Kia Picanto hatchback review
“The Kia Picanto is a practical and polished city car, with great specs and infotainment options”
- Impressive warranty
- Attractive interior
- Cheap to run
- Engines can struggle
- Rivals have more style
- More expensive than before
It may be difficult to imagine now, but Kia was a relatively unknown brand when the first Picanto was launched in 2004. However, it was good enough for much longer-established carmakers to sit up and take notice, and now the latest generation of the Kia Picanto is a genuinely world-class city car with an impressive warranty.
Keenly priced, well built and reliable, it offers much to tease buyers away from rivals such as the Hyundai i10, MG3, Volkswagen up! and Toyota Aygo X. Its ability might also lead to consider the Picanto against superminis like the Suzuki Swift and Dacia Sandero.
Today's city-car class is fiercely contested and Kia has kept the Picanto relevant by paying attention to what buyers want. This is immediately obvious when you look at it – the latest Picanto has a far more individual look than its predecessor. It incorporates the brand's distinctive 'tiger nose' style, while its angled headlamps carry more than a hint of visual aggression. It's bound to appeal to a wide audience, especially with sporty GT-Line and rugged-looking X-Line versions, which take inspiration from SUVs like the Kia Sportage and Kia Stonic, with chunkier bumpers, raised suspension and dashes of bright colour inside and out.
Don't expect a junior hot-hatch or off-roader, though – the GT-Line and GT-Line S models are more about exuberant looks than tyre-shredding performance and, unlike some versions of the Suzuki Ignis, the Picanto X-Line versions don't feature four-wheel-drive. In ethos, this makes it even more similar to the Toyota Aygo X, with its trendy flared wheel arches and raised ride height.
The Picanto's engine range is more than sufficient for urban use, where even the 66bhp 1.0-litre entry-level engine has no trouble keeping up with traffic. For 2021, Kia discontinued the 1.25-litre petrol engine that offered greater flexibility for longer journeys, so the only alternative engine is the punchy turbocharged 1.0-litre T-GDi unit. It produces 99bhp and is the most powerful engine available in the Picanto. There’s no electric or hybrid version of the Picanto either, in spite of Kia’s success in the EV sector with cars like the Soul and e-Niro. If you fancy an electric city car, the Fiat 500 is your best bet.
Whichever engine you choose, you'll find the Picanto an easy car to drive around town where its compact size and accurate steering make it agile on crowded roads. These virtues are equally relevant on excursions to the countryside, too – even seasoned driving enthusiasts will find pleasure in taking the Picanto through a sequence of challenging corners, thanks to its impressive grip and well controlled body. It’s just a shame the 16-inch wheels and the taller suspension of the X-Line models make the ride rather unsettled.
Addressing criticism levelled at previous models, Kia has ensured that the latest Picanto can compete with European rivals for quality feel. The dashboard and doors are nicely finished, and the materials are pleasant to touch. There's a lively, upbeat look to the interior, too, which can be extended with the personalisation options found in the brochure.
While the entry-level model is undeniably attractively priced, we feel that some of the higher trim levels are so much more enjoyable to live with due to the extra creature comforts. The eight-inch infotainment system – standard in 3 cars and above – is particularly impressive with its Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The 3 also offers power-folding mirrors, parking sensors and cruise control - features that many find difficult to live without - plus a Sat Nav system. The next model down – the 2 – has fewer niceties, but its standard air-conditioning, steering wheel audio controls and Forward Collision Avoidance make it easy to recommend over the more basic entry-level 1 trim. A special edition trim level called the Shadow introduces some features to bridge the gap between 2 and 3.
Aside from their differing appearance, the ‘X-Line’ and ‘GT-Line’ models offer a similar level of equipment to each other, with privacy glass, upgraded bi-function projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights, and faux leather upholstery. Top-of-the-line ‘X-Line S’ and ‘GT-Line S’ models add a smart key that allows keyless start via a start/stop button, the sat-nav system found in the 3 models and added premium exterior styling touches.
With generous proportions, the Picanto is one of the more accommodating city cars on the market and it aligns well with busy family life. All models have five doors and there are seats for five inside. It's not especially wide, so three adults may be a little cramped in the rear, but three children of varying ages will be content back there. The boot is sizeable, too, putting 255 litres of load space at your disposal – not much less space than you'll find in some superminis from the class above.
Rounding the Picanto package off is a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which can be transferred to a new owner when the car is sold. The Kia Picanto came an impressive 20th overall in our 2021 Driver Power survey. Only a slightly disappointing four-star Euro NCAP safety rating blots the Picanto’s copybook, although its individual category scores were far from disastrous.
More than ever before, the latest Picanto mounts a serious challenge in the city-car class, with models to suit all budgets and the extra pizzazz of GT-Line or X-Line trims if you want it. Some rivals have a little more flair, but the Picanto is a very competent, enjoyable and comfortable small car.