There’s something honest and appealing about great city cars. They’re small, affordable and economical, and a sensible choice, but the best in the business are attractive and fun to drive as well.
Three-door models have the edge on style, and account for 45 per cent of UK city car sales. And now, Kia hopes to tap into this market by offering the Picanto as a three-door for the first time.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Kia Picanto
It has a host of distinguishing features, and buyers can choose from two petrol engines and three trims. We test the more powerful 1.2-litre 85bhp Halo EcoDynamics. This version is well equipped and clean, emitting only 100g/km of CO2.
Our Kia is closely matched on price and power to arguably the coolest city car in the world: the super-chic Fiat 500. This features the unique two-cylinder TwinAir engine, and is tough to beat in this class.
But let’s not forget one of Britain’s favourites: the Ford Ka. It sits on the same platform as the Fiat, and while it doesn’t get the award-winning TwinAir engine, the 1.2-litre Duratec model we test is still a strong contender. This is sure to be a close contest.
With the Volkswagen up! arriving next year, the heat is really on in the city car sector. But you don’t have to wait until then to see how much standards have improved; the new Kia Picanto is superb. The quality of its cabin is astonishing, standard equipment is generous and there’s lots of space.
It has a stern rival in the shape of the 500 TwinAir, though. The Fiat is the style benchmark, and its unique engine delivers impressive performance and low emissions. Add fun handling and the potential for lots of customisation, and it’s easy to fall for its charms.
Put style aside, though, and the 500 trails the Kia on interior quality and space – so the choice comes down to your priorities. If you value style, fun and pace, go for the Fiat. But if you want kit, upmarket materials and space, the Picanto is the answer.
It’s hard to ignore the Fiat’s desirability, but we have to admit the TwinAir engine fails to live up to its bold economy claims, and the car will cost more to run in the long term. So the Picanto is our winner.
Unfortunately, the Ford Ka has neither the quality or space of the Kia, nor the looks and charisma of the Fiat, and finishes a distant third.
1. Kia Picanto Halo
The Picanto makes most sense as a stylish three-door. You get a lot of city car for your money, with a brilliant warranty, long kit list and impressive cabin quality. Plus, it’s refined and good to drive – but it can’t match the Fiat when it comes to all-important image.
2. Fiat 500 TwinAir
Drive the TwinAir hard, and you won’t get anywhere near Fiat’s efficiency claims. But the engine’s performance and character make the car great fun to drive, plus it’s hard to beat on style. The 500 pushes the Kia all the way on the back of its sheer personality.
3. Ford KA Metal
Something is missing from the Ford Ka recipe. It’s a decent car, but can’t compete with its rivals: it’s neither as fast or as fun as the Fiat nor as spacious or affordable as the Kia. Cheaper entry-level versions make more sense.