that this is not some aftermarket OEM solution commonly found on the local makes or even some CKD foreign offerings. What you get here is same as offered in other markets, straight from the factory. 

Best of all, Android Auto and Apple Carplay come as standard, no subscription or modifications required here. The Kia Picanto is the cheapest offering to come with these features, a distinction still held until today.

The screen also serves as the main feed for the ultra-wide reverse camera which comes with dynamic guiding lines that follows your steering input, another feature usually only seen in models leagues above. The camera quality is decent enough, again we are taking into consideration the pricing. 

  • Safety Features

The Picanto comes equipped with all the safety features one would expect from a modern car. These include 6 airbags and the usual suite of active systems such as ABS, EBD, TC and ESC. The GT-line takes a step forward offering a radar-based AEB that apparently works up to 90 km/h.

Worth mentioning is the inclusion of rear disc brakes, in an A-segment car worth RM50k (!). Now many would argue that for a car this size a drum would work just as well, but c’mon you can’t deny disc definitely look cooler and more premium right? 

Another point is the construction of the chassis which consists of 44% AHSS (Advanced High Strength Steel). I couldn’t find any info on the web regarding the tensile strength (MPa) of this alloy (for example, Proton highlight their HPF steel to be around 1500 MPa), but it does the job pretty damn good resulting in a very rigid chassis that not only contributes to the safety but also the overall refinement of the car which brings us to the next point. 

  • Ride Quality, Refinement & Handling

This is where the Kia Picanto absolutely shines and punches beyond the competition. I am unable to provide any pictures to prove my point because this is all about ‘beneath the skin’ and driving experience, so bear with me.

Let’s start with the engine and gearbox pairing. On paper both seem pretty boring - a puny 1.25L NA MPI i4 engine paired with a conventional 4 speed AT. However, what Kia had done is take 2 very simple and proven components and fine-tune them as near perfection as possible. 

The engine and gearbox pairing are akin to yin and yang, both are at their best in delivering expectations (or in this case maybe beyond expectation). Floor the pedal and the engine is willing to rev, whilst the gearbox is ready to downshift at the appropriate moment. Whenever you want it to go, it goes without the delayed reaction or initial hesitation that are a common characteristic among other cars of the range. As one famous YouTube auto journalist puts it - “Almost like a Mazda’s Skyactiv…”

Next is the suspension and dampers setup. Going over imperfections on the road you are taken out of the reality that this is an A-segment/ entry-level car. The suspension soaks up imperfections you would expect from a car leagues above and I am not exaggerating here. My ride does feel slightly firmer with the upsized wheels, but the feeling of refinement is still there. Best way to describe it would probably be “firm but not harsh”, it’s a perfect balance between a comfy and sporty setup. 

When you feel like throwing the car into a corner, it handles surprisingly well with a fast steering response and well-planted chassis thanks mainly to the rigidity and suspension combo. It is not an overstatement to say that this car does offer some sort of ‘spirited driving’. As I’ve also read from an Proton Iriz owner - “the Iriz handles sharper and more direct, but the Picanto is just a lot of fun...”

You may feel this might be the ‘fanboy’ or ‘owner perception’ in me playing up, but head up to any local or even foreign reviews, and you will soon notice despite the cons that the car has, refinement and handling is seldom or never part of it. 

The Cons

  • Interior space and general practicality

This being an A-segment car meant that it is small, and there’s no denying the rear passenger space took a big hit. I’m 178 cm, slightly slender build guy and I find the rear leg space to be just OK and this is sitting behind the front passenger which I’ve adjusted to provide a good balance for both front and rear space. Fetching 2 adults at the rear is generally acceptable but 3 adults would be a stretch even for short journeys. 

The boot space is again, expected but not what I would say terrible. It’s pretty deep and I’ve never found myself wanting more here. 

  • Fuel Consumption

 

The Picanto has a 35L fuel tank (including reserve). Back to the point of this being a small car, one would expect it to be economical to run and sips fuel like how an eco or city car should. Well… yes but not really. 

I’ve recorded every fuel up since I received the car on Fuelly, link here for reference. What you would notice is that the car does well on majority highway commutes, whilst consumption generally is subpar for the majority of city commutes. Actually every car behaves the same but for the Picanto, the difference is rather significant in my case. 

Some had commented that if the gearbox had an additional 5th or 6th gear it probably would have befitted the car allowing it to cruise at lower RPMs thus improving fuel consumption, but such gearboxes meant additional weight as well. 

In the end, it is not something that I’m personally concerned about anymore but it’s still fair to bring this up for readers to adjust their expectations accordingly. Fuel consumption is in the end, very subjective and highly dependent on driving style. Also, keep in mind to consider the larger wheels and extra soundproofing when referring to my consumption figures, it is likely to had been affected and I’ve known owners that recorded better figures. 

  • Power... More Power?

I have mentioned that the engine is preppy and eager to rev, but at the same time I feel this chassis is deserving of more power and it definitely could handle more. 

There is a 1L GDI turbo engine which, unfortunately (and not surprisingly) is unavailable here. I would like to iterate that the engine power is sufficient for day to day use, but at times especially during overtaking I felt there is this room for more power. Still, considering the extra weight added to my car mentioned above, it’s probably just me feeling the weight at times…

  • The After Sales Experience

I’ve considered whether to include this as a con because generally, I’ve been happy with the support and service received and done to my car. 

However, I did encounter a small issue with my outer door handle recently that requires ordering the spare part. 

This was reported way back in February at the SC and until today I’ve yet to receive confirmation of parts arrival. In the end, I resorted to DIY method to fix the issue. To give them the benefit of doubt it is probably the MCO, but it got me thinking if I’m driving a local or more popular model now would it be any different? 

Other than that, I have also seen various stories of owners having unpleasant experience at SCs or general inquiries. In the owner’s group we’ve narrowed down the few SCs with good feedbacks, but these generally are focused in the Klang Valley area. Still, at least you can count on the car being reliable so generally, the need of warranty claims for crucial parts are *fingers crossed* minimal. 

Finally, the way the brand is handled by the main distributor in this country, in my opinion, just does not spell confidence for the owners and prospects alike which is a big shame. There are stories and rumours floating around that resulted in my opinion, but I’ll leave these to your own research. 

Wrapping Things Up

If you’ve reached this part from the beginning without skipping, I would like to thank you for spending the time reading this lengthy review. I just felt like there are so many things about this car that deserves to be shared looking at how little people are aware at the option of a great driver’s car without burning a hole in the wallet.

Should you get one? If you managed to get hold of one that is… Apparently new stocks had stopped coming in and the few units left in selected showrooms are either leftover or demo units to let go. 

In any case, it totally boils down to your criteria and preference, and most importantly you need to have a test drive to decide if this is the car for you. If you did end up walking away with the keys, it’s most likely to be a “purchase by the heart, not the mind” sort of decision, and we owners know that fact. 

 

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