Picanto buyers can choose from two petrol engines: a three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit and a four-cylinder 1.25-litre. You need to thrash the 1.0-litre mercilessly to pick up speed, and even then it feels painfully slow. The 1.25 is much better, providing lively acceleration – although you need to use plenty of revs to get it.
The car’s size and tight turning circle are a real boon in town. Unfortunately, it also has grabby brakes and a clunky, short-travel clutch, so even the smoothest driver looks like a learner in stop-start traffic. The Picanto is pretty stable at speed and doesn’t totter around when faced with a corner. However, there’s a shortage of grip and you often have no idea where the front wheels are pointing thanks to numb steering that doesn’t self-centre. A knobbly ride completes the unhappy picture.
The fact that you have to work the 1.0-litre engine so hard inevitably makes the car less refined, and this engine also transmits a lot of vibration through the car when it’s idling. Still, it settles down at a steady cruise, leaving wind noise as the only problem – although it is quite a problem. The 1.25 is a significantly smoother engine, but it’s still very noisy when you work it hard.
The entry-level Picanto is one of the cheapest city cars on the market, but the 1.25 engine only comes with dearer trims. This pitches the Picanto against much more accomplished rivals. Fuel- and insurance bills will be small, while 1.0-litre and 1.25 Ecodynamics models are exempt from road tax thanks to their low emissions.
All the switchgear is nicely damped, and although the dashboard plastics are hard, they feel substantial. Step up from the most basic trim and you get a smarter interior, which helps liven things up. Kia performed well in our last reliability survey, with the old Picanto rated particularly highly. Buyers have an excellent seven years’ warranty cover should anything go wrong.
Every Picanto comes with anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, stability control and six airbags, beating many bigger and more expensive cars. However, it's disappointing that the car only scored four out of five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. An engine immobiliser is also standard across the range, with an alarm on higher-specification cars.
The steering wheel has height-, but not reach-, adjustment. However, you should still be able to find a comfortable driving position because the supportive seat has a wide range of height adjustment and slides back far enough to accommodate all but the longest legs. The air-con is controlled by large, clear dials and the stereo is simple to use.
In terms of comfort, all Kia’s attention seems to have focused on the front of the cabin. While there’s decent head- and kneeroom in the back in both three- and five-door models, the rear bench is flat and provides very little support. Boot space is 200 litres in every model, so while a weekly family shop may prove too much, a couple of weekend bags will fit easily.
All Picantos come with electric front windows, but you need to step up to 1 Air to get air-conditioning. In the five-door range, 2 spec adds steering wheel-mounted stereo controls, electric rear windows, Bluetooth and an MP3 socket, while 3-trimmed cars have climate control. In the three-door range, the top-spec cars come in Halo and Equinox trim, and come with metallic paint, alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and Bluetooth.
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