The new Picanto is Kia’s fourth generation small car, following in the footsteps of two previous generations of Picanto and the lesser known cuboid Pride from the 1980’s. Although not entirely a radical redesign of the previous car, the new Picanto benefits from a plethora of updates that make the car far more appealing than previous – not that it was a bad car before.
Styling has only been gently updated, in part because the new Picanto is extremely similar in size to the last model. Kia’s engineers have been restricted by a number of factors and to keep the car within its size-class abroad, the width and length are identical to the outgoing model. However, despite this limitation, the new car feels surprisingly spacious. This has been made possible thanks to moving the wheels forward front and rear, to push the cabin toward the nose and increase the boot. The result is a class-leading boot that can put to shame some cars in the next class-size up. Compared to popular competitors like the Citroen C1, Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo, it’s vastly superior and easily swallows luggage or shopping. The result is the car doesn’t feel at all small and punches above it’s weight in respect of both cabin and driving.
Overall, the exterior looks a lot more grown up than the cutesy looks of old, helped by interesting details like the castellated windscreen, C-shaped rear lights and smart colour combinations. Up-front the nose is now in-keeping with other Kia’s, and the daytime running lights (DRL) add a touch of modern class to the small car.
Inside, even the base model receives decent amounts of standard equipment and optional extras are fortunately kept to an absolute minimum, making the choice of trim simple. There are currently four options, the base level Trim 1, Trim 2, GT line or GT Line S. Each is sensibly incremental and in top-spec guise adds niceties including a 7-inch touch screen navigation system. Bluetooth phone connection and a variety of safety assist technologies have been introduced with the Picanto. Perhaps most notably each car is equipped with torque vectoring as standard. In practice, if entering a corner a touch too briskly, the car will brake the inside rear wheel to help the car turn in and keep going around the bend, rather than understeering straight on.
The current engine line-up is limited to two options, with the promise of a third to arrive later on. The entry level option is a perky little 66hp three-cylinder with a 5-speed manual transmission, that provides adequate power for town driving, but lacks any guts if loaded with passengers and pointed up an Italian hill. It is, however, fun to drive although the gear ratios are a little over ambitious for such a low-power car. In practice, you end up driving it in gears 2 & 3, reserving 4 & 5 for economy motorway jaunts. That said, the Tuscan countryside isn’t entirely an accurate comparison to the UK, unless living in the Chilterns or similarly hilly areas. The second engine option is a 1.25-litre four-cylinder. This is by far the more flexible choice and with the modest increase in power to 83hp, provides a more relaxed driving experience over the relatively underpowered three-cylinder. The third engine option due to arrive later this year is the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo, which will give the Picanto a more sporting edge with 100hp and no doubt comparatively rapid performance compared to the non-turbo and 1.25-litre mentioned above. In addition to the range, a four-speed automatic is available on the 1.25-litre engine only.
The engine options I drove were the 1.0-litre and 1.25-litre manual and in each car, fuel economy across very up-and-down hills was easily over 50. The pint-sized 1.0 predictably scored slightly better, although because it had to be revved to get up any hill, it wasn’t as dramatic a difference as had been expected. On more sedate roads, the 1.25 averaged 55mpg by the end of our two-hour stint with it, which is acceptable.
Impressively, four in five Picanto’s are bought outright, whereas on average, Kia sell 70% of their range on finance. Most buyers are over 50, and although the new Picanto should appeal to a younger audience thanks to its new-found image, owners of the previous generation will no doubt be endeared to the updates.
Driving the Picanto on a variety of routes around Italy, the new Picanto’s updated chassis provided an enjoyable experience when driven hard, its cornering ability and quiet cabin thanks to heavily strengthened chassis has made a marked difference. However, the ride is on the hard side for a small car, although I imagine this would dampen down a bit with use. Steering is light and lacks feel for the enthusiast driver, but the positive to this is the car is a breeze to drive around town. Entering the narrow Tuscan streets of a hilltop village, the Picanto was simplicity itself to position despite wing mirrors grazing each side of the street. In addition, the nimble and small turning circle meant it was in its element here, as one would expect of a city car. Kia has revised the Picanto’s chassis no end, increasing its strength and rigidity by using far more bonding in its construction and the result is a car that drives like a class above.
Overall, the new Kia Picanto is a great little car. The new looks are a success that should please both existing customers and attract newcomers to the brand. As ever, Kia’s superb seven-year warranty is a big attraction. Kia’s warranty is fully transferable to future owners too, which should help keep residual values high and make for an easy used-car sale, providing the car has been properly maintained in accordance with Kia’s terms.
There really is very little to dislike. To drive, the Picanto is fun and frugal, although this does come at the expense of any real power, particularly with the 1.0-litre engine. Both the 66bhp and 83bhp engines don’t exactly offer large amounts of grunt, for example if you intend to motorway them often. That said, the refined ride and quiet cabin make the Picanto tolerable even for long distance jaunts. The 1.0-litre turbo 3-cylinder with 100bhp is due later in the year and that could be the powertrain to go for, as it should offer an on-paper compromise between performance and economy. For now, my pick of the bunch is the middle-spec 1.25-litre GT-Line, as although it naturally commands a premium over the more basic level 1 & 2 trims, it’s the best compromise between price and equipment, not to mention performance and economy too.