Recommended. The second-generation Picanto isn't a cheap car that happens to be good. It is a good car that happens to be cheap.
The Mark Two Picanto marks another big step on Kia's apparently unstoppable rise from the bottom of the bargain basement to the ranks of respected, mainstream car manufacturers. The first Picanto was a major leap forward and was the first Korean city car you could possibly have bought on its merits, rather than on its price. The second version could have just been a minor reskin to keep the model looking fresh, but Kia has far more ambitious plans than that.
To begin with, the styling is far more sophisticated. Kia is not the first Asian manufacturer to recruit a top European designer (in this case Peter Schreyer from Audi). However, it is one of the very rare companies that has actually listened to what the designer has said, and agreed to go along with his beliefs. The Picanto has nothing that identifies it as Korean either outside or inside - no extra bits of chrome or gaudy add-ons. In fact, if Audi had to come up with a sub-£10K city car, it might very well look like this.
The driving experience does nothing to dispel this new feeling of sophistication. There are two engines: 1.0 three cylinder and 1.25 four cylinder. Obviously the 84 bhp four cylinder has more performance, and is a thoroughly competitive modern motor, but we would actually go for the 68 bhp 1.0 three cylinder. It has a very eager character and makes a nice sporty sound. It has to be worked hard on the open road, but is so smooth that it comes as a real surprise to look down at the rev counter when accelerating and find the engine is spinning at 4500 rpm. The smaller engine also produces only 99 g/km of CO2, which means congestion-charge exemption for anyone that drives into London.
The ride is also a big surprise. It is quite firm, but remarkably well-controlled which means that you can drive swiftly over rough A-roads without the car bouncing or lurching. Ten years ago, that would have been unthinkable in a small Korean car. It is actually quite enjoyable to drive, although the electric power steering is a bit too light and imprecise around the straight-ahead to make the car feel genuinely sporty. However, that criticism can be made of many modern small cars with electric steering.
Overall, the Picanto is good enough to make the Europeans seriously worried. It is very spacious for its size (our 6 ft 4 in tester could sit in the back without discomfort), well-made, as stylish as a short, tall hatchback can be, good to drive and great value for money. Combined with a seven-year warranty, those benefits make it one of the most sensible buys on the market.
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