► Third-generation Kia Picanto is here
► GT-Line trim adds butched-up bodykit
► 1.2 engine is fastest offering… for now
Sift through the number of rivals the new Kia Picanto is up against and you’d be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed.
There’s the VW Up/Skoda Citigo/SEAT Mii trio, offering grown-up driving dynamics with a quality cabin, Renault’s Twingo plays the quirky card with its rear-engined, rear-drive set-up, Peugeot/Citroen/Toyota’s 108, C1 and Aygo aim for a more youthful image, and Hyundai focuses on being the sensible all-rounder of the group with its i10.
So, the new Picanto has a fight on its hands if it’s to steal attention from its numerous rivals.
Good thing it looks good, then…
Too right. While tamer-looking model variants are available, straightforwardly named 1, 2 and 3, it’s this angry-looking GT-Line version that’s most likely to catch your attention. With a deep lower front intake, flashes of red on the grille, bumpers and flanks, and 16-inch alloy wheels, it looks the part.
The theme continues inside with a suitably sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel and artificial leather seats. Again, there’s plenty of red trim (other colours are available) to make you feel like you’re going faster than you really are.
Does it drive like its looks promise?
Yes and no. The Picanto’s 1.2-litre engine produces 83bhp and 90lb ft of torque, so it’s not the fastest out there, especially compared with the turbocharged VW Up’s peppier performance.
However, it feels usefully nippy in urban environs, this type of car’s natural habitat. With this in mind it has all the performance you could want, but does lack the character of its three-cylinder rivals and, for that matter, the 1.0-litre three-pot also available in the Picanto – although that has to make do with only 66bhp. The less powerful 1.0-litre is more enjoyable to rev out, but when you get to a hill or motorway (God forbid a hilly motorway) you’ll be wishing you’d gone for the 1.2 and its extra power.
This problem should be remedied later in 2017, when the Picanto becomes available with a 99bhp 1.0-litre turbo found in the larger Rio.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself caught in an impromptu traffic light drag race the 1.2-litre Picanto will jog from 0-62mph in 12.0 seconds flat, so racing for pink slips is inadvisable.
Ultimately, the Picanto is very well suited to where it’ll be spending most of its town – in towns and cities, but you’ll need to think carefully about what kind of roads you drive on if you plan on getting one before the turbo arrives.
What about handling?
On a twisty road, the Picanto is surprisingly fun. It’s light and agile, body control is impressive and the ride treads a fine line between firm-ish and pliant. It’s great on pockmarked roads and pothole-riddled streets.
A particular area of note is the steering. While it lacks in feel somewhat, it isn’t as light as air (or the steering in the previous Picanto), and is weighted to make you feel like you’ve actually contributed to getting the car around a bend.
The Picanto is impressive on a cruise too. Wind and road noise are well suppressed, although you will notice a bit more intrusion from the larger 16-inch alloys of GT-Line models – but that’s the price you pay for vanity.
What’s the interior like?
All the design cues you expect from a new Kia, which means a touchscreen infotainment system sitting on top of the dash à la BMW, Audi and Mercedes, and some neatly designed air-con controls lower down. It’s all easy to use and interesting enough to look at, especially if you opt for one of five colour packs (some more garish than others) available to add a bit more character to the interior.
Space-wise, it’s impressive for a car of this class, with enough room for four (a fifth will be rather squashed) and the largest boot in the current city car class at 255 litres.
City-dwellers are spoiled for choice in the current small car market. Working in the Picanto’s favour are an enjoyable driving experience, a practical, well-made interior and a strong ownership proposition.
The GT-Line trim is relatively expensive and, at the minute, the engine line-up isn’t as strong as the Skoda Citigo’s for example, but the new Picanto is interesting to look at, to be in and to drive, which counts for an awful lot.
The addition of the punchy 1.0-litre turbo petrol at the end of the year could give it a better shot in a scrap for the top of the class – especially in GT-Line trim which looks disproportionately aggressive for such a small car. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.