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Kia Picanto hatchback (2004 – 2011) expert review

By Keith Collantine and Stuart Milne, 16th September 2006

The verdict

The Kia Picanto’s low price makes it affordable while its diminutive size makes it ideally suited to tackling the urban jungle.

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Expert rating:



  • Low running costs
  • Spacious cabin
  • Easy to manoeuvre


  • Drab interior
  • Poor handling
  • Unrefined engine

Full Review

1. Exterior

Kia’s styling is evolving from ‘South Korean bargain basement’ towards ‘Euro-chic’. The Kia Picanto has a few neat styling touches – the rear tail lights are pleasingly chunky and the whole model is nicely proportioned. The doe-eyed headlights clearly belong to Kia’s current generation of design, but still manage to pull off a cute look which appeals to many of its potential buyers. The 14-inch alloys are small, but a surprising addition given the low purchase price for our test car.
Our rating: 3

2. Interior

The two-tone upholstery in our 1.1 LX test car looks the part, but it emphasises the drab interior with too much reliance on grey plastic. The JVC stereo, which plays CDs and MP3 files sounds good, but looks like an afterthought. Many of the controls are mounted on the indicator and wiper stalk controls, so fall straight to hand, avoiding a situation where the driver needs to take their eyes off the road to find an obscure button. It’s important to remember the Picanto is a cheap car, so sumptuous, tactile materials are definitely out.
Our rating: 3

3. Practicality

The Picanto’s rear seats have a Tardis-like appeal, all but the tallest occupants can fit in without fuss. It’s a similar story in the boot, which can fit 220 litres of luggage, although we found the shape of the boot was something of a compromise. But with 800 litres of room with the seats folded, it’s less of an issue. The Picanto doesn’t have a spare; instead Kia has opted for a ‘Tyre Inflation System’ which patches the tyre up to get you home. The problem is, using it means the tyre can’t be repaired, and must be replaced.
Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

For most buyers, the Picanto will prove a worthy tool to get around town. The ride is good, and it is small – and cheeky – enough to slip through gaps in traffic. With tiny overhangs at the front and back, it’s a cinch to park too. Only at speed does the Picanto’s chassis show some deficiencies; too much body roll and vague steering means it’s not up with the class leaders.
Our rating: 3

5. Performance

In town, our 64bhp, 1.1-litre Picanto was economical and nippy, although the engine needs to be worked hard to get the best from it. This means larger gaps in the traffic are needed before lunging out onto a busy road from a side turning. The baby Kia is less pleasant out of town, where the 16.4-second 0-60mph means overtaking or entering motorways from sliproads is a leap of faith. It’s noisy too, with its small engine having to work hard to maintain a motorway cruise.
Our rating: 3

6. Running costs

Its 55.5mpg combined figure means you save money and emit less CO2, although at 124g/km it just scrapes into Band C, unlike the Toyota Aygo, which is a cheaper Band B car. Group 3 insurance is affordable though. The biggest concern is likely to be depreciation, with the Picanto retaining around a third of its original list price after three years. But at £6,000 (less any discounts on offer), in real terms, that’s only a dip of £4,000.
Our rating: 3

7. Reliability

Surely the more simple a car is, the less there is to go wrong? Kia’s reputation indicates that is the case and the Picanto feels more solid than some other cars in its class. The build quality on our test car seems good, with no uneven gaps between panels or overly flimsy trim. Its basic, so repair costs should be low should the worst happen.
Our rating: 4

8. Safety

Young families seeking good protection for the kids could do a lot worse than the Picanto. It scores an impressive four stars for child protection in the EuroNCAP crash tests, although mum and dad will be served less well with it scoring three stars for adult protection. The safety body awarded it one star for pedestrian safety, but few cars score more than two. The Picanto comes with ABS and two front air bags as standard, so it meets the standard you expect of a car this price.
Our rating: 3

9. Equipment

For a car costing £6,000, a CD player which plays MP3 files is surprising. Electric windows comes as standard on all models, while the higher spec models get electric mirrors, alloy wheels and air conditioning.
Our rating: 3

10. Why buy?

It’s cheap – but of course this cuts both ways. You get four wheels, a roof and a motor for relatively little. On top of that, Kia regularly runs all manner of offers and you should aim to pay below list price. There are plenty of cars available like the Picanto, and you usually get what you pay for. That said, the little Kia offers plenty for the urban driver for very little money.
Our rating: 3

Expert review 3.1stars

  • Exterior3
  • Interior3
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling3
  • Performance3
  • Running costs3
  • Reliability4
  • Safety3
  • Equipment3
  • Why buy?3

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:
Picanto 1.0 1
Base ‘1’ model is the most wallet-friendly Picanto
Best-seller/Blow the budget:
Picanto 1.1 2
‘2’ models get extras like alloys and air-con

The little Kia offers plenty for the urban driver for very little money