FRANKFURT -- Kia hopes customer loyalty, along with new connectivity and safety features, will help lift sales of the Picanto in the price-sensitive minicar segment.
The third-generation Picanto, which competes against cars such as the Fiat Panda, VW Up, Hyundai i10 and Citroen C1, will have its public debut at the Geneva auto show on March 7 and will arrive in showrooms shortly after.
"Picanto buyers are extremely loyal to the brand compared to our other customers and the market as a whole," Kia Europe Chief Operating Officer Michael Cole said on the sidelines of the car's media launch in Frankfurt. "About 70 percent purchase a Kia for their next car and two-thirds of those return customers go on to buy another Picanto," he said.
Designers sought to give the new Picanto a more assertive stance on the road by visually stretching it without changing the 3595mm length, in part by extending the wheelbase by 15mm. Kia says the distinctive lines running along the side skirts, shoulder and around the wheel arches help to create a more confident look of stability while driving.
In line with current trends toward easier rear entry even in smaller models, Kia said it was discontinuing the three-door version.
For the first time, Kia will also offer its GT Line in the Picanto, which gives the car a sportier look without the added costs of a more powerful engine. In this specification, the exterior comes with red, silver and black highlights in areas such as the grille as well as chrome-tipped twin exhausts.
The Picanto will also be available with new safety features found in the Rio compact car, including rear view parking camera with dynamic guidelines to better maneuver in tight urban parking spaces. Customers can also order the model to include automatic emergency braking, which helps prevent rear-impact collisions in city driving.
In addition to an optional 7-inch "floating" touchscreen display with 3D navigational mapping, the user interface allows for seamless smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Kia said it was confident it could build the Picanto's market share, saying customers appreciated the car's low running costs, compact dimensions, and the high level of equipment.
The trunk grows roughly a quarter in size to a maximum 255 liters – the most of any car in the class, Kia says, and the rear seats can be folded down completely flat with a one-touch lever, boosting cargo capacity to 1,010 liters.
Despite the price constraints common to the segment, Kia said the new Picanto will offer greater potential for customization than ever before with six new colors for a total of 11 overall. Customers can also select from four aluminum alloy rim designs.
The base version comes with a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine with 66 horsepower. Kia will introduce in the fourth quarter of the year for the first time in the Picanto the new 1.0-liter turbocharged direct injection gasoline engine with 99 horsepower.
"The Picanto model name is synonymous with Kia brand," said Cole.
Sales of the Picanto increased by 1.6 percent to 54,992 in Europe last year, according to JATO Dynamic market researchers. The Picanto's share of the region's minicar segment was about 5 percent, exceeds Kia's overall share of the European market by more than 2 percentage points.
More than 1.4 million units of the current Picanto have been sold since its launch in 2011, of which more than 300,000 were delivered to customers in Europe.