What Car? says...
The Kia Picanto is something of a rarity, because it's a dinky city-focused small car that runs on petrol at a time when most rivals have gone electric – or gone off sale.
Why? Well, little petrol cars like the Picanto are simply not that profitable to build. Manufacturers would, naturally, prefer you to spend thousands of pounds more on a small SUV or an electric car. And that's fair enough, but what if you don't want to pay out big bucks, don't need SUV levels of interior and boot space, and are not ready for a car that needs to be plugged in?
Well, the Picanto gives you five doors as standard, and two petrol engines to choose from, with manual and automatic gearboxes available. Kia also makes an SUV-esque version called the X-Line, which has rough-and-tumble looks but probably won't get you very far off road.
While competition for the Kia Picanto is becoming ever scarcer, there are still good alternatives out there for you to consider. There's the closely related Hyundai i10 for a start, plus the Toyota Aygo X and the VW Up. Or, if it’s all about sticking to a budget, the Dacia Sandero offers the space of a supermini for even less cash.
So, how does the Picanto stack up against the best small cars? Read on over the next few pages of this review, and we'll tell you all you need to know.
And don't forget, if you want to buy a Kia Picanto, one of its rivals or indeed any other new car, you can find the best price by searching our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. There’s no awkward haggling involved, and there are lots of new small car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Kia Picanto's non-turbocharged 66bhp 1.0 MPi petrol engine is available with the majority of trims and with a manual or automatic gearbox, which makes it a compelling choice. Well, on paper at least. In reality, it feels very underpowered and you often need to use full power just to keep up with traffic. We timed one at our private test track accelerating from 0-60mph in a sedentary 14.9 seconds. The automatic is even slower, with an official time of 16.6sec.
The reason the auto gearbox slows the Picanto down is the time it takes to change gear. It's basically the manual gearbox with a robot doing the clutch and gears for you behind the scenes. Every gear change takes a second or so, which can be a bit frustrating, but if you really want an auto and can accept its foibles, it's okay. If not, try the Dacia Sandero with its CVT automatic. CVT gearboxes aren't always great either, but it’s quite a bit smoother. We'd absolutely suggest a test drive in both before you make a decision, though.
The best Picanto engine – and our pick of the range – is the turbocharged 1.0 T-GDi petrol with 99bhp. It's only available with the top trims, though, so it's quite a bit more expensive. On the plus side, it's a lot more flexible at low revs and feels noticeably swifter when you work it (0-60mph takes a respectable 9.9sec).
Suspension and ride comfort
The Picanto doesn't ride as slickly as some rivals, including the Sandero, the Hyundai i10 and the VW Up. It jostles you around more over scraggy town roads and has some extra fidget along pimpled sections of motorway.
It's all relative, though. In truth, it’s far from uncomfortable, especially if you avoid the larger 16in alloy wheels that are fitted to top trims. And the good thing is that, being a little firmer sprung than its rivals, it doesn't bounce around along undulating country roads.
The Picanto's firm suspension helps it to corner more keenly than most small car rivals. It's right at home on twisty lanes, displaying the kind of agility and alertness that its nearest rivals can't muster. The Sandero, i10 and Up all display more body lean.
The i10 steers slightly more sweetly than the Picanto, but that's picking holes. The steering is still excellent at keying you into the grip at the front wheels and it's more accurate than the Sandero's.
Importantly, the steering lightens up at low speeds, which, combined with its tight turning circle, makes the Picanto a doddle to thread through traffic or into tight parking spaces.
Noise and vibration
The fact that you need to work the Picanto’s small engines quite hard, and that they only come with five-speed gearboxes, inevitably leads to a bit of noise. It's nowhere near bad enough to have you reaching for your earplugs, but the 1.0-litre engines are more vocal than an i10's and send more vibrations through the pedals and steering wheel.
It's not just engine noise, though. Small cars are generally quite noisy at motorway speeds and the Picanto is no different. At 70mph, just chatting with your passengers will involve raising your voice. If you want a little car with a bit more decorum, try the quieter i10 instead.
On the upside, the Picanto's brakes are really easy to meter, with a firmer, more confidence-inspiring pedal than the Sandero's. That means driving smoothly in traffic isn’t an issue, plus the manual gearbox has a slick shift and clutch action. The slow-witted automatic gearbox that has you nodding gently during every change is less appealing.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The only real bugbear with the Kia Picanto's driving position is that its steering wheel adjusts for height but not reach (even the Dacia Sandero and Citroën C3 get telescopic adjustment). Mercifully, its driving position works well for most people, and it's certainly better than in the VW Up which has a tendency to hide the instruments with the steering wheel.
The driver’s seat is supportive, despite the lack of lumbar adjustment, and has enough side bolstering to stop you sliding around in corners. The well-aligned pedals and driver’s seat height adjustment (on all but the entry-level trim) make it really comfortable, even on a long trip. If you go for Shadow trim or higher, you get a front centre armrest to lean on.
The Picanto's dashboard layout is as simple as it gets and a doddle to understand, with well-placed buttons that are big enough to spot easily on the move.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
You can't have fancy LED headlights on a Picanto, and its halogen headlights aren't the brightest at night. Seeing out of the front during daylight hours isn't a problem, though, with its slim front pillars and deep, wide windscreen. The same is true when you’re looking out of the side windows while tackling junctions and roundabouts.
The rear side windows are slightly smaller, but rear passengers are unlikely to feel claustrophobic – the Picanto is relatively bright and airy in the back compared with the smallest rivals.
The rear pillars are chunkier and the rear screen is relatively small, but even so, over-the-shoulder visibility is slightly better than in the Hyundai i10 and much better than in the Dacia Sandero. It's a shame that rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera are available only on the mid and upper trims, with no option to add them on the cheaper variants.
Sat nav and infotainment
With 1 and 2 trims, you get an AM/FM radio, Bluetooth and a tiny (3.8in) monochrome screen. It's quite basic, and doesn’t match the system in the similarly priced Sandero.
The higher trim levels get a more modern 8.0in colour touchscreen that adds a DAB radio plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. On 3, X-Line S and GT-Line S models, there's built-in sat-nav too. It's not a chore to use, because the menus are intuitive and the screen responds quickly to inputs, and it's far better than the Up's system.
Range-topping X-Line S and GT-Line S models add wireless phone-charging, but they're much pricier. On 1 trim, you get just two stereo speakers, 2 trim has four, and all the others have six.
As with every other car in its price bracket, the Picanto's interior isn't graced with soft-touch materials that are a great joy to behold. However, the plastics have been textured in such a way that they don't look or feel too cheap.
Everything seems well bolted together, giving the same feeling of solidity that you get from an i10. As with the i10, the buttons and switches also feel nicely damped, but the i10 does have nicer leather on its steering wheel and plusher gloss-black plastics that knock it up a notch – for perceived quality at least.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Kia Picanto driver's seat slides back a little further than in the VW Up and tall adults will find easily enough head and leg room to sit comfortably. The Dacia Sandero is a much bigger car overall, and the Hyundai i10 is a little wider, but the Picanto doesn’t feel cramped.
There's plenty of storage dotted around, including two cupholders between the front seats that are big enough for the largest of skinny mochaccinos, plus a tray for your mobile phone, and front door pockets big enough to hold a small water bottle.
The sliding centre armrest – a very rare thing in this class and fitted from Shadow trim upwards – opens to reveal an extra cubby.
All Picantos have five doors but their openings aren't as big as they are in an i10, so getting in and out is more of a squeeze. Once inside, six-footers will have little to complain about in terms of head room, but will find their knees pressed up against the front seatbacks, especially if anyone tall is in front.
This is still pretty good by the standards of the littlest small cars, but the i10 has quite a bit more leg room. For around the same money as a Picanto, there are far roomier options, including the bigger Sandero and the Dacia Duster small SUV.
Seat folding and flexibility
The tiniest small cars don’t usually have clever seating tricks hidden up their wheel arches, and the Picanto is no different.
Its rear seatbacks can be split in a 60/40 configuration, but there aren't any sliding or reclining seats likes the ones in the similarly priced Suzuki Ignis. The front passenger seat height isn't adjustable and you can't get it with lumbar support either.
The Picanto has one of the more useful boots among its direct rivals. It's bigger than those of the Toyota Aygo X and the Up, with more than enough space for a few large shopping bags.
We managed to slot in three carry-on suitcases with some space to spare. However, the Duster, Sandero and Ignis are all available for similar money, and will fit a lot more luggage on board.
There's an enormous lip at the entrance to the Picanto's boot and a step in the extended boot floor when you drop its 60/40 split folding rear seats. It's a shame that a height-adjustable boot floor isn't available to mitigate this.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
Running costs should be cheap, and the Picanto generally costs less to insure than the i10. Both the engines are frugal, and the entry-level 66bhp 1.0 MPi managed an average of 46.8mpg on our hilly real-world test route.
Equipment, options and extras
The Picanto in entry-level 1 trim is as bare as a derelict cottage, with steel wheels, no air conditioning and no driver’s seat height adjustment. However, you do get automatic lights, a trip computer, remote central locking and electric front windows. The entry-level Sandero costs a similar amount and gets more standard equipment.
If you move up to 2 trim, you get more of the niceties you might expect in a modern car, including 14in alloy wheels, electrically adjustable door mirrors, air-con, all-round electric windows and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. We reckon 3 is the trim to go for, though. Its equipment bonanza includes 15in wheels, power-folding door mirrors, climate control, cruise control, plus the better infotainment package and extra visibility aids.
The X-Line and GT-Line trims may appeal with their respective rugged and sporty styling, but you miss out on a fair bit of 3’s kit. X-Line S and GT-Line S add those luxuries back in and more, but are too pricey to recommend.
The Picanto proved to be less dependable than the Honda Jazz and the VW Up in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey but wasn’t the least reliable car in the small car category. It was better news for Kia as a manufacturer, with the brand placing a respectable seventh out of 32. That put it ahead of Dacia, Citroen and Volkswagen, but behind Toyota, Mini and Hyundai.
For peace of mind, every Kia comes with the brand’s famous seven-year/100,000-mile warranty as standard. You can get up to 10 years on a Toyota if you service it at a main dealer, but no competitor comes close (Hyundai offers a five-year warranty).
Safety and security
Every Picanto gets six airbags as standard, and all trims except entry-level 1 come with the important addition of a safety pack that brings automatic emergency braking (AEB) to prevent front-end shunts. Thankfully, that pack is also a reasonably priced option on 1.
The safety pack makes all the difference, because without out, Euro NCAP gives the Picanto a three-star safety rating. That rises to four stars (out of five) for models with it fitted. The Up scored three stars, but that was under stricter conditions two years later, so it's impossible to compare them directly.
All Picantos come with an alarm and immobiliser as standard. However, the Picanto might not keep your valuables very safe: the security experts at Thatcham Research gave it a lowly two stars out of five for its ability to resist being broken into.
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The best Picanto engine is the 1.0T GDi, which is flexible and strong enough even on a motorway, although unfortunately it’s only available with the top trim levels, so it’s expensive. The cheaper 1.0 MPi engine is still good, but is not turbocharged. We recommend 3 trim, which includes climate control, cruise control and other kit.
If you buy the Picanto in 1 or 2 trim, you get a radio, Bluetooth and a small 3.8in monochrome screen that’s pretty basic compared with the systems in rival cars. Higher trims have an 8.0in colour screen, DAB radio and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. On 3, X-Line and GT-Line S models you also get an intuitive sat-nav system. X-Line S and GT-Line add wireless phone-charging.
The Picanto’s boot has a capacity of 255 litres, which is enough to fit in three carry-on suitcases. That’s more than the Toyota Aygo X and VW Up but considerably less than the Dacia Sandero. It’s worth knowing that there’s a big boot lip to negotiate, and when you drop the rear seats there’s also a step in the extended boot floor.
|RRP price range||£13,665 - £17,670|
|Number of trims (see all)||5|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||54.3 - 60.1|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||7 years / 100000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£671 / £940|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,343 / £1,880|