Perhaps nothing more demonstrates the dramatic progress made by South Korea’s Kia brand than the following statistic…. in the whole of 2007, Kia sold 29,429 cars in the UK. Now, 10 years on, 29,707 were sold in the first three months of 2017 alone.
After the soaring success of 2016’s new Sportage crossover, Kia hopes the next-generation Picanto city car will add to the upwards sales momentum.
The same size as the outgoing Picanto, the new car is more stylish, spacious, practical and refined.
Some 160,000 Picantos have found homes in the UK since the model was launched in 2004 and around two in three buyers are women, so crucially, the 2017 third-generation Picanto is a looker.
Now only available as a five-door for easier access to the rear, the front end of the new car features Kia’s signature ‘tiger nose’ grille with air intakes and fog lights below, giving it plenty of attitude and a sportier feel. And with sculpted sides and a pert rear, it makes the Picanto one of the best looking cars in its class.
Kerb appeal is no mean feat in the A segment, where its rivals include two sets of good-looking triplets (the VW Up!/Skoda Citigo/SEAT Mii and Toyota Aygo/Citroen C1/Peugeot 108), the funky Renault Twingo and Fiat 500, plus its cousin – the Hyundai i10.
Inside there’s plenty of space, thanks to a slightly longer wheelbase. It’s comfy and well designed up front with good visibility. The only disappointment is that the driver’s seat has no height adjustment and the steering wheel won’t adjust for reach.
There’s a mix of soft and hard touch dark plastics, but it generally has a quality feel and there’s good built quality.
It’s a little more cosy in the back, but it’s possible for four average sized adults to travel in comfort, which is more than you can say for some rivals. There’s also a class-leading 255 litres of luggage capacity in the boot.
Priced from £9,450 – £13,950, the new Picanto is available in five trim levels (ranging from ‘1’ up to ‘GT-Line S’ (pictured), but it’s worth studying the spec sheets for the sweet spot (probably ‘3’).
For instance, only the GT-Line S and grade ‘3’ versions come with the generous 7-inch centre-mounted ‘floating’ touchscreen, which gives access to the navigation, infotainment and connectivity systems.
And if safety is your priority, all models from grade ‘3’ have Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) which can bring the car to a complete stop at certain speeds and to a partial stop at up to 107mph (AEB is available as a £350 option on grades ‘1’ and ‘2’).
That said, even the entry-level grade ‘1’ model features tinted windows, a DAB radio with AUX and USB ports, automatic headlights, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and six airbags.
Other goodies available include heated front seats and steering wheel, a wireless phone charger, electric sunroof, plus a rear parking camera with parking sensors.
Naturally, there are also various customisation options for the interior and exterior.
Available at launch with two eager petrol engines – a 66bhp1.0-litre three-cylinder or an 83bhp 1.2-litre four-cylinder – both mated to a five-speed manual gearbox (the 1.2 will also be available as an automatic).
The engines are smooth and economical – 64.2mpg/101 g/km of CO2 and 61.4mpg/106g/km respectively.
Clearly the bigger engine has a bit more punch, but for town driving the 1.0-litre is more than ample. For longer journeys, especially ones that involve steep hills, the 1.2 might be the one to go for. Both are surprisingly refined and cruise nicely at motorway speeds.
Neither engine will make your Picanto a hot hatch in performance terms, but then that’s not why people buy city cars. For the record, the 1.0-litre is good for a 0-60mph time of 13.8 seconds and a top speed of 101mph, while the 1.2 can reach 60mph in 11.6 seconds and go on to 106mph.
Later in 2017, arguably the pick of the engine choices will become available. The 99bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi turbocharged petrol three-cylinder unit is sure to put a smile on the face of more spirited drivers.
Cabin refinement is one thing, but how does the new Picanto drive? Well, more good news here because it’s one of the best handling cars in its class, though not quite as good as the VW/Skoda/SEAT trio.
As you’d expect from a city car, it’s light and easy to manoeuvre, but it also feels planted on the road, while body roll in well contained when cornering.
The ride is a tad bouncy on rougher roads, but overall, it drives well. And if you want a little extra agility, the sporty GT-Line version might be worth considering.
Verdict: The new Kia Picanto is a competitively-priced, sassy, well-equipped, refined and nippy city car, backed up by an unbeatable seven-year warranty. What’s not to like?
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