There are three engine choices for the Picanto, and all of them are small petrols. There’s a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 1.0-litre three-cylinder, the same engine with a turbocharger (so more oomph, basically), or a 1.2 four-cylinder. A five-speed manual gearbox comes as standard on both, and a four-speed auto is available on the 1.2 as an option.
The naturally aspirated 1.0 is the cheapest engine to buy, and makes sense if you spend most of your time in and around town. It needs to be worked much harder elsewhere though – motorway slip road dashes and country road overtakes require patience and revs.
The 1.2 is hardly quick itself, but still has a bit more zip than the equivalent engine in the i10. Plus it revs more keenly than the 1.0 and its extra pull from low revs is certainly handy for swifter overtakes. It’s the engine we’d recommend, with the caveat that we’re yet to try the turbocharged 1.0 motor.
For the gearbox, we’d suggest you stick with the five-speed manual, which makes better use of the engine’s performance than the optional four-speed automatic.
Kia Picanto ride comfort
Wheel sizes range from 14in to 16in diameter depending on which trim selection you make, and so far we’ve tried cars with the larger 15in and 16in options. On these the ride isn’t as smooth as it is in rivals such as an i10 or Up, because the Picanto jostles you around more over scraggy town roads, and thuds more heavily through the cabin across sharper-edged bumps. It’s not terrible by any stretch, but just be aware there are better-riding alternatives out there and be sure to test drive them all before buying if a slick ride is important to you.
The good news is once you hit the motorway the ride settles down, at which point the Picanto becomes a relatively comfortable little thing.
Kia Picanto handling
The Up, Citigo and Mii (which are all essentially the same car) have shown that it’s possible for a city car to be fun to drive. The Picanto doesn’t quite manage to replicate their handling prowess, but it’s certainly nipping at their heels and the best of the rest.
The steering delights for its accuracy, even if the weight build up as you crank-on lock isn’t as good as it is in an Up. But there’s plenty of grip and the Picanto turns into bends eagerly, with little body roll so it feels composed.
Kia Picanto refinement
Both the engines we’ve tried – the lower-power 1.0 and the 1.2 - are reasonably quiet as long as they’re kept at low revs in town, although the 1.0 sends more vibrations back through the controls. The trouble is, as soon as the urban traffic parts and you need a burst of acceleration both engines have to be worked hard, and with that comes lots of noise, especially past 4000rpm. Even the i10, which uses the same motors but has a little more sound deadening, is quieter.
Road noise isn’t great, either; by which we mean there’s a fair bit of it at motorway speeds, relative to an i10 or Up. Wind noise is well stifled, though.
We’d recommend sticking with the manual gearbox, because while it’s not as nice a shift action as a VW Up’s, it’s the better option than the occasionally jerky four-speed automatic.
This non-turbocharged version of the three-cylinder 1.0-liter offers the lowest CO2 emissions. However, it has to be worked very hard indeed, making it best suited for town driving only. As we’re yet to drive the pokier turbocharged 1.0-litre, we’d go for the 1.25 instead.
Three-cylinder petrol is the one to go for if you’re buying through work because it benefits from the lowest CO2 emissions. However, it has to be worked very hard indeed, so in all other cases we’d go for the 1.25.
Gets and extra cylinder, and it’s all the better for it. Still has to be worked hard when you want a decent burst of acceleration but offers more pull low down than the 1.0. It’s our pick of the range.
Turbocharged version of the entry-level 1.0, but we're yet to dive it.