Australians who want a small, zippy town car have been in consensus lately. Kia’s pint-sized Picanto has taken the so-called micro car market by the short-n-curlies.
In 2019, the Fiat 500 and Mitsubishi Mirage put up little resistance to this barnstorming Korean, which netted 80.5 per cent of the segment. Of course, this has been helped by many makes departing this segment as huge swathes of buyers prepare to step up small SUVs instead.
Regardless, the Picanto has been seen as the critical favourite of this minnow (in more ways than one) segment by buyers and CarAdvice alike.
2021 sees a facelift for the Kia Picanto, and we are behind the wheel. We’ve got the 2021 Kia Picanto GT-Line, to be specific.
While that name often means top-spec for Kias, there is a more expensive GT in the Picanto range (the updated version of which has yet to land in Australia). The range starts with the Picanto S manual from $16,490 drive-away and finishes at the manual-only GT at $19,990. Undercutting it slightly is the $18,990 drive-away GT-Line auto tested here.
If an automatic isn't your first choice, the GT-Line can be had with three pedals for $17,990 drive-away.
The whole range now boasts a new 8.0-inch infotainment display for 2021, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with a 4.2-inch multifunction display in front of the driver.
Opting for the extra spend in the GT-Line gets you more style and details front and rear, along with 16-inch alloy wheels and projector halogen headlights (S uses a more basic multi-faceted reflector halogen light).
There are a few extra bits that one might miss at a glance: solar windscreen and front windows, electric heated and folding mirrors, and a handful of exterior LED lights.
Inside, a premium steering wheel, alloy pedals, height-adjustable front seatbelts, and a handful of different interior and seat trimmings help set the GT-Line apart.
It’s a shame the Australian market misses out on the new safety features available in other markets, including blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert and lane-keep assist. Kia is presumably keeping its profits high and/or prices low, but the safety credentials of the Picanto suffer.
The Australian-specification Picanto get city-speed autonomous emergency braking and a four-star ANCAP safety rating that dates back to 2017.
In terms of size, you're looking at 3595mm of length, 1595mm of width and 1485mm of height. The turning circle is commensurably small: 9.4m.
The Picanto GT-Line’s interior is cheerful without being overtly cheap. The important touchpoints like the steering wheel and centre console (which is tiny, by the way) add a premium touch, and the red accents throw in a measure of character.
The interior is small, yes, but it’s comfortable enough for buzzing around. The driver gets a sliding and height-adjustable seat, but only tilt adjustment through the steering wheel. There’s room for a smartphone below the climate control, along with two cupholders and single USB and 12V outlets.
The second row is light on space with precious little leg room for adults, but feels airy enough with decent-sized windows. There are ISOFIX points and top tether points for baby seats, but don’t expect to fit a big double pram in the back at the same time. The Picanto prefers travel prams.
The boot’s low-slung floor yields 255L, more than you might expect before you pop it open, and it hides a space-saver spare under a false floor. Not a bad number, and some useful space provided you stack your gear up.
The GT-Line gets a bigger in size but smaller in output 1.2-litre engine, which is less enjoyable and less powerful than the 1.0-litre turbocharged GT. There is 62kW at 6000rpm and 122Nm at 4000rpm from the non-turbo four-cylinder.
In our case, this runs through a four-speed automatic gearbox, although opting for the cheaper manual transmission will get you an extra gear ratio.
For reference’s sake, the turbo three-cylinder makes 74kW at 4500rpm and 172Nm at 1500–4000rpm using a claimed 4.8 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.
Claimed economy for our automatic GT-Line is 5.8L/100km on the combined cycle, moving to 7.9 around town and 4.6 on the highway. In our testing we averaged 7.4L/100km, which included a mix of town and highway driving.
The Picanto feels a little bit punchy off the line, with the torque-converter gearbox responding quickly to a healthy blat of throttle. With third gear being your 1.00:1 straight drive, second gear has its work cut out covering a fair amount of ground.
To be fair, the Picanto doesn’t feel underpowered getting up to highway speeds. Only when loaded up with people, or put to task up an incline, do you start to feel it wheezing in the higher rev range, or dropping back a gear to explore the somewhat thrashy redline.
Any speeds north of 100km/h correlate to 3000rpm and over, which isn’t as noisy an experience as you might think. Acceleration is decent as well, although there certainly isn’t any pinning into the back of the seat.
Although the highway experience isn’t necessarily a bad one, the Picanto feels most at home zipping around town, slicing quickly through intersections and roundabouts. The ride is playful if slightly firm, but not resorting to discomfort. The short (2400mm) wheelbase skips over joins and potholes happily, but doesn’t resort to crashiness. Perhaps the smaller 14-inch wheels in S spec would make for an even better ride.
The steering feels responsive and yields a competent and playful cornering nature. Most thousand-odd-kilogram cars are inherently fun to drive, and this Picanto is no different, even though it misses out on the gutsier boosted donk and more engaging manual gearbox. Also worth noting is that the Picanto GT gets a specific suspension and steering tune more tailored to dynamic driving.
Another natural strength of the Picanto is the warranty, which boasts seven years and unlimited kilometres of coverage.
Cost of ownership is covered with a seven-year capped-price servicing program. With intervals every 12 months or 15,000km, your visits are set at $269, $450, $324, $493, $303, $565 and $322. That equates to $1839 over five years, or $2726 for the full seven.
The Picanto looks to continue its domination of the segment, and now with improved infotainment. Wireless smartphone integration is a rarity even beyond this segment, although it would be nice for Kia to complete the picture with digital radio functionality.
As a city runabout, the Picanto feels like a solid overall package without any obvious shortcomings. Although, it’s worth saying that while the Picanto led the pack with standard AEB a few years ago, its safety credentials are starting to look the worse for wear with age.
The driveline is adequate in terms of refinement and performance, and can net impressive fuel consumption figures (if driven correctly). The steering and ride are engaging and fun, but comfortable enough for everyday usage.
It’s also worth considering the GT over the GT-Line if you’re not allergic to shifting your own gears. The additional $1000 in spend over a manual GT-Line represents a fairly manageable five per cent jump in asking price, but adds in a big dose of fun and some tepidly warm performance.