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New Kia Picanto 2017 review

Kia's new Picanto city car is a grown-up choice with the potential to challenge the class best

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Cost will play a big part in the new Kia Picanto’s success, but early indications suggest it’ll happily compete with mainstream rivals when it comes to comfort, quality and ease of use. It’s a more grown up alternative to the Renault Twingo, and its mature manners should see it give the Skoda Citigo something to worry about. Plusher, more refined and better to drive than its predecessor, the cheap-to-run Picanto is an exciting class contender.

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The Kia Picanto first found fame back in 2004, when it launched in the UK as the Korean brand’s smallest and most affordable new car. Cheap and cheerful was the name of the game; the Picanto offered buyers style, equipment and space, as well as impressively low running costs.

That Picanto was replaced in 2011, the incoming version quickly gaining momentum in a sparsely populated city car market. Since then, however, newer rivals such as the Skoda Citigo, Hyundai i10 and Renault Twingo have stolen the limelight, offering much of the same value for money, with significantly upgraded interiors and more grown-up driving experiences. 

This new Picanto aims to right the old car’s wrongs, however, with a spacious cabin, stronger equipment levels and improved customisation options. Three engine options will be available to Brit buyers, including a peppy three-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit for the very first time

First impressions are good. While it’s still recognisable as Kia’s dinkiest design, the Picanto has been thoroughly updated to bring it in line with the brand’s new Rio supermini and established Sportage SUV. It’s a more eye-catching car, with a bold tiger-nose grille, sharp detailing and optional LED daytime running lights. 

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Best city cars

Space inside is impressive. While the designers have only engineered an extra 15mm into the wheelbase, room in the back is generous. The car is no longer overall than before, but the extra distance between the front and rear wheels allows adults to sit comfortably on longer journeys.

Handy touches like the small central armrest improve practicality further, while the 255-litre boot is bigger than all the Picanto’s main city car rivals. A similarly priced Ford Ka+ offers a bigger load-bay with the seats in place, but fold them flat and the Kia trumps it thanks to its 1,010-litre total capacity.

The wheels have been pushed right to the corners for a more dynamic appearance and tighter turning circle. This is particularly useful around town, which is where this car will inevitably spend most of its working life. In fact, it’s quite an agile city car, and easily matches the Skoda Citigo for ease of use. Body control is decent, too, thanks to stiffer anti-roll bars – making light work of tight streets and busy urban commutes. Visibility is also pretty good, with those short overhangs playing in your favour when it comes to parking and manoeuvring.

Out on the open road, the Picanto feels solid and refined. We tried the entry-level 1.0-litre non-turbo version, which felt a little wheezy but not as slow as its performance figures (0-62mph in 14.3 seconds) would suggest. The lack of torque is the Kia’s biggest problem, as it struggles on taller inclines and when overtaking. A Volkswagen up! is still better fun, but the new Picanto feels well behaved and refreshingly grown-up.

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On our car’s 15-inch alloy wheels the ride was compliant without feeling too soft. It dealt with rougher surfaces extremely well, never losing composure and only rarely sending shocks through the chassis. The larger 16-inch wheels on flashy GT Line cars create a noticeably harsher ride, however.

The brand-new 98bhp 1.0 T-GDi wasn’t available to try at launch, as it doesn’t arrive in the UK until the end of 2017. However, we took the four-cylinder 1.25-litre car out on an identical test route, and while it was more proficient in the hills above Barcelona, the differences are marginal. Unless you spend most your time on the motorway or regularly travel with four people on board, the more modest 1.0 should suffice.

Quality is much improved over the outgoing car, with relatively plush materials on the doors and dashboard. Black and grey cloth comes as standard, but optional interior packs add a dash of colour. Our car featured a lairy blue hue, and while it won’t be to all tastes, it certainly stands out from the usual sea of black.

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The Picanto is no Rolls-Royce, but the seven-inch central touchscreen on high-spec models (likely grade ‘3’ and above) looks great and is easy to use. It’s much more upmarket than the plastic mobile phone cradle you’ll find in a Volkswagen up!, that’s for sure. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included with the screen, as is 3D mapping and Bluetooth connectivity – giving the Picanto the edge when it comes to in-car tech. The big black buttons that flank the display and centre console are logically laid out and easy to use on the move, too.

Whether the Picanto sinks or swims in the UK will largely come down to costs, and while exact prices and specs haven’t been revealed, we’re expecting an increase of around £500 spec-for-spec over the old model. That means an entry-level Picanto ‘1’ should cost a little over £9,000, while mid-spec ‘2’ and ‘3’ models should offer impressive kit for little extra outlay. We’re told a top-of-the-range GT Line car with the 1.25-litre petrol engine will start from less than £14,000. The turbo will command a further premium of around £1,000.

For comparison, a basic five-door Skoda Citigo costs just £8,845 – and that car is currently available on some seriously tempting zero per cent finance deals. As a result, Kia will have to pull out all the stops if it’s to match its VW Group rival punch for punch. 

At least the Picanto can beat it for running costs. The standard 1.0-litre car in its simplest specification emits a Citigo-matching 101g/km. However, there are a number of tweaks that can affect the car’s CO2 output, and thus its projected fuel economy. For example, if you opt for the four-seat model you’ll save 20kg over the five-seat car – shaving 10g/km off the Picanto’s emissions, boosting combined fuel economy by 6.4mpg. Opt for the LED daytime running lights and that’s another 1g/km. Pennies make the pounds, after all.

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