“The Power To Surprise”. The Kia marketing team sure got this slogan correct when it comes to the Picanto. For such a small car, we weren’t just surprised; we were amazed at how much space it has inside. A small car, for a ‘small’ driver with plenty space for a wheelchair and the best part is the small price! Perfect for Fikile! Fikile Mthimumye was diagnosed with Spina Bifida soon after he was born. His legs never developed and he grew up using a wheelchair. He has always been very short and was never sure if he would be able to drive, as he couldn’t see over the steering wheel, not to mention the fact that he could not use his legs on the pedals. For Fikile it wasn’t just a question of buying any car, he needed to find a small car that fitted him, but with enough space for his wheelchair.

Growing up being dependent on friends and family for transport, Fikile was determined to find a way to drive. After many disappointments where driving schools were unable to assist him, he discovered the Driving Ambitions program. With careful positioning and by using hand controls, Fikile was taught how to set himself up in the car and shown that he had more than enough strength in his arms to be able to drive with hand controls. Within a few months and he had his licence and then the fun began, choosing his car!

For Fikile, the price tag of the Kia played a major role in his decision to buy it. As a first time buyer he had no credit reference, so securing vehicle finance was a challenge for him. He needed an automatic car on a tight budget. Another factor that swayed Fikile was the service that he received from the Centurion KIA dealership. They got the Chairman Industries hand controls fitted for him and included them in the price of the car! They also made him feel like a king when he went to collect his new car.
Fikile chose the 1.0 XL model, which has a height adjustable driver’s seat. He uses this feature all the time as he lowers the seat for his transfers so that it is a similar height to his wheelchair seat at 58cm from the ground, and it is easier when loading his wheelchair, but he raises the seat to the maximum when he drives. He still needs to sit on two cushions to get the correct height for driving, and he had a small box made to rest his feet on as they do not reach the floor. The drivers’ door opens very wide, creating plenty space to get his wheelchair close to the drivers’ seat to transfer. Because it does not have side airbags, it means that the width of the door frame is narrow, giving a narrow door sill of 15 cm to transfer across. This makes it easier for people with a weak transfer to get in and out.

A nice surprise for Fikile was to find out how light the power steering is - another advantage of a small car – when driving with one hand on the steering and one on the hand controls, the light steering makes a big difference to the ease of driving. The phenomenal fuel consumption – 5.6l/100km on the 1.0 model and 6.1l/100km on the 1.2 model – helps keep the running costs low and therefore makes it easier to pay off the monthly installment.

Being a hatchback, the rear seats fold down easily, creating a nice open, functional space at the back. The boot space is limited and for anyone with a family, or needing to transport a lot of stuff, will find this a challenge, but for a single person, like Fikile who just needs a low cost run-around to get to and from work the boot space is not a problem. His wheelchair would definitely not fit in there. The boot has a useful invisible tray where laptops or small valuables can be hidden and are not easily visible. Fikile needs to use a strap to close the boot door as it opens too high for him to reach, but a taller paraplegic will be able to reach the door – as demonstrated by Ernest Tlaka.

Ernest kindly came and test drove the brand new Picanto so see how a taller person experiences the car. He was also pleasantly surprised by the space inside the car, how easy it was getting in and out, as well as the comfort of this entry level car.

The Picanto is one of the lowest price automatic cars on the SA market at the moment, and the amazing thing is the number of extras that are included in the price. The automatic 1.0 LX is currently priced at R129 999 and as standard it includes: air conditioning, central locking, driver and passenger airbag, very light power steering, radio with plenty features, height adjustable steering, automatic lights, trip computer, height adjustable seat – just to name a few. If you want to include rear park sensors and cruise control – both useful features for a driver with a disability, it would cost an extra R6480. The gear shift has no button to push in order to change gears, making it one less adaptation needed for people with limited hand function.

When driving alone, Fikile puts his wheelchair on the passenger seat next to him, but most of the time he has a friend with him in the car, in which case he folds down half of the rear seat and puts his wheelchair at the back. Ernest found it surprisingly easy to load his wheelchair onto the rear seat thanks to the internal space, where it fitted perfectly, still leaving half the back seat free.

For Fikile this little Picanto has all the features that he needed - and the best part was that he could afford it too!