The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.5
The Kia Picanto has lots of style and a solidly built, classy-feeling interior. It’s cheap to buy and run, too, and those attributes alone will find it plenty of fans. Just make sure you can live with the limited practicality, poor refinement and choppy ride.
Reasons to buy
- Mature styling is appealing
- Fairly sophisticated interior
- Affordable to buy and run
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
Kia is producing some properly attractive cars these days, and the Picanto is genuinely stylish. Admittedly, it still isn’t bursting with character like a Fiat 500, but it’s fresh and includes plenty of references that root it firmly within the Kia family of Ceed and Sportage. Perhaps the biggest choice is between the three- and five-door models – the three-door’s slightly different profile makes it look a little more sporty – but all come with body-coloured bumpers and mirrors, while most versions also get front fog lamps and alloys, too.
What's the interior like?
Given the car’s low prices, the cabin is remarkably stylish and sophisticated. The shape of the trim on the bottom part of the steering wheel means it sometimes looks like the wheel is smiling at you, and the cabin plastics are of good quality, similar to those you’ll find in the Sportage. It’s also refreshing that, rather than opt for the multi-coloured seat fabrics that are so prevalent in budget superminis, Kia has kept the upholstery understated, mature and classy. And, if you go for one of the higher trim levels, you get leather trim on the gear lever and steering wheel. Every model has a height-adjustable driver’s seat as well as a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, and although you can’t get reach adjustment, most drivers will be able to get comfortable behind the wheel.
How practical is it?
The Picanto provides a decent amount of space for such a tiny car, especially in the front. Only after a long stint in the rear seats might the legroom have fully grown adults complaining, but at least the rear seat is 60/40 split in every model. That’s just as well, as the boot is so narrowly shaped and the boot lip so awkwardly high, that only Tetris games masters will be able to get the best out of its 200-litre capacity. On the other hand, if you do need extra space, higher-spec models have a tray under the front passenger seat.
What's it like to drive?
The Kia Picanto has been designed predominantly for urban action, so the light, responsive steering and decent turning circle are very welcome. Unfortunately, its urban credentials are undermined by grabby brakes and an abrupt clutch action that make the Picanto very difficult to drive smoothly. The low-speed ride is also rather jittery, and things don’t smooth out too much when you go faster, either. The numb steering doesn’t inspire confidence on faster roads, either, and the skinny tyres could deliver stronger grip. It’s a shame, really, because the Picanto’s body control is actually quite good.
How powerful is it?
The entry-level Kia Picanto is powered by a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine. It’s okay for bimbling along in town, but when you need to go any faster, you have to thrash it super-hard for any meaningful performance. That makes life very noisy indeed. The more powerful 1.25 engine is more relaxed because you don’t have to thrash it as often, but it still gets a bit vocal when you do, and it does need quite a few revs before it does its best work.
How much will it cost me?
The entry-level Kia Picanto is a lesson in frugality. After the cheap sticker price, it also offers official economy of 67.3mpg plus tax-busting CO2 emissions of 99g/km – although we know from experience that long motorway journeys see real-world economy dip well below the official average. The only other area where the Picanto is a little behind rivals such as the VW Up is insurance, as groupings are a little high.
How reliable is it?
The Kia Picanto represents a fine example of hassle-free motoring. The previous-generation model was voted the UK’s most reliable new car by consumer champions Which?, and this version is backed by the reassurance of a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty – although there are some notable exceptions in the cover.
How safe is it?
The Picanto gets plenty of safety kit – six airbags (twin front, side and curtain), ABS and stability control – as standard across the whole range. Although it hasn’t been tested under the latest regulations, it earned a four-star rating from Euro NCAP in 2011, scoring 86% for adult occupant protection and 83% for child protection.
How much equipment do I get?
The trim levels start with 1, which is available across the range, but whereas you jump up to 2 and 3 in the five-door range, it’s City and White in the three-door model. They all get remote central locking and power steering, but you need something more than the basic 1 to get air-conditioning. You can get this simply by going for 1 Air trim, but if you go for 2, you also add alloys, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors, smarter trim inside, Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel-mounted controls, while 3 brings climate control, ambient lighting and reversing sensors. In the three-door range, City comes with alloys, air-con, automatic lights, smarter upholstery, electric front windows, Bluetooth and leather trim details, while White has larger alloys, part-LED lights, heated front seats, ambient lighting and an upgraded stereo.
Once upon a time, people would only buy Kia Picantos because they were cheap. Now, though, the Picanto has a whole host of attractions, starting with the low prices, but also including smart styling, low running costs and a long warranty.