Gareth Butterfield reviews the fun and funky Kia Picanto
IF you’re after a decent city car, you’re spoilt for choice. More so than in any other sector, the standard of models on offer is superb. Everything from the funky Toyota Aygo – one of my favourites, to the ever-so-slightly posh Volkswagen Up! is a credible choice.
And now, to make things even harder, Kia has updated its little Picanto. I drove the old one a few years ago and liked it, but it wasn’t the best of the bunch and it had huge competition to contend with.
Kia clearly knew this when they went to town on their little city car and they’ve done a marvellous job of bringing their newcomer up-to-date.
For starters, it looks fabulous. Especially in a sporty trim, such as the popular GT-Line offering I’ve been testing, it looks aggressive at the front, neat at the back and sides. It’s tricky to make cars of this stature look cool, but they’ve pulled it off.
And it’s nice inside too. It’s got a big, grown-up floating display – if you choose one – and the design is simple but attractive. Its slightly upright driving position isn’t quite to my liking, but it’s pretty much the norm in this class and it won’t bother everyone.
The seats are comfortable, there’s decent space in the rear seats, plenty of headroom and the boot is one of the best on offer.
Build quality also seems better in the new Picanto, but it is still a sub-£10,000 car in base spec, so don’t expect miracles.
There’s two engines on offer, a one-litre turbocharged three cylinder engine, a 1.25-litre four-pot and a turbocharged version of the smallest engine is on its way soon.
I was testing the 83bhp 1.25-litre engine and it’s a gem. Sure, 83bhp isn’t a great deal and you do need to rev it to get the best out of it, but it’s such a small, light car that that’s not so much of a problem.
What also helps, is that the five-speed gearbox is a joy to use – the gearchange is light and slick and you won’t miss the sixth gear at all, the ratios are spot on.
Fuel economy from both engines is also pretty good. 45mpg-plus is a doddle in the 1.25 and, on paper, the one-litre version is better still, but don’t expect too much of an improvement in practice. Add an automatic gearbox and you’ll likely lose a fair bit of efficiency, too.
You can choose from five trim lines, beginning with the £9,450 1; then there’s a “2”, a “3”, a GT-Line and a GT-Line S. My GT Line with a few goodies chucked in, such as parking sensors, a very good infotainment system with smartphone connectivity and bundles of clever safety kit would sell for £12,450 – and it’s a lot of car for the money.
With its peppy engine and light controls, it’s a joy to drive. Of course, it thrives in the urban sprawl but even on the open road, it’s entertaining. It’s less well-suited to motorway jaunts, but it copes well. Cruise control helps, as does the decent stereo, but that’s not to suggest the engine ever feels strained – it’s a surprisingly competent all-rounder.
The pay-off from its fun cornering abilities is fairly firm suspension. It will bother you more in the back than in the driver’s seat, but – especially with the bigger 16″ wheels – it does feel quite firm.
It’s also prone to a bit of wind noise at high speeds, but that’s not unforgivable in a car of its size and while I’m nit-picking I’d say the lower-spec cars are worth avoiding because there’s little offered as standard. Besides, it doesn’t cost a lot more to go up a few trim levels in a car of this type and it’s certainly worth doing if you can.
Apart from that, I could honestly find nothing to dislike about the Picanto. It looks good, drives well, it’s economical and nippy and practical. It’s everything a city car should be. Oh, and Kia does a seven-year warranty. Icing on the cake? I think so.
If you’re in the market for a city car, I pity you. It must be a torturous decision to make, they’re all really good. And now Kia has made the decision even harder. There are reasons to pick every single one on the market but, with some, there are more reasons than others.
Personally, though, I’m sold. The Picanto wins the day for me, purely because of its fun facto,m charm and personality. To my mind it’s not just better than the previous Picanto, it’s better than all the other city cars. I love it.