Kia’s funky Picanto city car is now available in an even more urban-friendly ‘City’ package, costing £10,245. After recently being impressed by the all-new Hyundai i10, and pitching Skoda Citigo against VW Up, we’ve driven Kia’s new baby to see where it fits into the hotly fought city car melee. Read on for the CAR review.
What makes the Kia Picanto City a good urban car?
As far as the urban theme goes, the only really city-friendly kit on this model extends to rear parking sensors and electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors. Ignore the branding and the spec list still looks generous, though. You get smart 14in telephone-dial-style alloys (being slab-sided, the car still looks under-wheeled), Golf GTI-style lipstick in the grille, automatic headlights and extra goodies inside. There’s Bluetooth with voice recognition, LED ambient lighting – which does indeed lend a welcome air of premium to the otherwise brittle cockpit – and steering wheel controls for the phone, volume, and media.
Is it a trip back to the Kia bad old days inside?
Though there’s not a single squidgy soft-touch plastic present, the Picanto isn’t unpleasant inside: it’s a funky, fresh design compared to some of the more geriatric-feeling city cars, the driving position gives no cause for complaint for six-footers, and the two-spoke steering wheel looks like the same ‘grinning’ helm you’ll find in a £100,000 Mercedes S63 AMG. The heating/ventilation switchgear is a bit ropey though – not only does it look like a set of chunky knobs designed for glove-wearing 4x4 drivers, they all operate with a clunky, crude action as well.
Is the powertrain any good?
It’s a fun engine, but once you’ve driven a VW Group city car, or new Hyundai i10, the Picanto's mechanical interference lags behind the times. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine’s whirr is more prevalent inside than any of the Picanto’s rivals, save for the fit-for-a-museum Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo.
It does feel zippier to rev than its contemporaries though. With peak power not delivered until 6200rpm, you’re encouraged to rinse the Picanto like a hire car if fast progress is the order of the day, which it laps up gamely. And yet, the 1.0-litre Picanto produces sub-100g/km CO2 emissions, so there’s no road tax to cough up for. You have to spec a pricier ‘Bluemotion’ Up to sidestep the bill in the VW.
What about the rest of the Picanto’s drive?
Mostly good news: the five-speed manual gearbox is positive and snappy, the brakes have plenty of bite, and the car handles in that best city car tradition, like it’s up on its toes and wants to dart around.
Alongside its increasingly mature rivals, the Picanto’s cheeky, chuckable, nature is actually pretty refreshing. It’s the steering that lets the dynamics down: there’s an unpleasant, Fiat Panda-esque elasticity to its response, springy off-centre and sticky further around the rack. Light steering we’ve no problem with for skinny-tyred city cars: it makes for easy parking after all, but the Up triplets prove it can be matched with accuracy and a well-weighted response that’s simply not present in the Kia.
City cars have to do it all, so is the Picanto practical?
Thanks to that breadvan profile, there’s room aplenty inside, and passengers won’t feel pinched despite the Picanto’s perceived narrowness. It’s the boot that loses out: 200 litres with all seats in place is soundly thrashed by the new Hyundai i10 (252L), Up, Citigo and Mii (251L), and even the ageing Ford Ka (224L)
The Kia Picanto isn’t as well-mannered or spacious as some of its more recently revealed adversaries, but its pugnacious styling, willing engine and comfortable-yet-entertaining handling mean it still shouts loudly in a chocker-block full of talent market.
Still, with all of those positive attributes, the same seven-year warranty (and fewer of the superfluous garnish features) available on the entry-level Picanto Air for £8045, that’s where we’d aim to put our money.