Kia’s worked hard to shift its cars upmarket, and it’s really reaping the benefits. Models such as the electric EV6 and latest Sorento have unlocked the brand to new customers, while its sales continue to soar – it’s now one of Britain’s most popular car brands. But in the process of reaching for the stars, it’s not forgotten about its bread-and-butter vehicles – models like the affordable Picanto city car.
First launched in the early 2000s when Kia was very much a budget manufacturer, the Picanto has continued to evolve with the brand, although always serving up affordability. Kia’s now tweaked the latest model, but can it still compete?
The Picanto now faces less competition, with brands such as Citroen, Ford and Seat no longer producing city cars – it’s a market that doesn’t generate all that much profit for manufacturers because of the low starting prices.
However, Kia has pressed on with its alterations here, which admittedly aren’t all that significant. Connectivity levels have been raised with the addition of the brand’s UVO connect system, now using a larger eight-inch touchscreen. An automated manual gearbox is also now available.
Kia has rejigged the Picanto’s engine line-up, with a newly developed 66bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine kicking off the range, and is the model most buyers will choose.
But for those wanting something with a bit more go about it, our test car uses a turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine, which is exclusive to the high-spec GT-Line models. It’s got 50 per cent more power than the entry-level unit – putting out 99bhp and 172Nm of torque. By modern standards, these figures might not look that impressive, but it’s worth remembering this is a car weighing a little over a tonne.
Drive is sent to the front wheels with a five-speed manual (that automatic ’box is reserved for the 66bhp car), and getting to 60mph takes 9.9 seconds. As for efficiency, Kia claims 53.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 120g/km.
Those buying a Picanto generally aren’t doing so because of the performance, but having that extra poke from this turbocharged unit really is welcome. It’s a very willing engine and, combined with its dinky size, actually makes this Kia feel quite nippy. It has no trouble getting up speed, while it’s even able to sit quite happily on the motorway, although there’s quite a lot of road noise as the speedometer climbs.
The Picanto handles keenly too, with its small size, low weight and peppy engine resulting in something that’s really quite fun to drive – it almost feels like a junior hot hatch in this respect. It also excels around the city, with good visibility and dinky dimensions making it a perfect fit. It truly feels like a ‘city car’ that doesn’t need to be confined to metropolises.
This latest third-generation Picanto has always been a pretty stylish choice, and it gets even better when you opt for the eye-catching GT-Line model seen here.
Bringing additional sportier styling into the mix, these get revised bumpers with additional gloss-black styling elements. Combined with Kia’s eye-catching ‘tiger-nose’ grille, smart LED daytime running lights and spotlight-esque fog lights, it’s a very smart-looking car in this GT-Line trim, and worth choosing if you want the most style from your Picanto. The bright Honey Bee Yellow colour (the free option) certainly stands out, although won’t suit everybody.
By city car standards, the Picanto’s cabin is really quite impressive. The new eight-inch touchscreen is very welcome, and brings a range of functions and ‘live’ connected and online services – features you’d typically only expect to find in more expensive cars. The faux black and red leather upholstery adds to this more upmarket image too, and really lifts the ambience of the cabin. Although there are plenty of harder plastics used throughout the Picanto, it still feels quite plush by class standards.
It’s also among the roomiest city cars in its segment, with a surprising amount of space in the rear seats, even for adults. At 255 litres, it has the largest boot in its class, and isn’t too far off cars from the class above.
Low-down Picanto grades don’t get all that much kit – it stretches to automatic lights and remote locking, but not a lot more. However, as you climb the ranks, this city car becomes very well-equipped.
The GT-Line gets an eight-inch touchscreen, reversing camera and electric folding mirrors, for example, but it’s at the top of the range, with the GT-Line S, that it really comes brimmed with features. Keyless entry, heated front seats, climate control and a wireless smartphone charger might be what you’d expect a mid-size SUV to include, but it’s really quite a surprise having all these fitted to a small Kia city car.
Granted, you pay for the privilege, so while a regular Picanto starts from £11,810, making it one of the cheapest new cars on sale, this GT-Line S car costs £16,610. That said, considering an entry-level Fiesta starts from £18,000, this Picanto still feels like quite a steal.
There’s a huge amount to like about the Kia Picanto, particularly in this GT-Line grade. It’s smart to look at inside and out, drives well and offers a surprising amount of space inside.
At a time when fuel prices are continuing to soar, a small, efficient car such as the Picanto makes more sense than ever, and really can do plenty that vehicles significantly larger and twice the price can do. Combine it with Kia’s seven-year warranty and the offer gets even more attractive.