"Unless you’re on a very tight budget, we’d go for the Kia Picanto with the 1.25-litre engine, fitted with stop-start."
The second-generation Kia Picanto follows the same pattern as many recent Kias – the latest model is much better quality than the car that it replaces, making it much stronger competition for rivals such as the Hyundai i10, Fiat 500 and Ford Ka. The Kia's small dimensions are given a bolder, more premium feel thanks to a chunkier look, and the well-laid-out interior now looks classier and more expensive. It now comes with the choice of three or five doors, the former having a sportier look and feel than the more practical five door. The body is longer so provides greater space inside the car, too, with the boot being a lot larger than the old model and offering significantly more luggage space. You can choose between two quiet petrol engines, while the overall driving experience is good, especially on trips into town. The Picanto comes in nine overall specs that starts with the entry-level 1, then 1 Air, 2, 3 for the five-door, then 1, 1 Air, White, Equinox and City models. All spec levels are well equipped, with the mid-range 2 cars coming with alloy wheels, electric windows and Bluetooth connectivity fitted as standard.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Cheap to buy, the Picanto is also cheap to run thanks to two very economical engines under its little bonnet. The 68bhp 1.0-litre petrol returns 67.3mpg and emits only 99g/km, making it tax free. Even the larger 1.25-litre engine returns 60mpg and emits 109g/km – which can be improved to 65.7mpg fuel economy and a road-tax avoiding 100g/km by adding the EcoDynamics stop-start system. Very low insurance costs and Kia's outstanding seven-year/100,000-mile warranty will only further add to the Kia's appeal to motorists looking for a decent buy on a budget.
Interior & comfort
The larger body dimensions of the current Picanto means you get much more space inside than the previous model. Up front, the legroom is vastly improved and the seats now provide a lot of back support. In the rear, there's good headroom and all the seats are large enough for most adults to get suitably comfy. Wind and road noise are nicely suppressed by decent sound insulation, but the distinct whir of the three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine does become intrusive when you push it too hard. The ride is generally comfortable, but the relatively stiff suspension means you’ll have to stomach quite a lot of body roll in some of the sharper corners and some thumps over bumps on uneven roads.
Practicality & boot space
Obviously, the five-door Picanto is more practical, with an extended wheelbase making the rear seat access noticeably better. While all the seats are suitably supportive and comfortable, you can only adjust the steering wheel for angle, not reach, which is a shame as it does make it harder to find a really great driving position. The front passengers also benefit from extra space, with improved leg and headroom, but once you clamber into the back, legroom is a bit cramped. You get a nearly 50-litre increase in boot space, which is nearly a third bigger, with 200 litres of luggage capacity available. All rear seats across the range split 60:40 to fold down flat, which increases the boot size to 870 litres, and thanks to a low-positioned and wide-shaped boot opening, loading virtually anything is simple. You also get a reasonably sized glove compartment and some storage cubbies inside, while mid-range models and above come with a handy twin cup holder underneath the centre console.
Reliability & safety
Kia continued its march up the Driver Power manufacturers rankings in the 2013 customer survey, climbing another five spots to come seventh overall – a reflection of Kia's seemingly constant improvement over the past half decade. The MkII Kia Picanto itself entered the survey for the first time and placed 68th in the top 100 cars, losing points for its firm ride, poor performance and lack of practicality – all traits of small cars. Even so, you can expect the Picanto to be pretty reliable, even though the first-rate-looking plastics fall down a bit under closer scrutiny inside. That said, the switches are solid, with impressive fit and finish. On a controversial note, the Picanto only managed to secure a four-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests – this was due to entry-level European-specification models not coming fitted with electronic stability control as standard. However, UK drivers should treat this with a pinch of salt to some degree as all UK cars do come with a long list of safety equipment, including stability control, six airbags and ISOFIX child-seat anchor points. Also, owners appear to trust and value Kia's faith in its cars, demonstrated by its standard seven-year/100,000-mile warranty – which is pretty remarkable for a car as small as the Picanto and provides a great deal of peace of mind for any potential buyer.
Engines, drive & performance
Two petrol engines are on offer in the Picanto, of which the larger 84bhp 1.25-litre model is the better, especially when combined with the optional EcoDynamics stop-start system to boost fuel economy. Both engines are quiet and smooth, but the 69bhp 1.0-litre version isn’t as good on the motorway or when trying to overtake, while the larger engine copes much better with both. What's more, with the 1.25-litre there's no need to shift down through the gears when climbing steep hills. While the steering is as light and responsive as any good small car, the brakes are a bit abrupt and over-responsive, making rivals like the Hyundai i10 that much easier to drive. Also, as perfect as the car is for nipping around town, if you apply too much acceleration when pulling out of a tight or busy junction, the front tyres tend to lose grip.
Price, value for money & options
You may pay less for the likes of the Dacia Sandero, but you don’t get the same high levels of technology and equipment as in the Picanto. The entry-level 1 Air model comes fitted with air-conditioning, daytime running lights, CD stereo with MP3 connectivity, trip computer, hill-start assist, and electric windows as standard. One spec level up, the 2 model adds USB and Bluetooth connectivity, electric rear windows, steering-wheel-mounted controls, front fog lights and heated door mirrors. The top-of-the-range 3 cars also include LED daytime running lights, climate control, six-speaker stereo, and 15-inch alloy wheels. Plus, you get that amazing Kia seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which significantly adds to the great value of the Picanto. And when you come to sell it on the used car market, it should hold up to 45 per cent of its original list price after three years of ownership.