Kia Picanto review

Our Rating: 
2011 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Kia Picanto offers sharp looks, a seven-year warranty and good value, but it's fallen behind the class best a bit

Plenty of kit, cheap to buy and run, warranty peace-of-mind
Sluggish three-cylinder engine, lazy steering, rivals have caught up

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The city car segment is fiercely competitive of late, with the likes of the Hyundai i10, VW Up! and Skoda Citigo muscling in on the class lead. There's also funkier designs such as the Renault Twingo and Toyota Aygo in the mix. So the four-year old Kia Picanto has received a facelift in 2015 to keep it competitive.

The first generation Picanto was a huge success for Kia in the UK, thanks to the fact it was so popular with buyers taking advantage of the Government’s scrappage scheme, and this second-generation model is a big improvement on the old car.

Unfortunately four years is a long time in this segment, and the recent facelift hasn't been enough to update the styling or interior. It's still a decent looking car, but some rivals are now more distinctive, despite Kia now offering a range of new colours. Inside, too, it's by no means bad it lacks the premium features or design flair that marks out the class best.

Cabin quality is good, however, as is the kit list on most models. A new range-topping Picanto Quantum has recently been added to the lineup, helping the city car compete at the higher end of the segment. It comes with a lots of extra kit, including 15-inch five-round-spoke alloy wheels, automatic air-conditioning, a smart key entry system with a starter button and an electric sliding and tilting sunroof.

There's still decent amounts of space for passenger,s althougth the up! and i10 are again ahead in this regard. The 200-litre boot is a little smaller than rivals, but the 60:40 split rear bench comes a standard, which frees up 870 litres of space. The boot is also a good shape so it makes it easy to load and unload bulky items.

The two petrol engines on offer are quiet and efficient, too, and provide enough power to ensure the little Kia is nippy around town, even if it does feel quite underpowered on motorways.

Our choice: Picanto 1.25 '2' ISG 

Engines, performance and drive


The Kia Picanto is at its best when zipping around town – unsurprisingly, given it’s a city car. The controls are light and easy which is great for navigating the Picanto’s small dimensions through crowded town traffic. Unfortunately the steering lets the package down out of town, with too much artificial weighting on the motorway and slow reactions to quick direction changes.

There is a choice of two engines: a 68bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and an 84bhp 1.25-litre petrol engine. The smaller engine is available on 1, 1 Air, VR7 and 2 spec models. It’s efficient and economical but it’s also a bit sluggish. You’ll find it struggles on motorways, and gets noisy as a result. However it'll do 67.3mpg and emit 99g/km CO2, making it exempt from road tax.

The larger engine is available on 2, 3 and White spec cars. It offers a bit more punch and is much better at coping with motorway speeds – especially when it comes to overtaking. It offers decent economy, too, and will return 60mpg. the 2015 facelift also brought along start/stop, which improves economy further.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


One of the main selling points of city cars is the fact that they are cheap to run – and the Picanto is no exception to this rule, despite the absence of a diesel engine. The 68bhp 1.0-litre three cylinder engine does 67.3mpg and emits just 99g/km CO2, making it exempt from tax.

The larger 1.25-litre engine will do 60mpg and emits 109g/km CO2 – although Kia offers the EcoDynamics stop-start system as an optional extra with this engine which improves the figures to 65.7mpg and 100g/km CO2.

Avoid the four-speed automatic gearbox is you’re looking to keep a lid on running costs. The three-door White 1.25 auto model emits 125g/km CO2 – an unusually high figure for a car of this size.

Insurance group ratings are low across the board, which will help to keep your premium down. And Kia’s seven-year/100,000-mile warranty will ensure you don’t get hit with a major repair bill, too.

Interior, design and technology


The first-generation Kia Picanto was bland to say the least. Not so the second generation. As with other Kia models launched in the last few years, it gets a far more upmarket, sporty design.

The stand-out feature is Kia’s ‘tiger-nose’ grille surrounded by a pair of swept-back, oversized headlights. Unfortunately, even with the restyled bumpers of the 2015 facelift it looks a bit dated compared with cars like the Renault Twingo. At least the Skoda Citigo and Hyundai i10 don't offer much more appeal in this regard.

The interior is neatly designed but has changed even less than the exterior in the 2015 update. Kia claims there's a range of brighter fabrics, but our test car came with black-and-silver trim that looks almost identical to the 2011 car. At least its laid-out well and is easy on the eye, fine for Kia's target market.

The Picanto range is available with a wide choice of colours. Three-door models are available in Clear White, Bright Silver, Blaze Red and Galaxy Black. The five-door version can be had in any of those colours plus Lemongrass, Blue Breeze and Fuchsia Blush.

Trim levels on the three-door include: 1, VR7 and White and top-spec Quantum. While five-door specifications include: 1, 1 Air, VR7, 2 and 3. All models come with electric windows, trip computer and MP3 connectivity, while Quantum adds climate control, auto headlights and cruise control.

The five-door gets 1, 1 Air, 2, 3, 4 and the VR7 special edition. We'd suggest 2 spec with he bigger 1.25 petrol offers enough equipment and performance for most, and represents decent value.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


The second-generation Picanto is more spacious on the inside than the previous model, thanks to the fact it has a larger wheelbase. Five-door cars are obviously more practical than three-doors, due to the improved access to the rear seats.

The Picanto’s boot has 200 litres of capacity, which is pretty average in the class. It’s better than the Fiat 500, but some way behind newer rivals. The Volkswagen Group trio of city cars – the VW up!, SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo – for example, have 251 litres of capacity. While the Hyundai i10 boasts 252 litres of space.

The Kia comes with 60:40 split-folding rear seats as standard, though, which helps to improve practicality. Fold them flat and space increases to 870 litres. The boot has a wide opening, too, which helps with squeezing in large objects.

There are plenty of storage compartments and cubbyholes dotted around the interior, too, plus a decent sized glovebox. Mid-spec models get a twin cup holder underneath the centre console as well. Frustratingly, though, the steering wheel only adjusts for rake, not reach.

Reliability and Safety


One of the areas where the Picanto is starting to show its age is its safety rating. It scored four-stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests. However, you shouldn’t let the four-star rating put you off. The Picanto was marked down by Euro NCAP because entry-level European spec models don’t come as standard with electronic stability control – but entry-level UK cars do.

And the Picanto scored decent marks for Adult Occupant and Child Occupant protection, receiving 86 per cent for the former and 83 per cent for the latter. It also comes with a decent range of safety kit, including ABS, traction control, ISOFIX points for child seats and driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags.

There should be no problems with the Picanto when it comes to reliability. The quality of Kia’s cars have been improving at a staggering rate in recent years, but any lingering concerns you may have should be put well to rest by the company’s brilliant seven-year/100,000-mile warranty.

Kia has also been performing well in recent years, but dropped from a stonrg seventh to a merely average 19th for manufacturers in our 2015 Driver Power survey. Expect it to perform better in 2016 thanks to facelifts across the range.

Last updated: 5 May, 2015