Kia's Picanto has earned a reputation as a no frills city scoot but this improved version of the third generation model feels a far better finished item. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
This heavily improved version of the third generation Kia Picanto is a little citycar that's still big in importance for its Korean maker. This facelifted model is more stylish and up to date inside, yet still frugal and practical. In this form, it'll continue to redefine the way many people think about this smallest category of car.
Here's how we used to understand small car categorisation and the difference between Fiesta-sized superminis and their smaller, cheaper citycar counterparts. You paid extra for a supermini because it was slightly bigger, because it was better finished and more stylish and because it had more refined engines that made possible longer journeys. So where does that kind of thinking leave us with a product like this, the improved version of the third generation Kia Picanto? This design has been on sale in various forms since 2017 and competes with the kinds of models we'd see as citycars, yet boasts the kind of interior space a supposedly bigger Peugeot 208 or Vauxhall Corsa had until quite recently. It's very nicely built and acceptably stylish. And yes, it's quite at home attempting longer journeys. Here is the citycar, all grown-up.
Where that leaves today's supermini sector is something we don't have to worry about here. Suffice it to say that most of what you'd pay up to £20,000 or more for in that class of car is delivered by this Kia. Other urban runabouts that have previously advanced that argument have either been expensive and/or three-door only, like say a Fiat 500, or have felt too cheap and noisy to really justify themselves as only-car transport, like a Suzuki Ignis or, perhaps, a Hyundai i10. We mention the Hyundai because that essentially is what this Picanto is underneath. Kia has used the underpinnings from this best-selling design, then refined them, improved the build quality and now added a sharp new suit of clothes on top. On paper, a pretty effective route to creating a class-leading contender. Let's see if it's worked.
Kia hasn't added its latest mild hybrid tech into the Picanto's engine range, but it has introduced its latest 'Smartstream' technology to improve efficiency. There's now a choice of two engines, a 1.0-litre 66bhp three cylinder unit or a 1.2-litre four cylinder powerplant. Either way, there's the transmission choice of either a five-speed manual gearbox; or Kia's Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) gearbox. The AMT set-up is based around a five-speed manual transmission with clutch and gear shift actuators to automate clutch operation and gear shifts. Basically, there's the ease-of-use of an automatic transmission, without sacrificing the fuel efficiency of a conventional manual gearbox.
On the move, pretty much everything is as before. Refinement continues to be well controlled for a citycar - indeed Kia says the Picanto offers the quietest cabin of any A-segment model, both at idle and at a steady cruise. The handling's stable too, though obviously, this isn't the kind of car you'd choose for dynamic enjoyment. The Picanto's dinky dimensions also enable the pitch centre of the car to be placed further towards the rear, helping to naturally reduce 'nose dive' under braking without firming up the suspension and potentially compromising ride comfort.
A quick steering rack makes for immediate responses to driver inputs, meaning fewer turns of the wheel from lock-to-lock than many rivals (2.8 turns), making the Picanto easy to drive at low speeds and in the city. With the front wheels located close to the front of the vehicle, low weight ahead of the front axle is achieved, as well as more agile handling. This Picanto also offers torque vectoring by braking - an additional function of the Electronic Stability Control system. By using this technology in an A-segment car, the Picanto retains a higher degree of handling and stability under cornering, while helping to reduce understeer during harder cornering.
Design and Build
This facelifted version of the third generation Picanto has gained a striking look, courtesy of the brand's now-familiar 'Opposites United' styling theme. The company's 'Tiger Nose' front grille now features, along with optional LED headlights and a redesigned rear light bar, the latter to emphasise this updated model's 12mm-wider track. Wheel sizes vary between 14 and 16-inches and the top 'GT-Line' model gets a hot hatch-style visual makeover. As usual, all Picantos have a 5-door body shape with Kia's wide C-pillar as a design motif.
There are plenty of changes inside too, where the interior is supposed to have been 'inspired by nature' and can be had with faux leather upholstery. Customers now get an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity that can pair two devices at the same time. Plus there's 'Kia Connect', which can give you services like traffic updates, weather forecasts and parking info. The instrument cluster gets a 4.2-inch LCD display.
As before, at the back, buyers get a choice of a bench offering either four or five seats. And behind that, there's a 255-litre boot that's almost class-leadingly big for a citycar. Fold the rear bench and you can extend capacity to 1,010-litres - more than you'd get in a MINI Hatch. So there'd be space enough to take a folding bike; or an e-scooter.
Market and Model
Prices have risen a bit: you won't be able to pay under £15,000 for a Picanto any more. There are three trim levels available, the most affordable '2' and '3' versions marked out by either 14 or 15-inch alloy wheels, while the top 'GT-Line' variant gets sportier looks with recessed bumpers. Four fresh paint colours are now available.
Inside, all models now get an 8.0-inch 'floating' touchscreen navigation system which features Bluetooth multi-connection, meaning users can pair up to two mobile devices at the same time - one for hands-free phone and media use, and the other for media use only. The system features both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Incorporated 'Kia Connect' features include a range of on-board services including live traffic information, weather forecasts, points of interest and details of potential on- and off-street parking. Depending on the country, users can remotely send route directions to their car before a journey, check the location of their vehicle, and access vehicle reports and diagnostic notifications.
This revised Picanto features Kia's Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and a range of active safety systems to enhance occupant safety, making it one of the safest cars in its class. Depending on specification, the Picanto's added ADAS features include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with vehicle, cyclist, and pedestrian detection. This function includes Junction Turning: if a risk of collision arises while turning right at a junction, the function automatically assists with emergency braking.
Cost of Ownership
No car in this class has a sniff of a chance unless it can guarantee tiny day to day running costs and the Picanto tries hard to answer that particular call, aided by this revised model's 'Smartstream' engine technology. If you go for the 1.0-litre 66bhp engine, the WLTP figures are 58.9mpg (combined) and 110g/km. Couple the titchy fuel bills with free road tax and cheap insurance and you have a car that makes all kinds of sense for city drivers. It's exactly because it stacks up so well on the balance sheet that residual values look set to be very healthy. The much-trumpeted 7 year / 100,000 warranty helps in that regard since it's transferrable to future owners. However, it is worth pointing out that the 'bumper to bumper' complete car warranty is only five years, with the extra two years of cover being restricted to the engine and gearbox. If the car is sold through a Kia Used Approved Dealership when less than 18 months old or with less than 18,000 miles on the clock, the warranty will be topped up to match that of a new model.
It's not uncommon to assess a vehicle and wonder why it has been launched. Some manufacturers get their product design cycles out of phase with economic conditions, while others launch into a once fashionable market that's gone cold. Then there are those that arrive plum square with the right product at the right time and this improved Picanto is most definitely one of the latter.
So many manufacturers have pulled out of the sub-supermini segment, but there's still a strong demand for this affordable class of car and in this form, the Picanto will satisfy that more thoroughly than ever before. It doesn't do anything that's particularly fresh or radical but its blend of affordability coupled with solid engineering, impressive build quality, generous equipment and clean styling build upon its tiny ongoing running costs to form a convincing buying proposition. Back that up with a great warranty and this improved Kia Picanto emerges as one of the very best citycars we've seen in quite some time.