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 is pretty much the default choice. That's because it's available with the majority of trims and with a manual or automatic gearbox. 0-60mph takes just over 14sec (or 16.6sec for the auto), which sounds slow but it's quicker than the Volkswagen Up and is, actually, fine for pottering around town. It's an engine that thrives on being revved, so, while you need to work it hard on faster roads, it does feel more eager than the numbers suggest. If you're after something quicker then we'd suggest looking at the livelier Dacia Sandero 1.0 TCe 90.
The reason the auto 'box slows it 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 gearchange takes a second or so to complete, 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 Sandero with its CVT auto. CVT gearboxes aren't always great, either, but it might suit you better. We'd absolutely suggest a test drive in both before you make a decision, though.
The best engine is the turbocharged 1.0 T-GDi with 99bhp. The problem is it's only available with the top trims, so it's expensive, and as a manual. On the plus side, it's a lot more flexible at low revs and feels noticeably swifter when you work it (0-60mph takes 9.9sec).
Suspension and ride comfort
The Picanto doesn't ride as slickly as some rivals, including the Sandero, the Hyundai i10 or the 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.
That Picanto's firm suspension also helps it to corner more keenly than the majority of its rivals. It's right at home on winding country lanes, displaying the kind of agility and alertness that its nearest rivals cannot muster. An i10 or Up, for example, has more body lean.
The i10 steers slightly sweeter, but that's picking holes, really. The Picanto's 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 these only come with five-speed gearboxes, inevitably leads to a bit of noise. This is 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 they also send more vibrations through the pedals and steering wheel.
It's not just engine noise, though; city cars are generally quite noisy at motorway speeds and the Picanto sticks to that stereotype. At 70mph, just chatting with your passengers will involve raising your voice a tad, so if you want a diminutive 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 ’box that has you nodding gently during every change is less appealing, but still betters the aggravating automatic in the Toyota Aygo.
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