THE Kia Picanto is the motoring equivalent of Joe Pasquale – but without the annoying voice.

Small, quirky looking and always trying hard to make you smile, it is the epitomy of the cheeky chappie.

Starting with a completely blank piece of paper, having binned the old car's dated looks, designer, Peter Schreyer, has brought the Picanto firmly into the 21st century.

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Launched last year initially as a practical five-door city car, it was followed shortly after by a three-door version, a decision that was prompted by research showing that, worldwide, 30 per cent of buyers in this sector would prefer it.

In Britain, the importance of offering two body styles was even more stark, with the ratio 55:45 in favour of five-door models.

Having already tested the five-door, I was interested to discover whether the alternative measured up when it came to transporting a family of four.

The first issue is obviously getting in and out. With five doors, there's no problem, but when you get rid of two it can lead to all manner of headaches.

However, large openings make access to the rear relatively straightforward and leaning in and attaching seatbelts is possible without doing yourself an injury.

Tilting and sliding the seats forward does, however, mean that they revert to their original setting rather than your ideal position, but after a while you learn to accept this.

Rear legroom is acceptable and was certainly fine for our two little ones, but I can imagine those of a larger persuasion might contest that on a journey of any great distance. Headroom is fine in both the front and the back.

In terms of load space, the Picanto's boot is what you might expect, fine for a couple of weekend bags, but don't expect to fit in the monthly shop.

The Picanto's interior has a fresh and funky look, but some of the plastics, for example on the wing mirror adjustments, are a little plasticky and brittle looking for my liking.

Our Equinox model sported red leather seats which contrasted well with the black exterior. Part of a four-tier trim level, this top end car gets USB and Aux ports, an iPod cable and steering-wheel mounted audio controls. In addition, you also get Bluetooth with voice recognition, automatic LED lights, sporty 15ins alloys, twin exhausts, an engine start-stop button and automatic air conditioning.

All Picantos have electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake assist.

Driving around town can be fun, but not nearly as much as with some of Kia’s rivals. The steering lacks any feeling of connectivity and the ride is a little on the bumpy side.

Our car was powered by the larger 1.25 litre engine, which was fine around town, but, as might be expected, is left wanting a little on the open road unless you are prepared to work it hard. Its fuel saving statistics are impressive, returning 60.1mpg on the combined cycle.

In an urban setting the Picanto’s tight turning circle and ability to corner without much in the way of body lean is a real plus point, but its lack of grip when you need it most marks it down.

Kia has come a long way in a short space of time and the new Picanto is another step along the way. It’s by no way the finished article, but when price, high levels of specification and its unrivalled seven-year warranty are considered, it makes for an entertaining little bundle, rather like the aforementioned Mr Pasquale.

Kia Picanto spec ENGINE: MAX POWER: 84bhp MAX TORQUE: 89lb/ft MAX SPEED: 106mph 0-60MPH: 11secs AVERAGE FUEL CONSUMPTION: 60.1mpg (combined) EQUIPMENT (includes): Leather seats; USB and Aux facility; iPod cable; power steering; CD radio; steering wheel mounted audio controls; twin chrome exhaust; automatic air conditioning; Bluetooth connectivity with voice recognition; automatic lights; LED front daytime running lights and rear lights; body coloured side sill mouldings and red front grille; 15ins alloys; smart key and start-stop engine button; ESC; ABS; EBD; BAS; airbags.