The older I get, the more I appreciate the concept, and indeed execution, of a clever micro car – and the 2017 Kia Picanto is right at the head of the current class.
Offering just a s single specification makes your buying decision easier, with only the choice of manual (as tested here) or automatic before you.
You can read Curt’s launch review to access his initial impressions, but the highlights for the 2017 Picanto are new styling, improved refinement and added equipment worked around an existing platform and the previous model’s powertrain.
The Picanto looks – on the surface at least – to mount a compelling argument in the micro car segment, up against the likes of CarAdvice favourite, the Honda Jazz, Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, and Suzuki Ignis to name a few.
Pricing is key in this budget conscious segment – as you'd expect. The Picanto starts from $14,190 before on-road costs with only premium paint ($520) added to our test model, bringing the price up to $14,710 (plus on-roads).
Kia offers a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, with the same period of capped price servicing, required every 12 months or 15,000km. Those services cost $240, $435, $294, $493, $271, $532 and $287 respectively up to 105,000km. That means keeping your Picanto fully serviced up to 105,000km will cost $2552.
Standard equipment highlights include: ABS with electronic brake force distribution, vehicle stability management, hill-start assist, reverse parking sensors, rear-view camera, DRLs, six airbags, cloth trim, six-way adjustable driver’s seat, 60:40 split fold rear seats, cruise control, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (with voice recognition), Bluetooth connectivity and auto up/down on the driver’s window.
The drivetrain is carried across from the outgoing model, but is now available with a manual gearbox, where previously there was only the auto option. We’re looking forward to testing the manual here, given the four-speed auto's propensity to sap some of the power (and fun) out of the diminutive engine.
Weighing in at 1.3-litres (1248cc to be precise), the little four-cylinder generates 62kW at 6000rpm, and 122Nm at 4000rpm. It’s a throwback to older, small capacity engines where all the fun happened higher up in the rev range, and the five-speed manual gearbox allows you to access that fun much more readily.
The power and torque figures won’t raise eyebrows, but the Picanto only weighs 976kg in manual guise, so there isn’t a lot of heft to move. Against an ADR claim of 5.0L/100km on the combined cycle, we used an indicated 6.9L/100km, almost entirely around town.
It’s not just me getting a little giggly when it comes to micro cars either. CarAdvice reviewers are getting right into the segment – check out our long-term Ignis updates if you don’t believe me. Surprisingly versatile, better than you’d expect and remarkably enjoyable around town, there’s a lot to like about piloting a small car in the cut-and-thrust of city traffic.
The driving position is excellent, with comfortable seats trimmed in hard-wearing, but not cheap-feeling cloth. The steering wheel adjustment is likewise excellent, and the steering wheel controls are easy to use and never get in the way. Everything about the way you sit in the driver’s seat points to a more premium experience than what the Picanto actually costs.
You won’t find climate control, instead there are basic AC controls, with a feature we loved underneath them. There’s a clever storage shelf for smartphones (even the larger handsets) and plenty of storage for wallets, as well as clever adjustable cup holders, which work well for those of you using regular sized cups.
That aforementioned shelf, means you can plug your phone in to access Apple CarPlay/Android Auto but it’s never in the way or floating around an ill-fitting storage space. Makes you wonder why more cars can’t deliver such a simple solution.
There’s also a USB input, 12V outlet and auxiliary input in that front part of the console. In tech terms, Apple CarPlay was faultless and a quick test with Android Auto delivered the same seamless connection. The 7.0-inch touchscreen is clear and well positioned, meaning music controls, mapping or whatever you happen to be monitoring are easy to access. The screen on our test model was a little laggy at times and didn’t respond as snappily to inputs as we’d have liked. The controls themselves are otherwise reliable.
Working further back, there’s even more useful storage under the handbrake lever and behind it as well. The door pockets are large enough, and there’s auto down and up on the driver’s window. We really appreciated the amount of headroom on offer, which also aids in affording excellent visibility forward and rearward.
There are hard plastics throughout the interior, but it doesn’t actually feel or come across as cheap. It would be nice however, not to have hard plastic at elbow touch points on the doors but otherwise, the interior is well executed.
Moving back into the second row, there’s room enough for two adults and three at a pinch – if they aren’t heavyweight pugilists. There’s no storage or power outlets though and if you have a taller driver up front, rear legroom will be tight.
The backrest is not too upright, flips forward easily and opens up more luggage space but doesn't feature a flat floor. Importantly, given the city car brief, there’s more than enough luggage space for day to day running round.
There’s actually nothing the Picanto does wrong in regard to positioning itself as the near-perfect city car. When it comes to fit-for-purpose execution of a stated brief, you’d have to look pretty hard to find a small car that does it better than the Picanto. The proof though, as always, is in the driving.
We expect plenty from any Kia product in regards to suspension ability – that's the cross the company has to bear thanks to local suspension tuning. In addition, the ‘new’ Picanto’s body shell is both stronger and more rigid, while harder engine mounts reduce transmitted vibration. The platform therefore, was already excellent before Kia’s engineering gurus got their hands on the suspension and steering hardware.
Despite the sharp pricing, and the fact buyers in this segment might expect anything but a dynamic driving experience, the little Picanto is quite the razor blade.
There’s intrinsic balance, beautiful chassis control, and near perfect weight transfer tipping from one corner to the next on a twisty road. Countering that quick transition ability is the fact the Picanto never feels like it wants to wander all over the freeway either – bonus. The Picanto’s steering rack has had a ratio change – quicker – and it provides enough weight and accuracy to deliver what we’d call an exceptional driving experience.
In short, the Picanto is way more fun, and is way more capable than buyers will ever expect. Sure, most buyers won’t care or notice, but let's not engineer vehicles to the lowest common denominator shall we?
Overall suspension refinement means it can also soak up ruts and bumps with aplomb, and on the flip side, never crashes or feels too stiff and sharp. The cabin is quite insulated too, for the class, with only a little wind or tyre noise entering the cabin even on the freeway.
We loved the clutch action, which has a perfect balance of heft and ease of use in traffic. The pedal placement has a lot to do with the enjoyment you’ll get behind the wheel, with the left foot rest as good as any sports car position you’ll see.
The gearshift itself is likewise beautifully tuned and has a crisp, direct feel, perfect positioning too – certainly for my driving position. I never had to reach for the shifter.
There’s no doubt – as Curt mentioned at launch – that the manual transmission is the more engaging, enjoyable and fun option. The auto might be ideal for crawling through city traffic, but the manual is the gearbox you’d have if you actually enjoy driving. And if you intend to get the best out of the diminutive engine, too.
It’s worth noting it does feel like you need to work the engine pretty hard to get it right up to redline and get the Picanto moving quickly. It will cover the broad range of city speeds easily enough, though. Like most small engines, it sounds a little harsh up at redline, but that's the way these engines are and it’s not something that bothers us.
The Kia Picanto is, all things considered, an almost faultless city car. It has light steering, feels go-kart-like despite the low power on offer, is easy to manoeuvre and easy to position in tight streets while offering excellent all-round visibility. Crucially, it’s also easy to park, with a clear rear-view camera, and basically really simple to drive.
While it’s not the outright best small car on offer, nothing else can compete with the Picanto when it comes to value and inclusions, and that’s where it mounts its strongest argument. If you need a city runaround you’d be mad not to take a close look at the 2017 Kia Picanto.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images by Sam Venn.
Update: This article originally referenced a CVT automatic. The error has been corrected.