Kia Picanto Review 2021 | Top Gear
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BBC TopGear
Car Review

Kia Picanto

£ 9,990 - £ 15,150
710
Published: 20 May 2021
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Plenty to choose from in the Picanto range, but X-Line's pretend crossover looks are oddly appealing

Good stuff

Decent looks, roomy interior, good handling, cheap to run, great warranty

Bad stuff

Could do with more power, of course

Overview

What is it?

Despite its spicy sounding name, the Kia Picanto started life in 2004 as a fairly bland looking albeit cheaply priced and decently equipped city car. The second version in 2011 took full advantage of the Korean brand’s design awakening, famed German scribbler Peter Schreyer (he designed the original Audi TT, among other things) lending the company’s output some much-needed Euro flair and credibility. Schreyer’s signature move was the introduction of the firm’s ‘tiger nose’ grille, which has become familiar over time but was a bold look when it was first unveiled.

If the second-generation car was on the way up, the third version of the tiny runabout is meeting itself on the way back down – changes between iterations were limited to freshening up detail tweaks, a mark that there are barely any profits to be had in the city car segment. Especially from cars powered by ghastly petrol engines. Kia’s only real answer as rivals go electric has been to introduce stop/start tech to the range, so there’s not much under the bonnet worth boasting about.

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It’s a bit of a shame that more people haven’t switched on to the Picanto, though – it shows up to the small car party with pep and fizz that few of its rivals can muster. It’s a hoot to drive around town and plenty practical enough for day-to-day urban life. Take it further afield on longer journeys and you’ll bump into some of the car’s shortcomings, but it’s never been billed as a long-distance cruiser. Although it perhaps falls short in terms of outright quality and dynamics, the car has a lot in its favour, especially when it comes to taking the chore out of everyday city driving.

The Picanto range has impressive breadth – 1, 2 and 3-spec cars begin the selection, the former kicking off proceedings at £10,995 and advertising its electric front windows, USB port and Bluetooth with pride. As with most cars, the entry models grab the headlines with their low, low prices, but the sweet spot is higher up the spec list as more of the good stuff becomes available.

The pricier X-Line and X-Line S options sit 15mm higher and come with a few extra bits of cladding stuck on the outside for that faux-SUV look (and a slightly higher hip point for the bingo crowd) – Kia will have you believe a tube of glue and some grey plastic will turn a supermini like the Picanto into a crossover, but let’s not get carried away with ourselves.

At the top of the price sheet you’ve got the GT-Line and GT-Line S cars, which bring the toys and personalisation options that the kids love so much. In fact the top spec cars offer features that you’re surprised to see at this end of the market – options include automatic aircon, cruise control, wireless phone charger, heated seats and wheel, keyless go and a reversing camera. Like with the X-Line cars, we’re supposed to believe that a reprofiled bumper and a few red accents will make a car sporty. Actually the engine makes the biggest difference here, more on which next.

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The equipment levels might be baffling, but the engine selection really isn’t – there’s only the single 1.0-litre 3cyl engine available for the Picanto, with five-speed manual or five-speed automatic option. In all but GT-Line guise the motor produces an adequate 66bhp, while the top trim gives you the option of turbocharging the petrol unit for a spicier 99bhp. It’s still not quick, that engine drags the Picanto’s 0–60mph effort below 10 seconds by the skin of its teeth. 

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

The Picanto is a fun and interesting city car, with something in the range for everyone's taste

The Picanto has learned from the likes of the Fiat Panda that drivers will forgive a lot inside a car as long as it’s presented in a fun way and is cheap to run. For a first car or something that’s just needed as a runabout, you couldn’t go at all wrong with the Picanto. It’s fun, frugal and feels like great value for money. 

Perhaps we’re just getting old, but with the GT-Line models aimed so overtly at younger drivers, we’d probably plump for the X-Line ‘crossover’, which loses none of the urban driving entertainment or decent level of equipment, but does offer a slightly more supple ride thanks to its lofty 15mm height boost. 

The Kia Picanto is an impressive all-rounder, and recent tweaks have only served to make it a more enticing prospect. 

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