Recommended. Kia keeps its little car fun, relevant and, most importantly, great value.
Kia came to the UK in 1991 with the Pride – offering basic cheap motoring and helping, along with others from South Korea and the Far East, to start something of a revolution for British drivers.
While the brand as a whole has gone upmarket in many ways, the Picanto is arguably the car that stays closest to that original ethos. It’s functional, still cheap – you can have one for as little as £9,450 – and offers basic, affordable motoring, but with a 2017 spin.
And it’s still got plenty of charm and is a fun little city car. It’s got plenty, else, too. There are five trims in all – ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, GT-Line and GT-Line S. Base spec still means electric front windows, USB socket, auto headlights, hill-start assist, split folding rear seats and six airbags. Arguably all you need for £9,450 on the road.
Kia expects to sell more grade ‘2’ than anything, though, as, for £1,300 more, you get air con, electric rear windows, Bluetooth, heated mirrors, leather trim, alloys, body-coloured bumpers and door handles.
It’s easy to see why Kia expects it to be its biggest seller – it’s the ‘second-cheapest option’ syndrome. ‘3’ trim, meanwhile, adds auto emergency braking, bigger 15in alloys, front fogs, cruise control, auto air con, screen with sat nav, digital radio, a rear parking camera and sensors.
The GT-Line gets an altogether sportier look, with 16in alloys, sports bumpers and sills, a dual exhaust, black and red faux leather seats and plenty besides, while top-end GT-Line S also gets a wireless phone charger, electric sunroof and heated front seats.
All told, the most you spend, for now, is £50 short of £14,000. And if the Picanto is going to be your only car then you might well be tempted to go full-spec GT-Line S. Kia says that there is more room inside over the previous car, as well as more luggage space, with no increase in overall size.
While the design might not be a rapid departure from the second-gen car, it’s a nice evolution on the outside – with a squatter stance – and the new Picanto is on an all-new platform. They’ve also ditched the three-door variant because nobody wants one.
The GT Line is probably the most interesting one; this is the first time that Kia’s sportyish line has made its way to the Picanto, so this is a new offensive – a new sporty edge to compete with the likes of the Peugeot 108, Suzuki Swift, Fiat 500 and Renault Twingo.
And it works really well – the GT Line looks especially good in white (and you can’t say that about many cars) with red trim. To drive it’s light and lively, even if the base 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, 66bhp engine has to be worked a fair bit
The manual gearbox is light and easy – a four-speed auto is also available – as is the handling, which is precise with little roll. Kia says that the new platform uses double the amount of high-strength steel compared to the last car and it’s also 23kg lighter. It’s stiffer, too, which is good news for comfort, handling, noise and vibration.
Despite the basic engine having to be worked it still returns well into the 40s to the gallon in town and country (it claims an average of 64mpg and 102g/km of CO2) while on a cruise low-50s is not hard to manage.
At the moment there is the base engine and a bigger 1.25, four-cylinder lump with 83bhp (60-odd to the gallon, 122g/km), but later this year Kia’s turbo 1.0 T-GDi, with 99bhp, will be coming to the Picanto and that could be well worth waiting for – it’s likely to make it a really great drive.
There are no diesels – Kia sensibly suggests that the extra cost at purchase isn’t worth it. Either way, the Picanto is quiet and refined at speed and the driving position is very comfortable, even for the tall.
The interior is decent, if still a little basic until you get towards the top of the range – aside from a dial redesign it doesn’t seem much different to the previous generation car, in all honesty.
Rear legroom is tight, as you’d imagine, but in reality the Picanto is not going to be regularly called upon to ferry four adults around, so it does the job for occasional use.
The boot, meanwhile, is big enough for the shopping and a couple of weekend bags.
It’s really a case of evolution over revolution for Kia’s little city car, but that looks set to keep it giving the likes of the Hyundai i10, Volkswagen up! and Toyota Aygo a serious run for their money in this segment.
While models like the Sportage are getting ever more premium – and that’s fine, by the way – the Picanto sticks nicely to Kia’s original raison d’etre – though we’d be sorely tempted to hang fire for the turbo petrol.
1. It looks good.
2. Great value.
3. Fun to drive.
We don't like:
1. Tight in the back.
2. Nothing else.
3. Nothing else.
Most fun: At the moment it’s the 1.25 petrol.
Most sensible: The 1.0-litre petrol has the best figures.
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