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2017 Kia Picanto review: First drive

The Good

  • Refined drive
  • Excellent handling
  • Looks mean

The Bad

  • Some iffy interior plastics
  • Standard radio is very basic
4.5

In our Kia Picanto 2017 review, Ben Griffin drives around the grape-heavy countryside of Tuscany to see if the fourth-generation city car has what it takes to beat the VW Up, Hyundai i10 and Skoda Citigo.

What do you think of when you think of Kia? We doubt the word ‘excitement’ or ‘passion’ springs to mind, nor would you have said ‘street cred’. Assuming anyone still uses that term.

But times are changing and the new Picanto is part of Kia’s grand plan to make desirable cars, not just practical ones. Because even cash-strapped buyers want a little zing from their purchases.

That will, of course, be easier for the forthcoming Stinger, which is rear-wheel drive and a lot more powerful than a city car. But the Kia Picanto is still important, which is why Recombu Cars was shipped over to Tuscany to drive the right-hand drive car coming to the UK.

Here are our first impressions, having racked up a few hours in the standard 1.0-litre petrol with relatively few bells and whistles and the all-singing and all-dancing GT Line S, complete with its pokier 1.25-litre.

Kia Picanto review: What are we looking at?

Your eyes are looking at the 2017 Kia Picanto A-segment city car, which is the third-generation Picanto but actually the fourth-generation city car – the first being the Kia Pride. The Pride was actually the first car Kia brought to the UK back in 1991.

History lesson over. The new Kia Picanto is the exact same size as its predecessor, which means a length of 3,595mm and a width of 1,595mm. It is, however, 5mm taller (1,485mm) and has a 15mm longer wheelbase.

That sounds like Kia has been lazy, but shifting the wheelbase and overhangs and slimming down the dashboard makes the new Picanto roomier than it looks from the outside.

Kia has worked hard to make the new Picanto more charming, too, as the sportier, more exciting design dermonstrates. Though the meaty air intakes may offend older buyers, they will entice those who know who Vin diesel is.

As city cars go, the 2017 Kia Picanto is one of the meanest – especially with the bigger 16-inch alloys of the higher spec models staring out from the wheelarches. It is also sensible, a point made clear by the fact Kia lowered the height of the windscreen wipers to reduce wind noise.

If we had to pick a fault, the interior plastics – though solid and stuck together properly – do look on the cheap side.

But then this is a cheap car and there are worse offenders out there, especially when you start to appreciate the simplicity and logical layout of the controls. We also liked the seats, which provide more than adequate support and comfort.

The overall interior aesthetic is pleasing, mind you, although we couldn’t help but notice the vertical air vents do look like a certain body part and not one of the prettier ones.

Kia Picanto review: How does it drive?

Brilliantly, actually. Revisions to the suspension, shifting the wheels around and strengthening of the chassis has given the new Kia Picanto a very planted feel. You can chuck it into a corner and it will make it round far quicker than you expect.

Even in the wet, the new Picanto made light work of Tuscany’s corners, of which there are many, with only one instance of the back deciding to slide out rather dramatically. Of all the city cars, this is the most fun yet mature to drive.

The 66bhp 1.0-litre is never going to break a land speed record, as the 13.8-second 0-60mph shows, but it is fast enough to dart onto a roundabout when you only have a small gap to play with. It can even do hills with two passengers, but you may need to drop it down a gear.

The four-cylinder 88bhp 1.25-litre petrol has less personality, but the extra grunt and greater torque (122Nm vs 96Nm) makes it a tad swifter, though the difference was smaller than we expected.

Getting to motorway speeds and sticking to them can be done before you go grey with both engines, which is the main thing as sometimes even city cars need to venture out into the countyside.

We expected both engines to be quite loud and harsh, but neither makes much noise. A quick up-shift of the somewhat notchy but direct and short-throw five-speed gearbox reduces the engine to a quiet hum. Wind noise is more of an issue, but still bearable.

There is a 1.25-litre T-GDi coming later in 2017 that will make the new Picanto more powerful than its predecessors. The turbocharged version of the three-cylinder generates 99bhp and could, potentially, be a bit of a hoot but it was unavailable to drive at the event.

Another area of improvement is the steering, which is heavy enough to make it more engaging but still light enough for a cheeky three-point turn because you went down the wrong road.

A bit more feeling would be nice, but, like most of the Picanto’s faults, you can easily forget about it. The main thing is that the Motor-Driven Power Steering (MDPS) system is an improvement on the older Picanto.

The overall impression of the new Kia Picanto is that it is a very refined car that is easy to drive, easy to manoeuvre (with or without the optional reversing camera) and it rarely struggles with Italian roads, which are as bad as ours in Tuscany.

Even with the larger 16-inch alloys in play, the suspension is a step above anything in its class for smoothing out bad road surfaces. We have driven far rougher hatchbacks, which is remarkable.

Kia Picanto review: Practicality and boot space?

Besides being able to accommodate our six-foot frame in the front and back with good levels of head and leg room, the new Kia Picanto also manages to have a bigger boot than before and the biggest in its class.

Okay, so the 255 litres (up from 200 in the old Picanto) is only three litres more than the Hyundai i10, which has only one extra litre over the Skoda Citigo and the VW Up, but that still means the most shopping potential, expandable to 1,010 litres with the rear seats down.

There is a lack of ability to adjust driver’s height for the time being, which means those who are seriously tall will need to be patient or duck a bit. But for everyone else, it is easy to get comfy – the only negative is some may find the accelerator pedal a tad on the steep side.

Having four doors as standard is another plus for everyone as it saves on the front passenger having to hop out to let people in – a luxury that costs more on the VW Up.

Kia Picanto review: Fuel economy and safety?

Another positive area for the Kia Picanto, though it will take a UK to test just how good it is on fuel. We found the 1.0-litre was noticeably below that of its claimed 64.2mpg, but we were driving it quite hard for the most part.

The bigger 1.25-litre is able to keep the revs lower and gain progress more easily so it could work out better in the real world, even though the claimed figure is 61.4mpg, especially as its fifth gear is longer.

CO2 comes in at 106g/km, compared with the 1.0-litre’s 101g/km, not that it matters so much after the 2017 VED changes, which have made most small cars more expensive to tax.

A four-speed auto can be had. It was missing from the launch so we have no idea how it drives, but on paper it dramatically increases the fuel economy, to 52.3mpg and CO2 emissions to 124g/km, neither of which is a good thing.

As for safety, the Picanto comes with six airbags, torque vectoring to help it turn if you over-cook your entry-speed and Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) to keep you from rolling backwards on a slope when using the brakes. All are standard fare.

Sadly you need to spend more for the grade ‘3’ car, which adds autonomous emergency braking (it works) and a rear parking camera and sensors. Not that a car this small and with such big windows really needs it, unless perhaps your eyes are aging badly.

Kia Picanto review: What about value for money?

Those expecting a fancy infotainment system on the entry-level 1 car will be sad to note the Picanto’s radio may as well play tapes and you will need the eyes of an eagle to see the display.

But the rest of the spec, including electric windows, automatic headlights, 60:40 split-folding rear seats and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, help ease the pain. For £9,450, it is rather good value – £85 less than the lesser powerful five-door Up, in fact.

It helps that you get a seven-year or 100,000 mile warranty (whichever comes sooner) that can be transferred to new owners. Only Hyundai comes close with its five-year unlimited warranty.

Just to be confusing, the grade ‘3’ car (from £12,650) sits above the GT Line and adds autonomous emergency braking, front fog lights, the vastly superior seven-inch display with navigation, cruise control, DAB digital radio and six speakers (up from two in the ‘1’ and four in the ‘2’).

The GT Line gets various aesthetic enhancements, including faux leatherseats in black and red, tinted rear windows, LED daytime running lights and electric folding mirrors. Yours from £11,950.

For all the technology and sporty revisions, GT Line S is the one to go for if you can stomach spending £13,950 on a city car. It also gets dual-height boot, push-button ignition and a wireless phone charger in the centre console.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be had on cars with the superior infotainment system, which means you can hook up your smartphone for added functionality.

Kia Picanto review: Should I buy one, then?

The new Kia Picanto is more fun to drive than its competitors, more practical and, with the right trim level, suitably tech-savvy. The fact you get a seven-year warranty makes it a highly recommendable little car – potentially even class-leading, assuming the UK drive goes well.

There is still a way to go when it comes to desirability, but there is a good chance the Kia badge will inherit a whole lot more street cred when the Stinger lands, at which point you will have no excuse to avoid giving it a go.

Our Kia Picanto 2017 video review is coming soon to the Recombu Cars YouTube – stay tuned and be sure to subscribe.

Specification

Engine1.0-litre Kappa three-cylinder in-line
Power66bhp
Torque71lb/ft (96Nm)
Acceleration0-60mph in 13.8 seconds (top speed 100mph)
Emissions101g/km of CO2
Economy64.2mpg (combined)
PriceFrom

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