New Kia Picanto X-Line and Vauxhall Viva Rocks vs Suzuki Ignis Comparison

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New X-Line and Rocks versions of the Kia Picanto and Vauxhall Viva join the Suzuki Ignis in offering SUV looks in city car form

The contenders

*** Note : £1 = $1.32 (correct at time of post)
Kia Picanto 1.25 MPi X-Line

List price £12,600

Target Price £11,951

New X-Line trim takes our City Car of the Year and adds a smidgen of ‘rugged’ appeal.

Vauxhall Viva 1.0i 73 Rocks
  • List price £11,940
  • Target Price £11,830

Rocks trim adds 4×4 imagery to Vauxhall’s smallest model with the aim of widening its appeal.

Suzuki Ignis 1.2 Dualjet SZ-T
  • List price £12,999
  • Target Price £10,814

The closest here to an actual SUV, but in front-wheel-drive form it’s still more of a city car.

Kia Picanto X-Line, Vauxhall Viva Rocks and Suzuki Ignis

Ever heard of something called abductive reasoning? It involves using observation to determine the nature of things. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you pulled a pair of red underpants over your clothes and hung a cape around your shoulders; while you would bear many of the symbols of Superman, you wouldn’t actually be Superman unless you started flying around saving people. And this is something we can apply to cars.

Take these specimens. They may look a bit more rugged than your average city car, but, being front-wheel drive, they’re highly unlikely to make it across even a muddy field. Are they SUVs? No. They’re simply tapping into the zeitgeist to add a bit of pizazz. The newest of our contenders is the Kia Picanto X-Line, which rides 15mm higher than the standard Picanto – our 2018 City Car of the Year – and gets some silver mock skid plates under its chunkier bumpers. Ditto the new Vauxhall Viva Rocks, a jacked-up relative of the standard Viva that wears some rough-and-tumble styling accoutrements.

And then there’s the Suzuki Ignis, the closest thing to a proper SUV you’ll get in a package this small. Indeed, it’s the only car in this test available with four-wheel drive, although here we have a front-wheel-drive model.

Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Given that these are essentially city cars, you might think performance isn’t the biggest of concerns. But even around town you’ll appreciate the Ignis’s extra zip, and the sprightly Picanto isn’t far behind. Meanwhile, the Viva is adequate for the urban sprawl, but its little three-cylinder petrol engine is wheezy and weak relative to the bigger, revvier four-cylinder petrols of its rivals.

This becomes ever more apparent the faster you go. All three cars have five-speed manual gearboxes (although you can get an automatic in the Picanto and Ignis), and if you change up through each gear while wringing every scintilla of brio from their engines, the Ignis accelerates from 30-70mph the quickest – handy when you’re joining a motorway. The Picanto can’t quite match that pace, but it pulls harder from low revs in fourth and fifth gears, so you don’t have to change down as often. Getting the Viva up to motorway speeds requires the most patience, but once there it maintains 70mph without fuss.

At the opposite end of the performance spectrum, the Ignis is the worst at slowing down. The 55.6m it requires to stop from 70mph is 8.3m farther than the Picanto and 6.9m more than the Viva – potentially the difference between you mopping your brow and an airbag mopping it for you.

Around town, the Ignis’s ‘digital’ brake pedal stops you from driving as smoothly as you’d like, too, although its gearbox is more precise than the Viva’s long-throw action. The Picanto, meanwhile, has the slickest gearchange, the most predictable clutch biting point and the most progressive brake feel.

In terms of refinement elsewhere, the Viva is pretty good for a city car. Its three-cylinder unit sure has a distinctive thrum, but it’s softer in tone than the others’ harsher-sounding engines.

On the motorway, there’s plenty of road noise in all three, accompanied by some engine hum, but the Viva generates the least wind noise, making it the quietest cruiser. The Picanto is slightly noisier – mostly due to the roar from its tyres – but still perfectly bearable, whereas the hullaballoo of wind rushing over the Ignis’s door mirrors makes it the least agreeable at speed.

Around town, the Ignis’s ride isn’t the greatest, either. It’s soft enough to cope with large, gentle bumps quite happily, but across sharp ridges or potholes it shudders and rattles your teeth.

The Picanto’s suspension is the firmest, so it picks up on more of the little imperfections that the Ignis eradicates, but we’d happily live with that for its more effective damping over really pockmarked stuff. The Viva strikes the happiest balance between suppleness and control, making it the comfiest both around town and on A-roads.

All three cars are light and easy to steer through town, but if you like a bit of spirited driving on twistier roads, the Picanto offers the tidiest body control and the best sense of connection to the road through its quick, accurate steering. The Viva leans a tad more and its light steering requires getting used to, but it still handles well enough. The Ignis is poor in comparison, with the least grip and worst body control, and it exposes you to shocking kickback through the steering over mid-corner bumps.

Suzuki Ignis interior

Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality

For relatively cheap cars, these all provide perfectly comfortable driving positions. Okay, none offers a reach-adjustable steering wheel, but their wheels adjust for height, as do the driver’s seats of the Picanto and Viva. The seats in all these are fairly narrow, with no adjustable lumbar support, but they are nevertheless comfortable enough for mid-distance commutes.

The Picanto edges it as the most relaxing, though, thanks to welcome touches such as its well-positioned central armrest. It also has very clear dials and a well laid-out dashboard, although you can’t really fault any of these cars in that respect.

Seeing out of all three is relatively easy, while the Ignis and Picanto make life easier with standard rear-view cameras. The Picanto complements this with rear parking sensors as well.

The Picanto feels the plushest inside. Sure, these cars are all finished with hard, unforgiving plastics (they’re built to a price, after all), but the Picanto manages to look the smartest and feel the most robust. It also gets a leather-trimmed steering wheel as standard. So does the Viva, but you can’t get one on the Ignis in SZ-T spec.

On the whole, the Viva also feels solid, and the chrome and gloss black details on its dashboard add some sparkle, but that’s downgraded elsewhere by such things as the cheap-feeling, loose-fitting boot carpet. Not to the level of the Ignis, though; its interior is certainly a cheerful piece of design, but you sense the materials used to build it came from a box labelled ‘bagatelle’.

Infotainment systems

Kia Picanto

Kia’s system is not only the best here but also one of the best in class. It has a 7.0in touchscreen presented high on the dashboard, with simple shortcut buttons on either side that let you swap modes easily. The menus are punchy and easy to navigate. Sat-nav isn’t available, but smartphone mirroring lets you use your phone’s sat-nav through the car’s screen. The six-speaker stereo sounds the best here, too.

Suzuki Ignis

Suzuki has recently updated the Ignis’s infotainment system; SZ-T trim now gets a smaller 6.2in touchscreen and goes without a built-in sat-nav. But, like in the Picanto, you get smartphone mirroring, so you can use your phone’s maps instead. The screen is sharp and fairly responsive, but the touch-sensitive volume control is a faff to use while driving. Plus, a glitch meant the system wouldn’t download our phone’s contacts.

Vauxhall Viva

Pictured is the optional 7.0in touchscreen with smartphone mirroring (£435, or £935 if you want sat-nav). It’s a decent system but not quite as responsive as its rivals’. Add OnStar (£415) and you also get a concierge service. As with the others, the Viva has stereo controls on its steering wheel but, like the Ignis, a four-speaker stereo only. The standard infotainment has no touchscreen or DAB radio, so it’s definitely worth upgrading.

Suzuki Ignis

Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

While the Ignis has the most space in the front, all three cars provide adequate leg room and more than enough head room for six-footers. And you and your passenger won’t feel like conjoined twins, thanks to the decent width of the cars. There are plenty of storage trays, cubbies and cupholders, too, although the Ignis’s glovebox is pretty pokey.

In the rear, the Ignis is exceptionally roomy for this class. It’s the only car here that’s a strict four-seater (the others have three rear seatbelts, whereas the Ignis has two), but three abreast would be nigh on impossible for anyone other than children anyway. As it is, two tall adults have enough room to be relatively comfortable, whereas it’s a squeeze for adults in the other cars. On balance, the Viva is the worst, with the least head room.

The Ignis’s boot measures up the biggest, so it’s no surprise that we managed to fit the most into it: four carry-on suitcases. The Ignis’s rear seats also slide and recline as standard, allowing you to fit more into the boot or provide a bit more comfort for your rear-seat passengers. The other cars each managed three cases, but the Picanto had more space left over after this than the Viva.

And while all three come with split-folding rear seats, you only need to pull a couple of levers to drop the rear seats in the Ignis and Picanto. In the Viva, you first have to lift up the seats’ squabs and remove their headrests – a right pain. And even then, there’s not enough room left to lay the seats down fully if the front seats are set up for taller adults. Once you do get them down, mind, they leave a relatively flat extended deck; like most city cars, the Picanto and the Ignis instead leave you with a large step in the boot floor.

Kia Picanto

Rear leg room is only average by city car standards, but head room is decent, even if you’re tall. All of these cars’ boots have a high loading lip, but the Picanto has more luggage space than the Viva.

  • Boot 255-1010 litres
  • Suitcases 3
Suzuki Ignis

Ignis is not only marginally the biggest in the front but also easily the roomiest in the back, although there are just two seatbelts. Its rear seats also slide and recline and it has the most boot space.

  • Boot 260-1100 litres
  • Suitcases 4
Vauxhall Viva

Front space is fine for tall adults, but the Viva is the most cramped in the back, with limited head room. It also has the smallest boot and you have to flip up the seat squabs to fold the rear seatbacks.

  • Boot 206-1013 litres
  • Suitcases 3

Suzuki Ignis

Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security

The Viva appears the cheapest if you go by its list price, but as always, it pays to look beyond that. For a start, Suzuki is currently offering £2000 off the Ignis, so it remains cheapest even if you haggle the others’ prices down. If you’re a PCP finance buyer, the Ignis is the cheapest again, but only by £20 per month over the Picanto. The Viva is £55 more per month than the Ignis.

The Ignis betters the Viva and Picanto on company car tax, albeit by only a few quid a month. But it doesn’t all go the Ignis’s way; its much higher insurance group means it’ll cost £500 more over three years than the others.

The Ignis is the best-performing car in our True MPG testing, with a real-world average of 50.9mpg versus its claimed 61.4mpg. The Picanto also claims 61.4mpg, and it managed a respectable 47.9mpg in the real world. We weren’t able to test the Viva, but its official figure of 54.3mpg indicates it’ll be priciest to fuel.

While all three cars come with basics such as air-con and alloy wheels, the Viva and Ignis feel pretty spartan next to the Picanto. Sure, the Viva is alone in having cruise control, but the Picanto has power-folding door mirrors and electric rear windows (rather than the manual ones in the others).

The Picanto is also the safest. Partly because automatic emergency braking (AEB) is standard on the Picanto X-Line, Euro NCAP awarded it four stars. Unless you spend £750 to add AEB to the Ignis, the SZ-T gets just three stars – the same as the Viva, which doesn’t offer AEB at all.

Security expert Thatcham gave each car four stars for resisting being stolen. The Ignis and Viva scored three stars for stopping scoundrels gaining entry, but the Picanto got a disappointing two.

verdict

Kia Picanto X-Line, Suzuki Ignis and Vauxhall Viva Rocks

We already know the Picanto is a fine runabout, so it’s no surprise that this X-Line version still has plenty of X factor. Even its weak points are no worse than average, and they’re outweighed massively by its strengths, including a multi-talented engine, enjoyable handling, low running costs, excellent infotainment, generous kit and the reassurance of Kia’s class-leading seven-year warranty.

The Ignis has its faults, such as poor handling and a ride that can be quite unforgiving, but it balances these out with fortes such as a peppy engine, fantastic interior space and the kind of seating flexibility that you’d expect to get only in much bigger, pricier cars.

Finally, the Viva Rocks. It, too, has plus points, such as its compromise between handling and ride comfort and good refinement, but these aren’t outstanding in the class, and they fail to offset the high running costs, lack of AEB and poor standard infotainment.

1st – Kia Picanto

  • For Peppy engine; enjoyable handling; really well equipped; excellent infotainment; standard safety kit
  • Against Ride is on the firm side; average leg room in the rear seats
  • Recommended options Metallic paint (£515)
Specifications: Kia Picanto 1.25 MPI X-Line
  • Engine size 4cyl, 1248cc, petrol
  • List price £12,600
  • Target Price £11,951
  • Power 83bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque 90Ib ft @ 4000rpm
  • Gearbox 5-spd manual
  • 0-60mph 10.7sec
  • Top speed 101mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 61.4mpg
  • CO2 emissions 106g/km
2nd – Suzuki Ignis

  • For Strong performance; excellent interior space; sliding and reclining rear seats; big boot; good fuel economy
  • Against Poor handling; crashy ride; iffy interior quality; wind noise
  • Recommended options Auto emergency braking (£750)
Specifications: Suzuki Ignis 1.2 Dualjet SZ-T
  • Engine size 4cyl, 1242cc, petrol
  • List price £12,999
  • Target Price £10,814
  • Power 89bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque 88Ib ft @ 4400rpm
  • Gearbox 5-spd manual
  • 0-60mph 10sec
  • Top speed 104mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 61.4mpg
  • CO2 emissions 104g/km
3rd – Vauxhall Viva

  • For Comfortable ride; composed handling; quietest at speed
  • Against Lacklustre pace; tightest in the rear; smallest boot; fiddly split-folding rear seats; AEB unavailable
  • Recommended options Touchscreen infotainment (£435)

Specifications: Vauxhall Viva 1.0 73 Rocks
  • Engine size 3cyl, 999cc, petrol
  • List price £11,940
  • Target Price £11,830
  • Power 72bhp @ 6500rpm
  • Torque 70Ib ft @ 4500rpm
  • Gearbox 5-spd manual
  • 0-60mph 13.4sec
  • Top speed 99mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 54.3mpg
  • CO2 emissions 118g/km

(whatcar.com, http://bit.ly/2yWkhBr)

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