Kia has gone from strength to strength recently, with massive leaps forward in both quality and design. But if the Picanto is going to succeed in the image-driven three-door market, it needs to appeal to the heart as well as the head.
The good news is that the newcomer does away with the staid image that’s typified small Korean cars in the past. It’s modern and European looking, and small changes mark it out from the five-door version.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Kia Picanto
Whether all the detailing works together as a cohesive piece of design is open to debate, but for those who think the Fiat 500
is chintzy, the defiantly non-retro Picanto will appeal.
Everyone will be impressed with the modern, high-quality cabin. It sets the standard in this sector, with first-rate materials used throughout. The dash is simply laid out and white trim inserts brighten things up.
The driver’s seat adjusts for height, as does the steering wheel, while there’s plenty of storage with a big glovebox, door bins with bottle holders and twin cup-holders.
Rear legroom is better than in the 500, the seats split and fold and with three adjustable headrests and a trio of full seatbelts as standard, it’s the only car here that carries three people in the back. However, only the passenger seat slides forward automatically so it’s tricky to get in behind the driver.
The 1.2-litre engine is the larger of the two petrols on offer and it’s refined at start-up and low speed. However, the 121Nm torque figure is 24Nm down on the Fiat and peak output arrives higher in the rev range, so the Kia doesn’t feel as responsive – it trailed the 500 in our in-gear tests.
On the plus side, it was a fraction quicker in the sprint from 0-60mph (11.4 seconds), and it outperformed the Ford here, too. More importantly, it has the smoothest stop-start system, and with a relaxed gearshift and light controls, it’s easy to drive.
The Kia has smaller wheels and narrower tyres than its rivals, so it doesn’t change direction as sharply, while the light steering lacks feedback and is artificially weighted either side of straight ahead.
The brakes have a lot of servo assistance so there’s a positive response as soon as you touch the pedal, but the ABS comes in early and we recorded disappointing stopping distances.
There’s more body roll than with the 500, but overall the handling is predictable, and the Kia is the only car with standard stability control.
The ride is fairly stiff for a small city car and the suspension thumps into potholes. But on smoother surfaces, road, wind and tyre noise are all well suppressed.
The Picanto makes a strong case. The quality of the cabin and refinement mean you have to constantly remind yourself you’re driving a small city car, while generous standard kit helps justify the £11,695 price.
Chart position: 1WHY: Small Kias have always been sensible buys, but the new three-door Picanto hopes to add some style and desirability to the mix.