Onwards to the first car launch in Malaysia this year – the 2018 Kia Picanto has been introduced today at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre (MITEC). The A-segment hatchback makes its return to the market as the only non-national model left in the entry-level segment. There’s only one variant available – a 1.2 EX automatic priced at RM49,888 on-the-road without insurance.

The 1.2 litre Kappa II naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine on offer will be familiar to owners of the outgoing model and produces 84 PS at 6,000 rpm and 122 Nm at 4,000 rpm. Also carried over is the four-speed automatic transmission – there’s no manual option this time.

Visually, the new Picanto is distinguished through new projector halogen headlights with U-shaped LED daytime running lights forming a continuous line instead of being individual diodes. Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille has also been widened to meet the headlights.

Down the sides, the previously straight window line is now upswept at the front and rear, while the wheel arches have been emphasised to give the illusion of a stronger stance. The rear design is more angular as well, with larger LED tail lights. Unfortunately, we don’t get the more aggressive GT Line styling package available in other markets, which also includes visible twin exhaust exits.

The interior, meanwhile, has been made noticeably more upscale than the one before, which was already several steps above the A-segment norm. There’s now a dual-tier dashboard with a Rio-style floating head unit sitting above the twin horizontal centre air vents.

Also, the corner air vents are now vertical and in an unusual lozenge shape, giving the cabin a quirky spin on things. The current two-spoke steering wheel with a grin-like decorative trim piece has also been switched out for a three-spoke item from the Optima, while the air-con switchgear has gained a concave shape.

Measuring 3,595 mm long, 1,595 mm wide and 1,485 mm tall, the new Picanto retains mostly the same dimensions as its predecessor, although it is 5 mm lower and its 2,400 mm wheelbase is 15 mm longer. Despite this, the car is claimed to offer more headroom, shoulder room and legroom both front and rear, and luggage space has increased from a minuscule 200 litres to 255 litres, thanks to a more efficient design.

The new Picanto is said to be safer than before, using double the amount of advanced high strength steel as before, at 44%. There’s also a number of soundproofing measures for reduced noise, vibration and harshness, plus stiffer anti-roll bars and a quicker steering rack for improved handling.

Standard kit includes 14-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, keyless entry, push-button start, auto headlights, manual fabric seats, Bluetooth and six speakers, plus safety kit such as six airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist and stability control – all of which were already offered on the outgoing model. What is new is the seven-inch infotainment touchscreen incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support.

As usual, a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty is offered with the Picanto. There are five colour options available – Pop Orange, Lime Light, Honey Bee, Clear White and Titanium Silver – and Naza Kia is also reintroducing the Novus brand of accessories here.

Incorporating a bodykit, solar window tint, leather seats and a dashcam, the Novus X is priced at RM5,618, while the Novus S with just the bodykit is priced at RM3,498. Browse full specifications and equipment on CarBase.my.

GALLERY: 2018 Kia Picanto with Novus X package