The Kia Picanto has proven a big hit in the small-car class. In three-door form, it scored a group test victory over the Fiat 500 TwinAir and Ford Ka
, while the five-door sets the standard in the city car class for practicality and quality. Put simply, this is the car that the VW up! must beat.
In an effort to make its models more desirable, Kia has allowed its designers to be more daring. The Picanto is a prime example. The car in our pictures is a five-door, but has the same aggressive face, neat proportions and distinctive LED tail-lamps as the three-door we tested.
What’s more, the sporty Halo version has extra visual impact thanks to standard 14-inch alloy wheels, racy red trim for the front grille and a chrome-finish exhaust.
Inside, the Kia isn’t as bold. The dashboard is stylish and well laid-out, but lacks the grown-up appeal of the VW or the Fiat’s charm. Still, it’s solidly built and the materials are more upmarket than those used in the Toyota.
You’re also spoiled for kit: the seats and steering wheel are heated, plus there’s Bluetooth, an iPod connection and air-con. The Picanto takes top honours for space, too, as even taller rear passengers get decent head and legroom. And that’s not all, because the Kia’s rear bench features a trio of three- point seatbelts, which means that it’s the only one of our contenders which seats five.
Open the tailgate and you’ll discover a well shaped boot that can take 200 litres of luggage, although that’s 51 litres less than the VW. Still, the standard 60:40 split-fold rear seat makes it easy to extend the space.
On paper, the Picanto’s 84bhp 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine is the most powerful here, so it was no surprise to find the car dominated our performance tests. The 0-60mph sprint took only 10.9 seconds, while its 50-70mph time of 14.5 seconds was 2.3 seconds quicker than its nearest rival, the Fiat.
On the road, the Kia’s advantage is less clear-cut, as the engine is harsh and breathless when worked hard. What’s more, it’s not as refined as the VW or Fiat, with excessive engine noise spoiling its long- distance cruising ability. The Picanto also rides firmly, like the Aygo and the 500.
On the plus side, it’s composed and capable through corners, while its high driving position and good visibility inspire confidence. The steering feels artificial, but it’s direct and well weighted, while the five-speed gearbox is slick.
The Picanto’s low running costs will seal the deal for many. CO2 emissions of 100g/km mean low tax, while a £259 three-year maintenance package takes the sting out of servicing. Plus, it has Kia’s seven-year warranty. All this means it’s a strong contender for victory here.
Chart position: 2
WHY: Three-door Picanto puts the emphasis on style and value – and it’s a successful formula, as it beat the Fiat 500 and Ford Ka in our previous test.