Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
There are three petrol engines to choose from, starting with the 66bhp 1.0 MPi. This is fine in town but needs working pretty hard when you're out of the city limits; motorway slip road dashes and country road overtakes require patience and a heavy right foot.
The 83bhp 1.25 MPi is much more potent. With more verve than a Hyundai i10 1.2 MPi, it gets the Picanto up to 70mph with little effort. Plus, it revs keenly and its extra pull from low revs is useful when overtaking. It really is all you need in a car of this size, and is our pick. Also, it's the only engine that's available with the choice of an automatic, as well as the standard manual, gearbox.
At the top of the tree is another 1.0-litre engine (1.0 T-GDi 99bhp), but this time a turbocharger adds a load more oomph. It’s even more flexible than the 1.25 at low engine speeds and feels noticeably swifter on the road. It’s certainly the best-performing engine in the range, but it's also rather expensive.
Suspension and ride comfort
The Picanto doesn't ride as smoothly as a Volkswagen Up or Hyundai i10. It jostles you around more over scraggy town roads and fidgets a little more along pimpled sections of motorway.
However, it’s far from uncomfortable, especially if you avoid the relatively large 16in alloy wheels that are fitted to X-Line and GT-Line models. On the plus side, its relatively firm suspension means the Picanto doesn't bounce around uncontrollably along undulating country roads.
That firm suspension helps the Picanto corner more sweetly than the majority of its rivals. It's right at home on winding country lanes, feeling more agile and alert through bends than an Up, for example, with less body lean than an i10. That said, in the wet we found an i10 has more grip.
The i10 also has slightly sweeter steering that makes you feel a touch better connected to the road, but that's to pick holes, really; the Picanto's is still very good and hard to fault for accuracy. Importantly, the steering becomes light at low speeds, which, combined with a tight turning circle, makes it a doddle to thread this car through traffic or to park in tight spaces.
Noise and vibration
The fact that you need to work the Picanto’s small engines quite hard, and that the Picanto comes only with five gears, inevitably leads to a bit of noise. This is nowhere near bad enough to have you reaching for your earplugs, but the engines are more vocal than an i10's. The Picanto's 1.25 MPi is the coarsest at high revs, but the two 1.0-litre engines 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 i10 instead.
On the upside, the Picanto's brakes are fairly easy to meter, so driving smoothly in traffic isn’t an issue, and the manual gearbox is accompanied by a nice shift and clutch action. We'd avoid the jerky optional four-speed automatic ’box, though, although this still betters the aggravating automatic Aygo.
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