The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.0
Pound for pound, the Picanto is probably the best car Kia makes. While its compact dimensions, light controls and tight turning circle ensure it’s a doddle to drive around town and park in the tightest of spaces, it’s also an impressively stable car on the motorway, making it feel considerably more grown up than many of its rivals. Its cabin may lack some design flair when compared with the Fiat 500, but the generous interior space means it can accommodate four folks in reasonable comfort, and there’s just about enough room in the boot to jam in the weekly shop.
Reasons to buy
- Light and fun to drive
- Surprisingly spacious
- Feels planted on the motorway
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?
While the size of almost every class of car we can think of has grown exponentially over the last few years, city car dimensions have remained resolutely unchanged, for obvious reasons. City cars are all about easy driving and ease of parking, rather than lashings of interior space, and the last thing anyone needs is a motor that won’t nip in and out of congested traffic or slot into a tight parking bay. Trouble is, when cars are this short, it’s difficult to come up with something that looks like anything other than a shoe box on wheels. To our eyes, the slightly bigger Fiat 500 is probably the only motor that successfully delivers compact dimensions with truly exceptional design flair, but the Picanto’s riot of funky lines and creases mean it’s as handsome as anything else in the class. This is especially true if you spec the GT-Line, which adds slashed bumpers, a honeycombed grille, LED running lights, a shark’s fin roof antenna, lots of colour highlights, twin chromed exhaust tips and funky 16-inch alloy wheels.
What's the interior like?
From the outside, the Picanto looks every inch the urban hipster’s accessory, and to a degree, it’s a similar story inside. The plain, conventional design doesn’t quite have the joie-de-vivre of some of the city car class’ more flamboyant offerings, but the cabin feels smart and sophisticated, with materials that are solid and nicely finished. Granted, they’re a little hard to the touch, which means they’re not as appealing to the fingertips as they are to the eyes, but it’s the same story in virtually all of the car’s rivals.
The upside of the plain design, though, is impressive ease-of-use. The switches are big and logically laid out, and they have a reassuringly tight feel when you use them. High-end Picantos come with a 7.0-inch centrally mounted touch-screen, which among other functions, displays a sat-nav map, and it’s fairly big and bold. However, even Kia concedes most customers are likely to shirk away from this as they’ll already have a Tom Tom or some similar device.
The driving position is decent, too. Although the steering wheel is only adjustable for height, the seat height adjuster is cleverly placed at the front of the seat, so it’s much easier to use than in some city cars, whose adjusters are jammed so tightly between the seat and the doors, you end up scraping your knuckles every time you go to crank your seat up or down.
The good news is that all the switches are big, logically laid out, and have a reassuringly tight feel when you use them. The driving position is decent, too. Although the steering wheel is only adjustable for height, the seat height adjuster is cleverly placed at the front of the seat, so it’s much easier to use than in some city cars, whose adjusters are jammed so tightly between the seat and the doors, you end up scraping your knuckles every time you go to crank your seat up or down. High-end Picantos come with a 7.0-inch centrally mounted floating touch-screen, which among other functions, displays a sat-nav map. It’s fairly big and bold, but even Kia concedes most customers are likely to shirk away from this as they’ll already have a Tom Tom or some similar device.
How practical is it?
At this end of the market, there’s not an enormous space difference between the best-in-class and mid-table respectability, but the Picanto definitely dusts it with the class leaders. Head- and legroom up front is more than sufficient for a couple of adults, and there’s also enough width to enable you to sit comfortably without rubbing shoulders when cornering. The rear quarters are decent, too. Not surprisingly, legroom is rather snug, but a couple of kids will have little reason to complain. The Picanto also boasts a decent sized boot. In practice, this means you’ll have no bother jamming in half a dozen 5p carrier bags full of food shopping, or perhaps even a trio of overhead locker-compliant travel cases. The rear seat backs also fold and are split 60/40, so it’ll be no bother if you want to lug those bin bags full of grass cuttings down to the local tip.
What's it like to drive?
No doubt most customers will be more than happy with the way the Picanto copes with beaten up urban roads - especially if they stay away from the larger 16-inch wheels - and be more than impressed by the way the car feels light and agile as it breezes its way in and out of traffic. What you may be surprised by is the fact the Picanto has a lot more in its locker when you come across a nice bit of meandering Tarmac. While the steering is quick and direct and provides plenty of feel, the body is neatly controlled and there’s also loads of grip, so it’s an easy car to place on the road, and a bit of a hoot when buzzing through a series of tight bends. If you need to embark on a longer motorway slog, the Picanto feels impressively planted and secure. You’ll have to put up with a bit more road and engine noise than you will with many larger cars, but in most other respects, the Picanto feels as relaxed, and requires no more concentration to pilot at higher speeds.
How powerful is it?
Given the Picanto’s impressive ride and handling, we can’t wait to drive the more powerful 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine that will join the line up later this year. As things stand, the basic 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is a rather underwhelming device. It’s a shame really, as no doubt many people will look at the official fuel figures and reckon that will be the engine for them. Unfortunately, it delivers so little performance – especially from low down in the rev range – you’ll need to drop a couple of gears and flog it for all its worth just to get it up the high street. Goodness only knows how many downshifts and how much of a run up you’ll need if you live somewhere like the Peak District. It’s just as well that the five-speed manual gearbox has a pleasingly light and accurate shift action. For these obvious reasons, we’d point you in the direction of the slightly larger 1.25-litre four-cylinder engine. It’s still no ball of fire, it’s prone to a few stutters as it works up through the rev range and it’s a little rowdy, but its extra oomph means you’ll stand at least some chance of climbing drawn-out motorway inclines, even when you’re laden with a couple of passengers.
How much will it cost me?
As well as their dinky dimensions, city cars like the Picanto live or die by their running costs. On paper at least, the entry-level Kia Picanto looks very efficient, although for the reasons we’ve explained in the performance section above, probably not so much in the real world. Of course, the taxman is only concerned with official figures, so the fact the entry Picanto offers an official economy of 64mpg, plus tax-busting CO2 emissions of 101g/km, can only be good news for those on a tight budget. Picanto resale values are also pretty strong, and selling them on is helped no end by a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, so you should get a fair chunk of your initial outlay back when you come to sell.
How reliable is it?
The Kia Picanto is a brilliant example of hassle-free, peace-of-mind 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. However, you need to be aware there are some notable exceptions in the cover, something you should investigate fully before signing on the dotted line.
How safe is it?
The standard Picanto gets what we’d describe as enough safety kit: six airbags (twin front, side and curtain), while an additional ‘bag to protect the driver’s knees is optional. Stability control and tyre pressure monitoring is standard across the whole range and in addition, the Picanto uses electronics to ensure stability under braking and cornering, by detecting a loss in traction and tweaking the brakes to help the driver keep the car on course. Once you get past the first two trim levels, you also get the Advanced Driving Assistance Pack included as standard, which includes Autonomous Emergency Braking to help enhance safety in urban environments. With this pack fitted, the Picanto has achieved four out of the possible five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, but without the pack, the Picanto achieved only three stars.
How much equipment do I get?
Entry-level 1 trim comes with remote locking and electric front windows, but very little else. You don’t even get a Bluetooth phone connection on the basic car. You do with 2 trim, along with powered rear windows, alloy wheels, air-conditioning and audio controls on the steering wheel. Well worth the upgrade, in our opinion. Upgrading further to 3 trim adds cruise control, rear parking sensors and a posher infotainment system that has DAB radio, sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. GT-Line trim is similar to 2 but adds leather-effect upholstery and various styling bits, while GT-Line S mirrors 3 trim but also has a sunroof, heated front seats and keyless entry.
In every respect the latest Picanto is light years ahead of its predecessor. It looks far more attractive, it’s bigger inside, infinitely better to drive, and far more refined. Perhaps the biggest compliment we can pay the Picanto is it now feels as accomplished as many bigger superminis. Add in that low sticker price, class-leading warranty and minimal running costs, and it’s hard to think of many, if any, better rivals for this kind of money.