Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Petrol power is the only option
  • All engines need working hard
  • Turbo petrol could be worth waiting for

If you’re considering a Kia Picanto as your next car, chances are you’re not going to be racing it around country lanes or sitting on the motorway for hundreds of miles on end. That’s a good thing because Kia Picanto performance isn’t the strongest when you want to press on. However, that’s not what this car is about at all so it would be unfair to mark it down for not keeping up with something like a big saloon.

Around town, the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol with 67hp feels surprisingly eager thanks to respectable throttle response and a thrummy three-cylinder soundtrack egging you on. Come to a hill though, and it runs out of puff fairly quickly, meaning you need to gain (and maintain) momentum building up to it, or make good use of the five-speed manual gearbox. Luckily, it’s slick and precise with a short throw for when you do need to change down a cog or two.

Keep the revs high and its 96Nm of torque will attempt to drag you up the hill. This engine will go from 0-62mph in 14.3 seconds, so don’t attempt to initiate any drag races at the lights unless you’re up against a bicycle. Offering more responsive performance is the 1.25-litre with 84hp and 122Nm of torque, again driven via the front wheels and a five-speed manual gearbox (a four-speed automatic is also available with this engine).

It’s the one to go for if you regularly drive out of town thanks to more power and torque – it’s that little bit more flexible and you won’t find yourself changing down gears quite as often. However, it doesn’t have the character of the three-cylinder unit and isn’t all that inspiring to rev out to the red line. This engine will take the Picanto from 0-62mph in 12.0 seconds (13.7 seconds for the auto).

The 1.0-litre T-GDI could well be the antidote if you need more performance but still want some three-cylinder character. With a 0-62mph time of 10.1 seconds is usefully nippier than the other two offerings. For now, if you’re just pootling about town, the 1.0-litre is ideal and will keep the costs down. If you do need to stretch its legs at the weekend, the 1.25-litre will make motorway driving a little more relaxing and less laboured.

In our six month long-term review of a Picanto fitted with this engine, we found it to be a great all-rounder: 'It's the real highlight of the car. It hasn't the performance a true hot hatch would command but what it lacks in power it makes up with a boatload of character. The sound under acceleration has the sweetest, rorty note and became increasingly addictive as my stint with the Picanto progressed.

'That makes it the perfect engine to dart around town and city but fun out on rural roads too. Find a twisty stretch and the dart and braking between corners becomes pleasantly exhilarating.'

Gearboxes

Standard on all versions of the Picanto is a five-speed manual gearbox. It’s slick and precise to use and feels well matched to the car’s engines and character. The gear lever falls easily to hand and the throw of the gearbox isn’t too long, either.

Those looking for an automatic have the option of going for a four-speed automatic, which we’re yet to sample. It’s only available with the 1.2-litre petrol though.

Handling

  • Composed handling
  • Accurate steering
  • But still not exciting

Kia has worked hard to improve the way in which the new Picanto handles. Despite being the same overall length as the car it replaces, the wheelbase has been lengthened by 15mm and the wheels are now right at the edges of the car, not only boosting interior space but also its stability on the road.

It's noticeable too, with civilised road manners making the Picanto feel a bigger car than it really is. Body control is tidy with only a little roll present through the corners, while the stiffened anti-roll bars allow the car to corner more flatly. The steering is well-weighted too, avoiding the usual issue of artificially light-feeling steering that afflicts many of its city car rivals.

Impressive levels of grip mean you can corner in the Picanto faster than you think, which is reassuring if you ever misjudge a tight bend, for example.

In our six month long-term review of the Picanto, our tester concluded: 'On narrow lanes with at least half of the corners unsighted you have to slow sometimes to a crawl to negotiate safely - the Picanto is really in its element with this type of terrain. With quick bursts from an almost standing starts to 30 or 40mph and then braking sharply for the next tight corner and accelerating once again. The Picanto feels rapid at these lower speed roads. Only on longer straights does the lack of outright pace show that this is a warm rather than hot hatch.'

The Picanto also manages to tread the line between comfortable and sporty. While it drives well, it doesn’t have overly firm suspension that jars over harsh bumps in the road – it copes admirably when presented with a pothole or broken road surfaces and never transmits them to the cabin too much. It strikes an impressive balance.

However, if comfort is your priority we’d avoid the 16-inch rims on sporty high-spec trim levels. They might look good, but the effect on ride comfort is noticeable. The imperfections of a normal road surface are amplified, while larger bumps and cracks are transmitted into the cabin with a sharper, more uncomfortable edge.