I'll admit to having a small internal tantrum when I went to collect my Picanto ISG test car from Kia's headquarters in Auckland. There it was, sitting in the courtyard, covered in green graphics and a large logo proclaiming its Idle Stop-Go (ISG) technology.
Like many of my motoring journalist colleagues, I believe my job is to evaluate test cars, not drive around advertising them for the company concerned. I have a policy of not driving cars covered with promotional material.
I did idle, stop and think twice about this Picanto, though. It was covered in stickers, but there was nothing on it elaborating on Kia or ISG, telling you how much a Picanto was or where to buy one.
If it had been an FPV or Porsche - both makers known for their decal packs - I might have rolled my eyes, but I wouldn't have thought twice about driving the car away.
Perhaps that shows that green technology hasn't quite become as sexy as we all like to think.
But green the Picanto ISG is. With a combined economy figure of 4.3 litres per 100km, it's New Zealand's most thrifty petrol-powered car. The Ford Fiesta Econetic can do 3.9 litres, but it's a diesel, so C02 emissions are only slightly better (98g/km versus the Kia's 100g/km). A Toyota Prius hybrid does 3.9 litres but costs $31,100 - considerably more than the $18,590 Picanto ISG.
That record-breaking economy is all down to a manual gearbox and ISG - the 1.3-litre engine in this Picanto is identical to that in the automatic version. The stop-start activates when you're stationary and take your foot off the clutch - but only in optimum conditions, such as when the engine is warm.
It's slick enough, but seemed a bit temperamental during my time: on a couple of occasions I drove around the city for more than an hour and the ISG didn't activate. Other times, when I was parked on an incline at traffic lights and the Picanto's hill-holder (an adjunct to the standard stability control system) was doing its thing, there was a real tangle of electronics as I tried to pull away, with the two systems tripping over one another.
However, those are unusual circumstances and you can shut the ISG down via a small push button.
With such little road presence and tiny 14-inch wheels, the Picanto would not be the car for a 500km trip. But it doesn't feel like a microcar from behind the wheel: the dashboard has grown-up style, there's plenty of cabin space (the 2385mm wheelbase is getting close to some superminis) and you get some big-car features such as full iPod integration, multifunction trip computer and six airbags.
The trip computer told me I achieved 6.5 litres per 100km during a week of full-throttle city running, which I found impressive given the aggression with which the little Kia was driven.
Most motoring writers don't do advertising, and they don't really do economy driving either.
Sans-ISG, the four-speed automatic-transmission Picanto provides a rather turgid driving experience and drinks an extra litre of fuel per 100km. The manual ISG is no sports car, but it is engaging and quite a lot of fun for a city commuter - not to mention giving you eco-bragging rights.
There's no denying that sporting a few graphics creates extra interest in a car. The first night I had the white, sticker-pack Picanto ISG at home, my partner spotted it straight away: "Is that your car? I thought the meter man was here."
The bottom line:
Green theme will be the main talking point of Picanto ISG, but
as a city car this manual-transmission mite can be quite entertaining, too.
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