It might be Kia's smallest car, but the all-new Picanto hatchback now feels just as grown-up as its bigger siblings, like the almost-as-new Rio. Revamped styling gives greater appeal to what could have easily been just another boxy supermini. With more space inside and handling that pleasantly surprises, the Picanto takes the fight straight to the current class leader, the Hyundai i10.
In the Metal:
Kia has employed some clever styling tricks for its all-new Picanto that give it the appearance of being larger even though it remains the same height and length as the model it replaces. New underpinnings mean the wheelbase has been stretched by 15mm, adding a little more to cabin space while improving the car's presence. Shorter overhangs front and rear add further to this look, as do the more prominent wheel arches, something Kia says helps to add to the impression that the car is wider than it is.
Throughout the car there are numerous detailed areas of design worth focusing on. The 'Bi-Functional Projection' headlights include a nice U-shaped LED daytime running light signature under the main beam, for example, giving the Picanto a distinctive look. Below that are LED indicators incorporated into the light unit. These, combined with Kia's signature 'Tiger Nose' grille design and larger air intake in the lower bumper give the Picanto a distinctive face that's both friendly and technical. The rear light units also get the LED treatment and have a C-shaped design.
Inside, the cabin looks and feels spacious. Again, some clever use of design has added to the more airy feeling, helped by a slight increase in overall width, which means you won't be banging elbows with your passenger while driving. The dashboard gets a free-standing seven-inch infotainment screen, something Kia says is a first for the segment. Easy-to-read instrument dials join new, simplified climate controls in the centre console, which also offers a wireless charging pad for smartphones.
Rear passenger space is technically for three, but is just roomy enough for two adults in reality. Legroom is decent and there's no noticeable transmission tunnel, so whoever does end up in the middle seat won't lose out. Boot space has also been increased, helped by a new stepped floor that sees capacity grow to 255 litres. The cargo space doesn't extend in very far, but is now deeper than before, while folding the 60:40 split rear seats boosts luggage capacity to 1,010 litres.
Except for the sportier looking GT Line version, all Kia Picanto models will use the company's naturally aspirated 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. There's the usual thrum associated with three-cylinder engines, but the cabin is insulated enough to prevent it from being annoying. With 67hp it's not exactly going to set any speed records, but it does do a good job of propelling the Picanto around town. There's enough low-down torque that stop-start traffic can be done with minimal effort from the engine and the transmission mostly just left in second gear.
Being a naturally aspirated engine, you do need to work the gears a little more when you aren't on the flat stuff. Thankfully, the five-speed manual gearbox is nice to use and feels relatively precise in its action. Out of town, the Picanto's 1.0-litre engine copes well with motorway cruising, even if it does take a while to get up to speed. The cabin's increased sound insulation keeps both engine and road noise levels to a low enough level and even as the revs rise the engine retains its smoothness. Kia says it is capable of consuming just 4.2 litres/100km on the official combined cycle, though on our test drive, which included motorway sections as well as some hilly roads, the average figure was closer to 7.0 litres/100km.
A new suspension setup sees marginally stiffer springs fitted, which turns out to be a good thing. Over bumps and speed humps the Picanto soaks up more than is typical of a car in this segment of the market. When you decide to summon all of the engine's 67hp and drive in a more spirited fashion, there are only minimal amounts of body roll in the corners, too. It turns in well, and while the steering is a little on the light side, it still gives a good amount of feedback. Kia hasn't given the Picanto multiple steering settings like it does its larger models, but it's no less a car for it. With the small extension to the wheelbase comes a planted feeling through faster bends helping to highlight the Picanto's body control. In short, it never feels like it's the small car it is.
What you get for your Money:
Kia Ireland has come out fighting with a generous standard equipment specification for the Picanto. Prices start at €13,295 for the 'TX' version and include Bluetooth, a leather gear selector and multifunction steering wheel with audio controls, electric heated door mirrors, front electric windows, a four-speaker stereo system and body coloured door handles and mirrors.
Pricing for the mid-level 'EX' version starts at €14,795, which adds 15-inch alloy wheels and electric rear windows. Kia also offers a variety of interior styling packs that allow for greater customisation. An 'EX ADAS' version, priced from €15,195, will include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) as standard, which can help to mitigate the risk of collisions with other vehicles. All Picantos come with Kia's standard seven-year/150,000km warranty.
Not only does the new Kia Picanto look stylish, it comes with good levels of standard equipment and is well-priced. Where it impresses most, however, is on the road.