The Kia Picanto is a mature and likeable city car capable of challenging the Volkswagen Up and the rest of the class’s best

Find Used Kia Picanto 2011-2017 review deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Used car deals
From £995
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

The Kia Picanto is a tiny car, and a huge one. Because while Kia has been making strides in other segments with vehicles like the Kia Ceed and Kia Sportage, the baby of its range, the Kia Picanto, remains a crucial model for the firm.

Kia has shifted more than a million examples of the outgoing Picanto over its seven-year lifespan and believes this new, more mature incarnation has the potential to build on that success.

The Picanto is an appealing choice, but it missed out on a five star safety rating

The question isn’t whether Kia can make a good city car – that has already been answered. What we need to find out is whether the Korean giant can bring anything new to a class that gets ever more mature with each new arrival, while meeting the challenge of carving out a profit margin in an £8000 car.

One of the biggest problems that the Picanto faces, other than the Volkswagen Up or Fiat Panda, is the Hyundai i10, with which the Kia shares all its key components, from the chassis through to the two engines it offers: a 1.0-litre triple and a 1.2-litre four.

The cheapest Kia Picanto is the sub-£8700 three-door 1.0 '1 Air' model, which comes with the bare necessities. Hardly comprehensive, but acceptable for an entry-level city car.

Can the Kia bring anything fresh to the class, and how easy is it to live with the basic Picanto as everyday transport?


Back to top


Kia Picanto rear

Kia says it has emboldened the Picanto with a sense of maturity and handsomeness, especially compared with its predecessor. Often, it pays to treat a car maker’s blurb with a hefty dose of scepticism, but see Picantos old and new alongside each other and it’s hard to disagree.

Gone are the cute but unmistakably Far Eastern curves of the original, replaced by Peter Schreyer-influenced sharp lines everywhere. The main cues are the Kia family face, widened bumpers that give the car an unusually chunky head-on appearance and particularly neat, angular rear lights.

The Picanto looks incredibly cute and cuddly

But it's not just Kia’s sleekest city car yet; it’s also one of the most stylish cars in this sector. More so, certainly, than the Hyundai i10 with which it otherwise shares so much.

The Picanto is a longer car than before (by 60mm, with a 15mm hike in wheelbase). It delivers a modest increase in legroom over the old car and a decent gain in boot space (up by more than a quarter, at 200 litres).

Little 14-inch steel wheels with hubcaps are standard on the most basic 1 Air trim. They’re a bit old school, but we prefer wheels like this for city cars. They sit in very pronounced wheel arches are unusual in the class. They make the Picanto look more squat than it is.

Daytime running lights were legal requirements on all cars made from 2012 onwards, but we wish the Picanto’s didn’t make it look like you’ve left the foglights on, but it seems to be a trend followed by many others including on the new Ford Ka+.


Kia Picanto interior

Step inside the Picanto and there are a couple of things you’ll note straight away. First is the silvered highlight of the steering wheel – a big, gaping mouth that could become a Kia styling trademark but we rather hope it does not.

Second, and particularly if you’re familiar with the old Picanto, is a sense of much-improved material quality and fit and finish. Yes, you can see areas where costs have been cut. Nearly everywhere. But the material choices are, at worst, entirely consistent with the class and, in places, better. You’ll be searching a long while for soft-feel plastics, but you won’t be disappointed by any overtly brittle finishes.

We like the fact that the whole driver’s seat rises when adjusted, rather than just the squab

Switchgear is light but positive, as are the major controls, and ergonomics are sound. In keeping with most cars in this class, there isn’t a legion of switchgear to navigate, but what buttons it has are properly located and operate as they should.

The cabin is respectably spacious. Like the Hyundai i10, the Picanto encourages its driver into a relatively upright position – think kitchen chair rather than sofa. This gives good visibility and allows for more cabin space within a given interior length (although it’s not as tall as the i10). As a result, it’s possible to fit two average-sized adult passengers in the rear.

A modern 3.6m-long car is never going to be overly capacious, but it is fine for shorter journeys and leagues better than, say, the Peugeot 108 and its sister models. It’s also easier to reach in and out of the back seats of the Picanto than it is in the likes of the 108 or Citroën Citroen C1 – worth remembering if you’re trying to place a small child back there.

The boot is a useful size and shape, too. Even with the split and folding back seats upright and in place, it has a respectable capacity of 200 litres.

As for trims, there are only thee to choose from, which makes choosing simple. So is the engine choice with only two to choose from - you are limited to the small 65bhp 1.0-litre unit on the 1 Air model, while the more powerful 1.25-litre engine is the only choice if you pick the range-topping Sport Picanto.

The 1 Air models include 14in steel wheels, front electric windows, hill start assist, stability control and ABS as standard on the outside, while inside you will find air conditioning, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, remote central locking and a trip computer.

Upgrade to SE and your Picanto will be adorned with climate control, heated wing mirrors, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and privacy glass, and if you are keen to part with more money and opt for the Sport trim, you will gain 15in alloy wheels, a twin exhaust system, cruise control, faux leather upholstery, and Kia's 7in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav and a reversing camera.


Kia Picanto side profile

There is a certain thrill to be had in wringing the last ounce of potential out of a small petrol engine, and this 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine fitted by Kia to the Picanto is currently one of the best out there for doing just that.

Although its interesting, rasping soundtrack and willingness to rev make it a delight to thrash around the place, that’s not what most of its owners will want to do with it, so consider it a welcome side benefit to a motor that otherwise does a good job of towing the 940kg Picanto around.

The Picanto is best suited to urban environments; it is left wanting on the motorway

Its main strengths lie in providing good low-down response for fairly prompt acceleration at anything up to about 50mph, but it needs to be worked hard for what amounts to fairly average acceleration at higher speeds. Its peak torque output of just 70lb ft at 3500rpm is more to blame for this than the 68bhp power output, and it can leave you feeling a little exposed on faster motorway journeys.

Kia's four-cylinder 1.25-litre petrol is better at higher speeds, with 83bhp and 89lb ft, and can also work more effectively from low revs. However, for solely urban driving, the cheaper three-pot’s breathless motorway response is unlikely to be a deal-breaker.

The brakes are a far greater irritation. Actual stopping power is fine, but the initial pedal response is too sharp and, even with familiarity, it requires a conscious effort to avoid unnecessarily heavy applications of the brakes around town. It’s a shame, because well-judged and easily modulated brakes are a key part of a fuss-free urban runabout.


Kia Picanto cornering

If there is any area other than its interior where the Picanto truly sets a new standard, it is here. It’s a more subtle shifting of the goalposts, but on its standard 14-inch rims, the Kia offers the best secondary ride quality of any car in its class.

Body control is no better than we’ve experienced in other city cars, with the Picanto being fairly keen to roll and pitch at higher speeds. However, bump absorption around town is truly exceptional.

The new Picanto is longer, wider and lower than the i10, but not by very much

In particular, the Kia has the ability to soak up the small imperfections that you get over worn asphalt with remarkably little thump or vibration entering the cabin. Experience of a higher-spec Sport model riding on 15-inch alloy wheels suggests that the smaller 14-inch wheels are a big factor in allowing the Picanto to ride so well – another reason, then, to sacrifice some equipment and go for the base car.

The ride at higher speeds is more unsettled by the loose body control, but grip levels are good. There’s also an overall precision and pliancy to the Picanto that speaks of the same well-judged chassis that we’ve praised previously in its Hyundai i10 twin.

However, the steering is disappointing, given the Kia’s evident capabilities. A car’s steering system doesn’t need to be free of sensation to be appropriately light and user-friendly at town speeds, yet the Kia compromises too much on the weight and feedback it ought to offer, regardless of its basement market position.

There is virtually no sensation at all off the straight-ahead, and at 3.5 turns from lock to lock, you often find yourself needing more steering input than you would imagine, even of a city car. It’s a shame, because there are the makings here of a car that could entertain while also satisfying its crucial abilities as an everyday budget runabout.

But here it falls short and, as a result, it’s not as much fun to drive as the sweeter-handling Hyundai i10.


Kia Picanto

Fuel economy proved disappointing in the 1.0-litre Picanto, at only 38.1mpg overall – a huge shortfall compared with Kia's claimed 67.3mpg combined figure.

Although we’re more than willing to accept that our test route (which includes a good amount of B-road as well as town and motorway) will generally fall short of any official returns, the fact that we achieved 56.3mpg on our touring cycle shows just how distant the Picanto’s real-world consumption is from its claimed figure.

The fuel gauge lingers around the top quarter for a deceptively optimistic period of time, then drops rapidly

Even running the car for more than 1000 miles of normal driving returned economy that varied from mid to high-30s. Still, with healthy CO2 emissions of just 99g/km, the Picanto’s well-suited motor and solid gearshift make light work of the sort of chaotic urban traffic that will make up its daily grind.

The five-door 1.0 Picanto, at £8695 to private buyers promises seriously cheap motoring. Admittedly the kit levels aren't fantastic at the lower end of the price range, but it doesn't cost an unjustifiable amount to move in to a higher-specification model.

Together with its seven-year warranty and generally likeable and durable nature (at least if other Kia models are anything to go by), the Picanto promises to be the best ownership prospect in its class.



Kia Picanto rear quarter

So has the Picanto moved the game on? In some ways, yes.

It’s not so much a seismic shift as a gentle tremor, but Kia has achieved a level of perceived maturity with the latest Picanto that no rival can quite match.

The most mature car in its class. Great ride, running costs and style

In truth, this is probably about as much improvement as the class could expect, given that it is now saturated with models that satisfy a broader range of requirements than an £8500 car has ever offered before. In this hugely competitive environment, all that’s stopping the Kia Picanto from topping the class is the presence of the Hyundai i10 and the Volkswagen Up.

For much the same price, the Hyundai i10 provides more equipment and a gutsier four-cylinder engine that’s barely any less economical in the real world, while being more fun to drive.

The Picanto suffers fewer compromises for its price and size than any rival. It’s nothing so restrictive as a city car; it’s simply a short hatchback.

It may still have a couple of flaws, but the fact is that it is now challenging for class leadership.


Kia Picanto 2011-2017 First drives