As the entry point into Australia’s new car market, the micro car class is all about affordable city-focussed motoring. The Kia Picanto S is the reigning class champion and embodies what it means to be a micro car.
Starting at just $14,190 plus on-roads, with a manual transmission, it’s affordable to own, easy to drive and has the bonus of a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assist. However, despite a five-star ANCAP safety rating when it first launched and the new Picanto clearly offering improved safety features, it doesn’t meet the revised ANCAP requirements necessary to attain the latest five-star rating.
A 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol engine powers the little Picanto and is paired with an easy-shifting five-speed manual gearbox. It’s also available with an auto transmission for $15,690 drive-away. With such little weight to propel, it’s surprisingly perky and a well-tuned European suspension setup complements its good performance. This allows the Picanto to be agile in low-speed conditions, and the combination is perfect for a city/suburbs runabout car. It’s a lively, entertaining drive and, even on the open road at 100km/h, it’s a competent enough performer, while recording outstanding fuel economy. However, while topping its class in smoothness and quietness, it’s a little noisier than those in the larger classes.
There’s no denying the Picanto is tiny, but the available interior space is used efficiently. The front seats provide better than expected comfort and support, while all the controls are conveniently placed and simple to use. Seating three across the back, even if they’re quite small children, is going to be a real squeeze. Two adults, however, will find there’s more rear leg room than expected and the head room is good. Boot space is modest, but the split/fold rear seat adds a little extra versatility. Much like the other vehicles in this class, it’s evident the Picanto has been manufactured to a price, but on close inspection it’s solidly constructed and the trimming has a neat, durable appearance.
While a somewhat barebones vehicle for this budget-focused arena, when you add up the Picanto’s high scores for economy, environment, repair costs and warranty it has all the right fundamental ingredients. It also delivers in design and function over its class competitors, with better than average comfort and ergonomics, which are features that will no doubt be attractive to buyers compelled to the entry point of new-car buying.
*As this vehicle is ANCAP rated four stars, it could not be crowned winner of this category. Australia’s Best Car policy requires vehicles to be five-star rated or eligible for five-star rating to win a class.
Competition in the light cars class is fierce and each year keeps delivering better quality and value. However, the tried and proven formula of the entry-level Mazda2 Maxx’s solid value in an easy-to-drive and live with package has given it the win this year.
Price in this category is very important, which goes some way to explaining why Mazda’s volume-selling Maxx model is one of their cheaper models. While some other cars in the class may be cheaper, the Maxx offers competitive value for money. Built for the city, light vehicles must make the most of their modest cabin space and the Mazda2’s interior is functional, the seats are comfortable, and most drivers will appreciate the simple, easy-to-use layout of the instrumentation and controls.
The Maxx gets a slightly has the basic 1.5-litre SkyActiv engine but its power is delivered smoothly and efficiently by a smooth six-speed automatic and the performance is still better than most others at this budget-focused end of the market. While you don’t buy a light car solely because of its handling characteristics, the Mazda2 does deliver one of the best driving experiences in the class. Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control assists in this competent handling, which is also used in the Mazda3 and Mazda6. Direct steering and a small turning circle make city driving a real breeze. Its road holding and cornering abilities are impressive, while the ride, although firm, is fairly compliant.
Light cars are often noisy because the chase for lighter design means noise-deadening material is used sparingly, but Mazda has worked on this problem using a noise-insulating windscreen, along with new engine and luggage compartment insulation and damping material to make the cabin quieter.
The small size of the cars in this category means buyers look for a higher level of safety to give more peace of mind and Mazda’s version of autonomous emergency braking is standard even on the base Maxx.
Mazda have continued to make incremental changes and additions to the models in their range while maintaining the price point. The Mazda2 has benefitted from this treatment to remain a class leader in a value conscience end of the market and take out a win this year.