Small cars are big news in the city, and two Korean brands dominate the urban landscape. Hyundai has long led the way, but Kia’s latest arrival is aiming to topple its competitor, thanks to a thorough overhaul.
The all-new Picanto is bigger and better than ever, boasting fresh underpinnings and a more luxurious cabin. It will need all the help it can get to trump its Hyundai sister model, though. The i10 is a towering presence in the city car sector, and was given a makeover earlier this year in preparation for this very encounter, so it boasts updated looks of its own.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Kia Picanto
To find our winner, we took to the gridlocked streets of London’s Docklands, before heading out of town to put our two contenders through their paces. First in the queue at the traffic lights was the top-of-the-range Picanto 3, complete with a 1.25-litre petrol engine – that’s exactly the same unit as is found under the bonnet of the Hyundai.
The flagship i10 Style is a lot cheaper than the Picanto, but doesn’t have as much high-quality kit. Will this determine the outcome of our test, or will the Kia’s talents come at too high a price?
After a day of stop-start driving around the capital, plus higher-speed fun on rural roads, we have the answer.
With so much in common, there’s little to choose between these two models – but the flagship versions highlight major differences. The new Picanto is a big improvement over its predecessor; distinctive looks and a high-quality cabin make it a real force to be reckoned with in the city car class again. It also comes loaded with big-car kit, albeit at a hefty price – for the cost of the top-spec Picanto 3, you could buy a bona fide supermini instead. In contrast, the Hyundai plays to its strengths, mixing a spacious and well appointed interior with strong performance, tidy handling and very attractive prices. As a result, the i10 pulls off a narrow win, but the margin of victory is small. Lesser versions of the two cars are even more closely matched – and, on this evidence, buyers won’t feel disappointed by either of our contenders.