So, you have around $20,000 to spend on a small car. Is the Kia Picanto king, or does the bigger Suzuki Swift offer enough to justify its steeper price tag?
If you have around $20,000 to spend on a compact city car, it's hard to look past the Kia Picanto. It's surprisingly grown-up to drive and loaded with features, which is why it's comfortably the best-selling micro car in Australia.
But size matters – so we've heard – and for not all that much more money than Kia demands, you could find yourself behind the wheel of something more substantial.
Something like the Suzuki Swift GL Navigator with Safety Pack, perhaps. It's less showy than the Kia, but the Swift is practical, handsome and fun to drive.
Which of these first-car favourites gets things right, then?
Pricing and specs
Both of these cars are mid-range offerings, but they're pitched at slightly different pricepoints. The little Kia is cheaper, priced from $18,290 drive-away in GT-Line trim, after an October price reshuffle.
That gets you essentially everything Kia has to offer. The GT-Line gets a set of 16-inch alloy wheels, a racier bodykit, LED daytime-running lights, contrasting body accents and a twin exhaust outlet over the regular Picanto, atop gear like autonomous emergency braking, parking sensors, a reversing camera, and dusk-sensing headlights.
Inside, the Picanto has pleather-trimmed seats with red accents, a leather-look wheel, alloy pedals and a six-speaker stereo. The only option is premium paint, which adds $520 to the asking price.
Suzuki has furnished the Swift with a bigger starting price to match its larger footprint. With a $19,690 drive-away sticker, it's a not-insignificant $1400 more expensive than the Kia.
Atop the autonomous emergency braking and forward-collision warning system offered on the Kia, the extra spend gets you adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and high-beam assist.
The GL Navigator with Safety Pack (catchy) is actually Australia's cheapest car with adaptive cruise, for what it's worth.
Whereas the Kia gets pleather seats and sporty trim add-ons, the Swift makes do with cloth trim and a basic black dashboard. It does, however, offer a 7.0-inch infotainment unit with the same smartphone mirroring tech as the Picanto's – and factory navigation, which is ideal if you're running low on mobile data.
There's no sporty bodykit to speak of here, although the Swift does ride on 16-inch alloy wheels.
Oh, and neither car offers keyless entry or start. You need to take the key out of your pocket and turn it to get both started. Ugh.
It's tight, but the Picanto's more generous spec and lower starting price give it the win here.
|Model||Kia Picanto||Suzuki Swift|
|Variant||GT-Line||GL Navigator with Safety Pack|
|Made in||South Korea||Japan|
|ANCAP rating||Four stars (2017)||Five stars (2017)|
|Seat trim||Faux leather||Cloth|
|Adaptive cruise control||No||Yes|
|Apple CarPlay, Android Auto||Yes||Yes|
|Daytime running lights||Yes||Yes|
Kia and Suzuki clearly had very different priorities when designing their interiors. Suzuki has prioritised space and hard-wearing functionality, aided by the fact the Swift is a much bigger car than the Picanto.
Suzuki's hatchback is 245mm longer than its South Korean rival, 140mm wider, and 10mm taller. It also has a wheelbase that's 50mm longer. That manifests in a better driving position for leggy people, more elbow room between front passengers and more head room at the rear.
Although they're trimmed in unfashionable cloth, the Swift's seats do a great job accommodating a range of body shapes. They're more supportive than the Kia's harder, flatter pews, even offering a bit of sporty bolstering on their sides.
It can't match the Suzuki for space, but the Kia is definitely a more interesting place to spend time. The seats are trimmed in fake leather with red accents, the steering wheel is trimmed in a leather-look material, the pedals are racy-looking alloy units, and some love has gone into the general layout of the dials and dashboard.
Whereas the Swift gets a tinny two-speaker stereo, the Picanto has a six-speaker set-up that sounds immeasurably better, and bits like the door trims, transmission tunnel cover, and gear lever feel sturdier. That's not particularly difficult, though. There's no hiding the fact the little Swift has been built with low cost and light weight in mind from behind the wheel.
Kia claims more boot space for the Picanto (255L) than Suzuki does for the Swift (240L), but the load bay in the Swift is arguably more useful. It's longer and slightly shallower, allowing you to lay items like suitcases flat instead of perching them on their side. You'll also have to do less stacking of things like groceries because of the Suzuki's larger usable floor space.
The rear seats fold to reveal 1010L of space in the Kia, but there's a large 'step' where the seats are hinged. The Swift suffers the same step, but offers just 918L with the seats flattened.
Your priorities will dictate whether you prioritise space or flashy trim bits, but the Swift's more spacious, comfortable cabin gives it the win here.
|Suzuki Swift||Kia Picanto|
Neither of these cars has an engine that'll excite on paper, but they're both effective in practice.
Suzuki has fitted the Swift with a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine making 66kW at 6000rpm and 120Nm at 4400rpm. That's up 4kW on the 1.2-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol Picanto's peak (62kW), although the Kia counters with 2Nm more torque (122Nm) – which arrives 400rpm earlier to boot.
The big difference between the two is the transmission. It's available with a five-speed manual, but our Picanto was fitted with a four-speed torque converter, and it's starting to feel its age.
With a limited spread of ratios to choose from, the Kia is inherently flawed in a way the Suzuki isn't. It's surprisingly sprightly off the line, and the gearbox does a good job shifting intuitively below 60km/h, shuffling quietly between the first three ratios.
It takes a decent stab of throttle to force it to kick down, but the car will play ball eventually when you need more go. It can be a bit raucous when the revs start to rise, though, and fourth gear is quite short, which means you're spinning at 3000rpm on the highway.
It's a shame the automatic doesn't have at least one more ratio because the engine is willing and the car is light, but it's actively held back by the dour four-speeder.
By contrast, the Swift's continuously variable transmission is a peach. That's right, the CVT is better than the torque converter. Please direct all queries, complaints, and transmission-related musings to the complaints department, also known as the comments.
Although it's not a power-packed engine, the Swift's mill is perfectly matched to the transmission, offering smooth (and surprisingly punchy) performance all the way up to highway speeds.
The transmission doesn't flare or drone like some of its counterparts, instead sticking around or below 3000rpm unless you absolutely mat the throttle. When you do, the revs build in a relatively linear fashion compared to the CVT norm.
What's more, the engine's diminutive outputs are masked by the transmission's ability to stay in the power band.
The Swift is perkier than the Kia in town and more settled on the highway – it's also more efficient in the real world, returning an indicated 6.1L/100km throughout our week behind the wheel, compared to 7.1L/100km for the Picanto.
The more mature Swift takes the win comfortably here.
Ride and handling
Both of these cars are accomplished for the daily grind, but one is definitely slightly sportier.
That would be the Picanto, which backs up its GT-Line badge with a slightly more aggressive ride. It feels remarkably planted for such a tall, narrow car, belying its tiny footprint with the sort of stability you'd expect of a bigger car.
You're definitely aware of small lumps and bumps in the road, but the Picanto is never uncomfortable, backing the firm initial ride with well-judged damping courtesy of Kia's local tuning program.
Coupled with a light, direct steering set-up, the suspension means you could almost – almost! – call the Picanto GT-Line 'sporty'.
Neither of these cars is what you'd call refined on the highway, but the Picanto is noticeably noisier at 100km/h on anything other than perfect road surfaces. Coarse-chip highways in particular force you to crank up the stereo.
Suzuki hasn't bothered with firm suspension or ironing out body control in the Swift, instead focusing on comfort with an unusually soft set-up. It's pliant around town, effortlessly soaking up pimply surfaces and speed bumps, and floats happily along on the highway.
Usually that would also be reflected with loose body control, but because the Suzuki is so light, it doesn't need a rock-hard ride to keep things in check. There's more body roll than we've come to expect in modern cars when you sling it into a corner, but there's also enough grip to inspire confidence.
Speaking of which, the Swift's steering is light and requires more low-speed arm twirling than the Picanto's, but it's still perfectly acceptable.
Preference also plays a role here, but the Swift's well-judged ride and better highway demeanour give it a narrow win.
Warranty and servicing
Kia offers an industry-leading seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and you'll pay $1733 in servicing for the first five years of Picanto ownership. Services take place every 12 months.
The Swift is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and requires maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km. A recent update to the car's maintenance schedule means servicing costs add up to $1465 for the first five years, making it $268 cheaper to service than the Kia.
The Picanto wins here, by virtue of its longer warranty.
Your priorities will play a role in determining which of these hatches is the one for you.
The little Kia is cheaper, has more pizzazz, and doesn't sacrifice as much as you might expect in terms of interior space to the larger Suzuki. It's also backed by an industry-leading warranty.
But its four-speed transmission holds it back, and there's just no getting around the fact it's a smaller vehicle than the Swift.
Although it's more expensive, the Swift is a more mature car to drive. It's more comfortable to sit in, especially if you're covering long distances, and justifies its steeper sticker with technology not offered anywhere in the Picanto range.
If you have the extra money, it's worth spending it on the Swift GL Navigator with Safety Pack (phew!).
That's why it's the winner of this comparison.