Kia’s new Picanto wins big in the little league

New Korean city car outshines its main rival Hyundai i10 to become best in class

Make: Kia

Model: Picanto

Year: 2017

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: March 31, 2017

Fri, Mar 31, 2017, 18:29


Kia’s product offensive continues with a new entry model, the third generation of its Picanto. The baby Kia has a big challenge ahead if it hopes to take on the might of its Korean rival, the Hyundai i10. Hyundai dominates the city car market, albeit a small segment in the Ireland.

At the minute the outgoing Picanto is a country mile behind its sister company’s excellent runabout.

The i10 outshines the segment in sales terms with over 35 per cent of the class last year. This year so far it’s closer to 45 per cent. Despite a starting price that is €500 more than the outgoing Picanto (€12,490) the i10 with its spacious cabin is by far the better car of the two.

Sales figures back up the Korean’s popularity here with Hyundai selling 1,458 i10s in 2016. The Toyota Aygo was in second place with 408 units while the Picanto was further down the field with 340 registrations.

To compete with i10 then, Kia really needs to deliver a better product as the obvious price fight hasn’t worked.

So it’s clear that in a segment where you might expect price would be king, there is more to the market than simply that. That should perhaps offer some comfort now to Kia, as the new Picanto comes with a €700 higher price tag. Can this asking price be justified? Yes is the short answer.

The new car is very impressive and at the risk of having you read no further... is better than the i10.

Electric-heated door mirrors

The new Picanto is priced €300 higher than the equivalent grade i10. The TX will start from €13,295 while the i10 De Lux rivalling EX will cost from €14,795.

Okay, so either the junior partner in the massive Hyundai/Kia global group has lost the plot entirely or there must be a ton of goodies and equipment thrown in to the mix to justify the higher price.

Thankfully for Kia, it’s the latter. Standard kit now includes: Bluetooth, remote audio controls, electric-heated door mirrors, electric rear windows, a four-speaker sound system, leather steering wheel and gear knob plus colour-coded door handles and mirrors.

The top EX grade gets 15-inch alloys, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smart phone integration, a floating tablet-like touchscreen centre display, reversing camera and wireless charging function and those electric rear windows that its i10 rival hasn’t.

Both grades feature lower CO2 emissions than the outgoing Picanto at 97g/km. The safest Picanto with the all important driver’s aids is the EX ADAS grade at €15,195. It features autonomous emergency braking that at city speeds can save you from rear ending the car in front and mitigate collisions at higher speed.

In October this year a GT Line Picanto will appear coupled to a new 1-litre three cylinder turbo engine. As you’d expect the styling will feature sporty overtones and even twin exhausts. This powerful Picanto pushes out 100hp and 172nm of torque. A powerful Picanto . . . there’s something I never thought I’d write.

This warm version will be very well equipped and will take corners with aplomb thanks to torque vectoring by braking, a class first. A four cylinder 1.25 litre 84hp/122nm EX four-speed automatic will be available from €16,495 and this version falls into tax band B1 and attracts €270 annual road tax.

I tried this engine with a manual gearbox and wasn’t overly impressed compared to the standard 1-litre engine, but there is demand for small autos and Kia Ireland has a shipment of automatic Picantos en route to Hertz as hire cars. A VRT rebate scheme makes this end of the business work well.

Dramatic styling

There is not a lot you can do with a small car in terms of dramatic styling as form must follow function, but the design team has done a good job with Picanto. The front-wheel drive’s exterior has some interesting detail that goes beyond function.

The new Kia is also a lot lighter and has a much stronger and stiffer body, meaning a lot less body roll. The wheels have been pushed further out to the corners to free up interior space and give the Picanto a more solid stance on the road.

Kia claims the cabin is the quietest in its class, and it really seems to be the case. More soundproofing has been used under the bonnet, beneath the dash and under the cabin carpets. Expandable foam has also been squirted into the A and B pillars to reduce noise. The engine mounts have been revised and even the windscreen wipers have been lowered out of the airflow to make the Picanto more serene.

The dash has been given a major facelift, with its base raised to allow more knee room. On the higher EX grade features a floating 7 inch touch screen.

The Picanto is easier to get in and out of thanks to a lower step height - young buyers won’t care but the actual buyers who may or may not have some grey or even blue in their hair will appreciate it.

Kia also lays claim to having the largest cargo capacity in its class at 1,010 litres with the seats down. The boot is class leading too and features a two step floor. Capacity is up from 200 litres to an impressive 255 litres.

Our test cars were powered by the tax band A2 (€180) 1 litre, 67hp three cylinder petrol engine paired to a five-speed manual gearbox. The engine is carried over from the last version and its lively nature is a heap of fun to drive.

Sharper steering

The Picanto gets a new and sharper steering rack that has 13 per cent faster gearing. Lock to lock takes less effort and just 2.8 turns, as a result low speed handling is greatly improved and the car feels quite nimble. The three-cylinder unit really flings the Picanto’s less than one tonne weight down the road with the eagerness of a six month old puppy.

The Picanto’s suspension is unremarkable in construction. It’s the usual MacPherson strut set up at the front with a redesigned, lighter, torsion beam rear axle. The antiroll bars are slightly stiffer and body roll has been reduced when cornering. The wide track and longer wheelbase play a big roll in the new Picanto’s improved handling. Should things go wrong the new Picanto comes with six airbags as standard (an optional knee airbag is available).

There are a lot of cars to love in the sector like the VW Up and its sister cars the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo. The Toyota Aygo and its siblings the Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1 are also fun runabouts. But all lack the practicality offered by the Koreans in the form of the five-seat Hyundai i10 and now the latest Kia Picanto.

Is the Picanto better than the i10? Yes, in my opinion it is now the best car in its class, but it still won’t outsell the i10 thanks to Hyundai’s more active dealer network.