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In-depth reviews

Kia Picanto review - Engines, performance and drive

Lethargic engines aside, the Kia Picanto is good to drive and refined. The three-cylinder turbo spices things up, though

Kia says the alterations it’s made to the Picanto’s engine and chassis add up to make this the quietest city car around, both at idle and at a cruise. Yet while it’s definitely an improvement on the previous generation, it still doesn’t quite rival the VW up! when it comes to maturity on the move.

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While it’s no longer overall, an extended wheelbase and shorter overhangs give the Picanto a more dynamic appearance and tighter turning circle. Lengthening the wheelbase has also improved the ride, so over rolling bumps the Picanto feels relatively relaxed for its size. Sharper ridges in the road cause the chassis to react abruptly, though – especially from the rear, where the car pogos up and down, lacking body control. Around town, this firmer edge to the ride is less noticeable, and the Picanto copes with ripped-up and rucked urban roads reasonably well.

We found the Picanto 1.0 is just as quiet as a Skoda Citigo at 70mph when we tested them together. It does sit at higher revs than the Citigo in top gear, though, which explains its superior in-gear performance as well as the extra vibration inside, even if it’s slightly quieter. It feels at home at that speed, too, thanks to decent body control. A more severe bump will unsettle the car slightly, however, so it’s not quite as composed as the Skoda. At low speed there’s less of a difference, and the Kia rides smoothly enough. The steering isn’t quite as direct as the Citigo’s, but it is a bit heavier. It’s still enjoyable to nip about in, but as with the steering, the gearbox isn’t as sharp as the Skoda’s.

The crossover-inspired X-Line model sees the Picanto's ride height raised by 15mm. This makes access to the cabin marginally easier, but the extra road noise and firmer ride generated by its 16-inch alloys mean that the standard Picanto seems a better, and cheaper, option.

Engines

The 1.0-litre Picanto does 0-62mph in 13.8 seconds, while the 1.2 shaves more than two seconds off the time to complete the dash in 11.6 seconds. The 99bhp 1.0 T-GDi turbo petrol manages 0-62mph in 9.8 seconds and feels quick in the mid-range. Unfortunately, this engine is only offered in the more expensive GT-Line and GT-Line S models to go with their sportier looks. All cars come with a five-speed manual gearbox, while a four-speed auto is available on the 1.2.

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The non-turbo 1.0-litre three-cylinder motor offers adequate performance. When we tested it, the 0-60mph sprint took 12.4 seconds, but flat-out performance isn’t a priority in a city car. Chopping and changing between speed limits in built-up areas means torque and tractability are more important, so the Kia’s decent showing between 50-70mph in fifth, taking 13.9 seconds, and its 9.5-second time from 30-50mph in fourth highlight the flexibility of its performance.

The naturally aspirated triple is smooth, and revs fairly sweetly. The gearshift isn’t quite as positive as a VW Up’s, but it’s by no means obstructive when you’re trying to make progress. 

The four-cylinder 1.2 boasts a comparatively healthy 83bhp. However, it doesn't feel much faster in a straight line. In-gear acceleration is better and you’ll find yourself changing gear less frequently due to the greater torque, but it’s not as much fun as the standard 1.0-litre car, though it’s more relaxed at high speed. The 1.25-litre four-cylinder is available on all except the base Picanto, but we think the 1.0 has enough performance for most needs.

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