The Kia Picanto burst on the scene in mid-2017, and promised an “all-new” experience over the car it replaced. And while one would expect that to be the case on the surface, given the more matured and upright styling of the new generation over its predecessor, the changes to the Picanto were merely skin deep. Soldiering on with the same drivetrain as the car it replaced, the 1.25-litre petrol engine we’re familiar with is mated to the equally-acquainted 4-speed automatic, though the new generation does offer a five-speed manual gearbox as well.
More of the same isn’t all bad news for the Picanto however, as it retains the same commendable driving qualities and comfortable ride that the previous-generation was frequently complimented for. And like the last car, this new Picanto is frequently subject to sharp pricing campaigns with attractive driveway prices, so much so that even Kia Australia suggests asking for good deals. Pair that to Kia’s capped-price servicing costs and seven-year warranty, and the Picanto remains an attractive proposition, antiquated underpinnings or not.
“Kia says it has emboldened the Picanto with a sense of maturity and handsomeness, especially compared with its predecessor.” - Autocar UK
The most noticeable change with the new Picanto is on the outside, where it has ditched the friendly and non-threatening look of the outgoing car in favour of one with a bit more aggression. Both the front and rear are a little more upright in appearance, with the tiger-nose grille now spanning the entire gap between the angular, angry-looking headlights. The face of the Picanto has been ‘pinched’ to a degree, giving it a sense of athleticism that it didn’t always have.
The sides of the car are far more conventional now, losing gout on the curvaceous character lines that used to mark out the previous-gen car from its competitors. It looks a bit more slab-sided now, and some may find the separation between the wheel-arch character lines with the feature line by the bottom of the doors rather grating. The rear also looks more conventional now, and most notably includes a large dark area surrounding the numberplate which aims to mimic the large grille up front, though it doesn’t quite work as well.
Engine & Drivetrain
““All new” is hardly accurate given the powertrain, specifically, is a carryover from the old version.” - CarAdvice
The Picanto isn’t designed to knock your socks off performance-wise, solely due to the powertrains on offer. The little Kia is offered in our market with a sole 1.25-litre petrol four-pot that we saw in the outgoing car, missing out on funky turbocharged engines that are available in other countries. With 62kW of power and 122Nm of torque, it’s enough to get the little Kia going. The highlight of this engine is its fuel economy, with real-world consumption figures not too far off the mark from Kia’s claimed less-than 5.0L/100km claimed economy.
There are two transmission choices on offer, with both sending power to the front wheels. The most popular gearbox (we reckon) is the 4-speed automatic, a unit we saw in the previous-generation model, which isn’t the most intuitive unit in the world. The more satisfying gearbox to have is the five-speed manual, which gives drivers a little more involvement and rewards them with slightly improved fuel economy. The shift isn’t the sweetest in the world and the clutch pedal action isn’t going to worry hot hatchbacks though, but at least the manual lets you sit in the 4000rpm-6000rpm rev band easier.
“Switches, stalks and other controls feel slick and it’s unlikely you’ll interact with any hard plastic unless you go actively looking for it.” - Autocar
Where the old cars’ value proposition used to hit you hardest inside, the new car is vastly improved. Gone is the monochrome radio, with a 7.0-inch full-colour touchscreen head unit with smartphone mirroring as standard. The weird steering wheel is also gone, replaced by a unit that looks more premium and feels more conventional. The cabin overall feels less try-hard, with the presentation feeling far more mature and easy to use. Particularly interesting are the air vents on either end of the dash, linked visually by a design element that seems to stretch the width of the fascia. Helps to emphasise width, especially in a compact hatch.
With the new generation, Kia claims that the cabin has grown in size, though it’s a claim we’re not particularly inclined to forward. Interior space is decent for its class, while cargo space is rated at 255-litres (not much, but it’s a 25% increase over the outgoing car). The Picanto is well-packaged overall, and uses what little space it’s been endowed with intelligently.
Behind the Wheel
“The Picanto driver is treated to a pretty good set-up; vision out to the front and sides (and from the side mirrors) is very good; the rear three-quarter view not so much.” - Motoring
The Picanto performs best in town, with its little one-and-a-quarter-litre engine doing a good job of keeping the compact car going through the urban snarl. It’s a good thing that it’s a willing little engine with an interesting engine note, as you’ll be hearing a lot of it once the speeds rise to motorway levels (or if you stomp on it to get into a gap in traffic). Steering is light and visibility is good, perfect for an urban runabout.
While competitors like the Holden Barina and Suzuki Ignis are better at motorway cruising (thanks to peppier engines, mostly), the Picanto isn’t all bad news on longer jaunts. It’s rather quiet and pretty comfortable, and surprisingly agile through corners. Accuracy is impressive as is steering feel, furthering the argument for the five-speed manual to unlock the little Picanto’s potential. On the motorway, the four-speed auto will result in the engine sitting at relatively high revs, which impedes on long-distance comfort. And prepare to hear more of it if your car’s full.
Safety & Technology
“The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has not rated the new Picanto.” - WhichCar
The Picanto is very impressive in the safety department, with a laundry list of standard specs that are sure to appease even the fussiest buyer. All Picantos get stability control, six airbags, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, and seatbelt reminders for all pews. There are even four disc brakes on the Picanto, not something you often find in the microcar segment.
Technology is well catered for too, with a 7.0-inch touchscreen (replete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) coming as standard, USB ports, charging outlets, and cruise control. The Picanto also benefits from a complete suite of driver instrumentation (speedo, tacho, and trip computer), as some propositions on this end of the market drop these for further value.
The Kia Picanto has yet to be rated by safety watchdogs ANCAP, though we predict that it’ll do fairly well given its solid construction and considerable safety kit.
The Kia Picanto is, above all else, a value proposition. With great usability in town, a frugal engine, great visibility and manoeuvrability, as well as a strong warranty, it’s hard to disregard the Picanto as an option on this end of the market. Pair that with sharp drive-away deals, and it’s easy to see why Kia’s still got an entrant in this shrinking segment.
With greater styling and better refinement than it used to have, as well as a peppy chassis (that you only really get to enjoy with the manual gearbox), the Picanto is a great car for young drivers and empty nesters, especially if motorway journeys are few and far between. An urban runabout is precisely what the Picanto is, and it runs about town really rather well.
If you want a small car that’s peppy, we’d suggest looking at the Suzuki Ignis (which also benefits from raised ride height and crossover styling, crucial for the style-conscious buyer), while better refinement and standard safety kit is on offer in things like the Holden Barina and Mazda2. That said, the Picanto’s smart packaging and laundry list of standard kit make it more than worthy of consideration.
CarAdvice – 7.5/10 – “Ideal first car? Cheap grocery-getter? Retiree runabout? Even a cheeky little warm hatch as a bottom-dollar fun machine? The new Picanto S now fits all bills equally well, if only marginally better than the car it replaces.”
WhatCar? – 4.0/5.0 – “The Kia Picanto is one of the better city cars, with a smart interior, tidy handling, and decent practicality.”
WhichCar – 4.0/5.0 – “The new-generation Picanto is an eye-catching city car with a comfortable ride and great steering. Cruise control and a reversing camera are standard, and the tiniest Kia has a big touchscreen that does a lot with your smartphone.”
Car Magazine, UK – 3.0/5.0 – “The Kia Picanto has all the makings of an excellent city car. It’s small, nimble, cheap to run and punches well above its weight for refinement and standard equipment on higher-trim cars.”
Motoring – 75/100 – “The micro segment is supposed to be the cheap and cheerful class where both price and buyer expectations are relatively low. Yet Kia’s third-generation Picanto serves up a surprising level of refinement and a competitive features list.”
TopGear – 7.0/10 – “Another string to Kia’s ever more impressive bow, the Picanto is a fun and interesting city car.”
AutoExpress – 4.0/5.0 – “The Picanto is Kia’s smallest model, but it offers a grown-up drive and isn’t wanting for kit or quality.”
CarsGuide – 7.6/10 – “The Kia Picanto is now less cheap and more cheerful, adding the technology and safety stuff sorely missing from the outgoing model. For us, the pick has to be the five-speed manual, squeezing the most bang from the little engine.”