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.

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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.

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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.

Alternatives

Chery J3 $16,990

Daihatsu Sirion $20,890

Holden Barina Spark $16,990

Honda Insight S $35,600

Suzuki Alto GLX $16,500