From £7,4958
Sporty GT Line styling gives Kia's city car the visual lift it needs to go toe-to-toe with its European rivals, and the 1.2-litre engine does a power of good for its drivability

Our Verdict

Kia Picanto

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

What is it?

This is the third-generation Kia Picanto city car as the Korean car-maker would doubtless prefer you first laid eyes on it: in new upper-trim-level ‘GT Line’ form, complete with 16in alloy wheels, sports body styling, bi-xenon headlights and plenty of other ritzy features. Unlike six years ago, the Kia now has the classy VW Up, the striking Toyota Aygo and the quirky Suzuki Ignis to contend with. With style-conscious twenty-something buyers to lure, it may well need these more impactful looks in order to hold its own.

The Picanto will be available in the UK market in five trim levels, starting at ‘1’, progressing through ‘2’ and ‘3’, and culminating in ‘GT Line’ and ‘GT Line S’ specification. The latter, in all likelihood, will describe the car with the combination of high equipment level and Kia’s new 1.0-litre, 99bhp turbocharged petrol engine – which we’ll drive later.

The GT Line styling kit adds extended front and rear valances and side sills to the standard Picanto’s already-relatively-pumped-up form, as well as exterior trim finishers for the grilles and sills that can be had in red, satin chrome or black. Chromed twin exhaust tips also feature.

As we reported earlier of the cheaper 1.0-litre version, the new Picanto is based on a widely overhauled body-in-white that’s longer in the wheelbase and shorter in the front overhang than the last version was – as well as 40 percent torsionally stiffer and 21kg lighter. Stiffer anti-roll bars, re-tuned springs and dampers, an all-new torsion beam rear suspension system and a quicker steering rack are key parts of the chassis overhaul.

Going for the 1.2-litre engine instead of the entry-level 1.0-litre means paying what’s likely to be a £1000 premium on the list price, though it’ll make little difference to what your Picanto will cost to own otherwise. Peak power jumps from 66- to 83bhp and torque from 71- to 90lb ft. The latter benefits from a significantly more linear torque curve than the cheaper three-cylinder motor, and also allows Kia to fit gear ratios for the 1.2 that are around seven per cent taller than those of the 1.0.

What's it like?

The Picanto GT Line’s sports styling may be a bit over-the-top for more mature buyers but the added presence flowing from that cutesy-aggressive front bumper and those high-intensity foglamps will more likely be approved of by the twenty-something clientele that Kia is directly courting here. The car’s oversized C-shaped tail lamps make it just as recognisable from the back as it is from the front, while its 16in alloy wheels fill those newly flared arches very nicely. If there is a problem here, it’s only that the car’s looks may promise greater driving dynamism than the car ultimately provides – but that’s hardly likely to deter anyone buying their first car.

On the inside, the Picanto GT Line is available with leather-effect upholstery and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, although they’re likely to be cost options on UK cars. At this trim level, you’ll get Kia’s 7in touchscreen infotainment system thrown in, which works quite well and offers smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android smartphones. Glossy sports pedals are another sporty touch in a cabin that accommodates taller drivers fairly well, though doesn’t allow them to sit quite as low or as straight-legged as in a VW Up.

The absence of reach adjustment on the steering column may be a similar disappointment to taller drivers, although the wheel could still be positioned agreeably for this 6ft 3in tester, allowing for a fairly upright seat backrest. A bigger ergonomic bugbear was Kia’s occasionally troubling relative close positioning of clutch pedal and footrest. Although, the latter sitting slightly deeper in the footwell than the former and making it a bit too easy to snag the underside of the clutch with your left foot in the process of changing gear. However, credit to Kia for fitting proper seats with separate adjustable headrests up front, rather than chairs with integrated head restraints which are seldom as comfortable.

With the engine running, you can appreciate the refinement boost the Picanto has had with this 1.2-litre motor just as easily as you can with the 1.0-litre. The engine starts quietly, those twin pipes evidently there for visual effect, rather than sporting tonality. Around town, the motor remains well-mannered and smooth, only getting slightly tremulous and coarse above 4000rpm.

The better news is that the four-cylinder engine’s greater medium-range torque means you needn’t work it nearly as hard as the 1.0-litre engine in order to keep up with the traffic. Despite those longer gear ratios, the 1.2-litre Picanto will pull cleanly and usefully from just about 2000rpm in 3rd and 4th gears, whether you’re in town, on winding and undulating country roads or on the motorway.

As a result, the 1.2-litre Picanto drives much more like a full-sized supermini than its rangemate, and maintains its prevailing speed in high gears much more effortlessly. It’s a long way from fast or particularly exciting to drive, but can be good fun on the right road. There’s well-judged pace and weight to the steering, very creditable lateral body control, good high-speed stability and sufficiently high grip levels for relatively fast cornering, particularly on the 16in alloy wheels of GT Line specification.

The Picanto’s low-speed ride does suffer a bit in dealing with the extra unsprung mass and shortness-of-sidewall on those 16in wheels and fitted tyres, sometimes crashing over sharper ridges. More often, the car simply lacks the suppleness of the outgoing Picanto’s ride, which can be attributed to those new chassis settings. But as a compromise, we can imagine plenty of younger buyers who will use their cars out-of-town, would willingly trade the old car’s compliance for the added visual and handling composure of the new ‘GT Line’-trim car.

Should I buy one?

The most multi-talented Kia Picanto would probably have this car’s engine, but roll on the lighter and more forgiving 15in alloy wheels of a slightly lower trim level. And, truth be told, if you avoided ‘GT Line’ trim altogether, you’d probably never have to explain that the car wasn’t really a hot hatchback since it wouldn’t look like something trying desperately hard to be confused with one.

But there I go again not thinking like a twenty-something buyer. For a younger audience than me, looking for a car they can afford, insure and still use, and also desire a bit, as well as very easily park and quietly enjoy driving, the Picanto GT Line looks like just the ticket. Once UK prices, equipment levels and insurance groups are confirmed, we’ll know how highly to rate it with more confidence, but for now, it’s off to a strong start.

Kia Picanto 1.2 MPI GT Line 

Kia Picanto GT Line 1.2 MPI ISG  Location Sitges, Spain; On sale May; Price £12,500 (tbc) Engine 4cyls in line, 1248cc, petrol; Power 83bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 90lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerbweight 976kg; 0-62mph 12.0sec; Top speed 107mph; Economy 62.8mpg; CO2/tax band 104g/km, 19%  Rivals: Hyundai i10 1.2, Suzuki Ignis 1.2 

Join the debate


29 March 2017
can something so small and light be so slow with such a relatively large engine?


Hydrogen cars just went POP

29 March 2017
Gear ratios chosen for better economy probably, you are right though, 83 bhp and a different gear ratio could have made this a mild warm hatch that lived up to its looks.

4 April 2017
Bear in mind that acceleration data for homologation is probably measured at half payload and for any "slow" car, there may be as much as 1 second difference between a 0-60mph and 0-62mph, especially if it involves a gear shift from second to third. I believe that there's also an incentive for the maker to understate acceleration because it adversely affects insurance group rating - an important consideration for any car designed to appeal to young drivers.
Pity Autocar didn't actually test the car, so we'll never know. But the top speed is in line with what you'd expect from 83 horsepower!

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