Kia Picanto Review
The Kia Picanto is a city car that’s cheap to run and easy to park, but alternatives have more rear-seat space and are better suited to motorway driving
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Great in the city
- Big boot for a small car
- Long warranty
What's not so good
- Gutless performance out of town
- Not comfy on bumpy roads
- Susceptible to crosswinds
Kia Picanto: what would you like to read next?
The tiny Kia Picanto is a brilliant car to buy if you do lots of city driving and don’t need a tonne of interior space. Its small size means it can squeeze through traffic and fit into parking spaces that most other cars can’t. It also has a seven-year warranty that no comparable model can match.
Talking of comparable cars, the VW Up is a better bet if you occasionally drive on the motorway and has more space on the back seat. Mind you, the Kia’s front seats are perfectly spacious and the design of the dashboard is smart, if you can get over the gloomy hard black plastics it’s made out of.
GT Line S and 3 models come with a seven-inch infotainment screen that is bigger and more colourful than that fitted to the VW. The Kia’s menus are simple enough to navigate and the system isn’t sluggish, plus you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you can use your smartphone’s apps on the Kia’s big screen.
All models get five doors so access to the back seats is good, although anyone approaching six foot tall will feel cramped. The same goes for the 255-litre boot, which is big enough for a few bags of shopping but not much else.
If you want a massive interior, though, you’re better off looking elsewhere. The Picanto’s built to zip through city streets and it does that really rather well – slipping through gaps in traffic that bigger cars can’t and breezing through width restrictions like they’re not there. Parking couldn’t be simpler because all four corners of the car are easy to judge when you’re slipping into tight spaces.
The Kia Picanto’s a slinky urbanite that feels more at home in the city than anywhere else
You can choose from two petrol engines – a 1.0-litre with 66hp or a 1.25-litre model with 84hp. The former is cheaper to buy and marginally cheaper to run, but you should still go for the 1.25-litre model that sounds gleefully rorty and isn’t painfully slow.
On the motorway, though, even the bigger of the two engines could do with more performance. In fact, the Kia never feels that home on faster roads. Gusts of wind turn its slab-sided body into a big sail, pushing and pulling the car down the road. Jiggly suspension doesn’t help you and your passengers relax and nor does the pronounced amount of wind and road noise that makes its way into the cabin.
Although Euro NCAP hasn’t crash-tested the Picanto yet, it is available with some tech to keep you and your passengers safe. GT Line, GT Line S and 3 versions come with automatic emergency braking which can do an emergency stop at town speeds if the car detects an obstacle that you’ve not seen – such as a car slamming on the brakes in front of you.
It’s worth going for one of these models because the Picanto really is at its best in the city rather than heading out onto faster roads where it feels a bit out of its depth.
The Kia Picanto’s interior has a smart design and gets five doors for great access. The back seats could be more spacious, though, and the storage spaces aren’t very big
No one will buy such a small car for its practicality; but, although the Picanto has the benefit of five doors and a decent boot, some alternative small cars have more space inside
It's a shame that some of the most handy features, like the adjustable boot floor, only come as standard on the sporty GT Line S models
Getting a comfortable driving position in the front of the Picanto isn’t as easy as it should be. Basic 1 models don’t even have a height adjustable driver’s seat, which you do get fitted to the rest of the range, but a steering wheel that adjusts in and out isn’t available on any model.
Consequently, if you’re tall, driving the Picanto becomes a compromise between having enough room to stretch your legs and having the seat far enough forwards to comfortably reach the steering wheel. The resulting balance between the two can be a little uncomfortable on a long drive.
The back seats will be tight for your adult passengers, which is to be expected for this size of car, but it’s worth noting that a Volkswagen Up offers a little bit more room and feels less claustrophobic, even though the VW only has pop-out rear windows rather than the proper winding ones fitted to the Kia. As it is, if there’s someone six-foot tall in the front of the Picanto, someone of a similar size in the back will have to splay their knees round the seat ahead to have any hope of fitting.
Ironically, access to the back seat is pretty good because the Picanto only comes with five doors. They’re a big help when it comes to fitting a child seat – getting the base into the back is easy, but hooking it up to the Isofix points requires wild stabbing as you hunt for the anchor points hidden deep in the upholstery.
Unfortunately for the Picanto, storage space is a bit meagre. The glovebox is a case in point – you’ll be lucky to squeeze even a small bottle of water in there because most of its space is taken up by the huge user manual. The large door pockets do make up for this somewhat. They’ll each swallow a 1.5-litre bottle of water, although they need to be big because the rear doors have no pockets at all. In addition to this you get a tray for your phone (with wireless charging in GT Line S models), a couple of flick-out cupholders that feel a little flimsy and a small storage area under the front centre armrest that’s only big enough for a wallet.
You’ll get no prizes for guessing that the Kia Picanto is not a natural load lugger, but its 255-litre boot is usefully bigger than the one you’ll find in the Peugeot 108 (196 litres), and marginally roomier than those in the Volkswagen Up (251 litres) and Hyundai i10 (252 litres).
Still, it’s still only suitable for few bags of shopping if you keep the rear seats up, but GT Line S models come with a handy adjustable boot floor that means you can slide a suitcase into the boot without having to lift it over the load lip.
All models come with rear seats that fold and split 60:40, so you can carry a couple of passengers in the back while having some flat-pack furniture poking through from the boot. Again, GT Line S models are easier to load because their adjustable boot floor means there’s no step in the floor to lift items over.
The Kia Picanto’s small, thin body makes it easy to drive in town and the 1.25-litre petrol engine is nippy, but things quickly unravel when you get on the motorway
Avoid the sluggish automatic gearbox if you want to get the best of the Picanto
You can have your Picanto with a choice of two small petrol engines that are cheap to run and help keep the Kia’s price low.
Your best bet is the bigger 1.25-litre model. It gets from 0-62mph in 12 seconds, which is quick enough to keep up with town traffic. It has to be worked hard to get the best from it, but it sounds surprisingly sporty so this isn’t really a bad thing. On the motorway, though, the pleasing engine note rebrands itself as an annoying drone and the engine starts to feel pretty weak. Driven sensibly, though, Kia reckons you should be able get fuel economy of 61.4mpg.
The less powerful 1.0-litre model’s 64.3mpg barely improves on that. But, with 0-62mph taking a sleepy 14.2 seconds, you will notice a sizeable drop-off in performance – it doesn’t feel that quick in town, let alone on the motorway. It has three cylinders to the larger engine’s four, so it’s noisier and sends vibrations through the cabin and pedals.
You can make the Picanto even worse by fitting the automatic gearbox that’s only available on 1.25-litre petrol models. It only has four gears, so makes the Picanto pretty slow (though not quite as slow as the 1.0-litre model) and gives it the worst fuel economy in the range.
The Picanto is solid choice if you live and drive in the city.
That’s mostly thanks to its small size, which lets you slip through gaps in traffic that other cars can’t get through and into parking spaces that would make the drivers of even averaged-sized cars (such as the VW Golf) weep. GT Line and 3 models come with a reversing camera that makes it easy to get into some seriously tight spaces and the Picanto’s light controls mean low-speed manoeuvres don’t turn into a punishing workout.
As the speeds rise, though, the Picanto becomes less convincing. On country roads the soft suspension means it feels like it could tip over and the suspension can be bumpy.
But it feels even worse on the motorway where the light and direct steering – that made negotiating packed streets a breeze – feels too remote to give you confidence and you need to make lots of minor adjustments to stay in lane, especially in high winds that tend to bully the Kia around. The bouncy suspension pogos the car and its occupants at the whiff of a bump, and the final nail in the coffin of the Picanto’s long-distance cruising aspirations is a cabin that suffers from too much road and wind noise to be comfortable. In fact, if you need a city car that can handle the motorway, you’ll be better off with the quieter and smoother VW Up.
Sadly, it isn’t so easy to make a direct comparison in terms of safety because the Picanto has yet to be evaluated for crashworthiness by Euro NCAP. That said, 3, GT Line and GT Line S models all come with automatic emergency braking that should make them some of the safest cars of their size.