Kia Picanto 2020 s
review

2021 Kia Picanto S review

Rating: 8.1
$12,030 $14,300 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    5L
  • Engine Power
    62kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    117g
  • ANCAP Rating
    4Stars
There are fewer cars in the sub-$20,000 class than ever before. The updated Kia Picanto is one of the remaining viable options.
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Meet one of Australia’s cheapest cars. The 2021 Kia Picanto S starts from $15,190 plus on-road costs, or $16,990 drive-away. That’s for a white car with manual transmission, the exact example in these photos. For Kia, it doesn't get any more affordable than this.

Automatic transmission and metallic paint push the price to $17,990 drive-away and beyond.

Give or take a difference of $200 to $300 compared to its closest rivals, this is one of the cheapest tickets into a brand-new car.

The Kia Picanto is enjoying renewed popularity in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, as more people avoid public transport to reduce their risk of being infected with COVID-19.

The Kia Picanto now dominates its segment by a significant margin, but it’s worth understanding how it got here.

This generation of Kia Picanto has been on sale locally since 2017; however, its DNA dates back to the previous model – which came to Australia mid-2016 and was introduced globally in 2011. Which is why a recent update in the second half of 2020 was a fairly big deal for one of Australia’s smallest cars.

The changes on the base model tested here are subtle: new wheel trims, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, and a digital speed display in the instrument cluster. The flagship GT and GT-Line also gained more daring bodykit designs and new headlights.

City cars, as the industry defines them, are at a bit of a crossroads. Some are on the endangered species list or have already become extinct – handing a bigger slice of the shrinking city-car market to the diminutive Kia Picanto.

A few years ago, there were more than a dozen choices in the city-car class. Since then, we have seen the demise of runabout hatchbacks such as the Holden Barina, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20, Hyundai Accent, Suzuki Celerio, and Nissan Micra, while Honda has confirmed there will not be a Jazz sold locally after the current model reaches the end of the line.

So, what's behind the disappearing act? The models that are no longer with us effectively priced themselves out of contention.

What many buyers may not realise is that hatchbacks similar in size to the Kia Picanto cost just as much to design, engineer, and manufacture as a slightly bigger small car. However, Australian buyers don’t want to pay a premium for city cars.

The general consensus is that cars of this size and type should cost between $15,000 and $20,000 – while slightly larger small cars push into the $20,000 to $25,000 bracket.

This model Kia Picanto S manual and its direct peers – the MG 3 and Mitsubishi Mirage – are in the $15,000 to $20,000 bracket. However, they’re in the sub-$20,000 pricepoint by virtue of the fact that they are older designs.

As a result, they have had some pre-crash safety aids added to them over the years, but not the full suite of advanced technology.

In order to achieve a five-star safety result against tougher and newer criteria (which are updated every two years or so), car manufacturers must now load their new models with almost all available safety aids.

In small cars in particular, the side-impact crash tests are so severe, models such as the Toyota Yaris needed not one but two centre airbags to achieve a five-star result.

That’s one of the reasons the price of the new Toyota Yaris jumped by $9000 and is now not far off Toyota Corolla money. The latest Yaris essentially costs just as much as a Corolla to design, engineer, and manufacture – which is why the prices of Toyota's two smallest cars overlap.

While advanced safety has pushed up prices of some of our most affordable new cars, there are still a few choices in the sub-$20,000 segment.They are known as 'legacy cars'. They are older models that don’t have every available suite of advanced safety tech, but which generally do enough to protect occupants better than a used small car.

For context, the Kia Picanto has a four-star safety rating from 2017, the MG 3 has a three-star rating from 2014, and the Mitsubishi Mirage has a five-star score, but it’s from 2013. If the Mitsubishi Mirage were tested in its current guise to today’s more stringent standards, it would likely land with either a three- or four-star score.

It’s worth taking a moment to ponder safety because the smaller the car, the more protection you need on your side, especially in a crash with a bigger and heavier vehicle.

The Picanto has a fair level of safety for this size and type of car – and price – but it’s not in the same league as the new Toyota Yaris, which starts from about $25,000 drive-away.

As this article was published, there was no car priced below the Toyota Yaris with a modern five-star safety rating, as judged against 2020 testing criteria. That means cars such as the Kia Picanto offer superior safety to used small cars rather than their newer peers.

For many motorists getting back behind the wheel to avoid COVID-19, the Kia Picanto is a safer bet than a bus or a train (for health reasons), and a better bet than a 10-year-old used hatchback (for crash safety reasons).

When you look at the level of equipment in the Kia Picanto S, you might wonder how the company does it for the price. However, it’s an older platform and much of the development costs have already been amortised.

The next-generation Kia Picanto – said to still be some years away – will likely be a more expensive proposition, if recent history with newer small-car rivals is a guide.

Standard kit on the base-model 2021 Kia Picanto S tested includes air-conditioning, remote central locking with a 'flick' key, power windows (including one-touch operation up or down for the driver), power mirrors, a rear camera, rear sensors, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, cruise control, and dusk-sensing headlights.

Safety tech includes city-speed autonomous emergency braking and six airbags. Advanced aids such as blind-zone warning and rear cross-traffic alert are not available.

Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing for routine maintenance is as follows:

One year / 15,000km $280
Two years / 30,000km $461
Three years / 45,000km $335
Four years / 60,000km $504
Five years / 75,000km $315
Six years / 90,000km $577
Seven years / 105,000km $334

Some of these service prices are on the high side, so be sure to shop around. As long as the service is done by a qualified technician using appropriate parts and oils, your warranty should not be voided.

If you service the car outside the dealership, be sure to keep all receipts, including for parts used, in case you need to make a warranty claim at a later date. You will need to demonstrate that the servicing work was done by a qualified technician with suitable parts.

The warranty is seven years and unlimited kilometres for private buyers.

2021 Kia Picanto S
PriceFrom $16,990 drive-away
Engine1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power and torque62kW @ 6000rpm, 122Nm @ 4000rpm
TransmissionFive-speed manual
Driven wheelsFront-wheel drive
Weight1011kg
Fuel rating label / as tested5.8L/100km / 6.3L/100km
Fuel typeRegular unleaded (35L tank)
Seating capacity5 seats
Boot volume255L (rear seats up), 1010L (rear seats down) VDA
Spare tyreSpace-saver
Turning circle9.4m
Length / width / height (mm)3595 / 1595 / 1485
Wheelbase2400mm
Ground clearance141mm
Towing capacity (kg)N/A
Front brakes256mm ventilated discs
Rear brakes234mm solid discs
TyresKumho Eco Wing 175/65/14
0–100km/h11.5 seconds (as tested)
100km/h to zero39.3m (as tested)
Engine revs at 100km/h in fifth gear2800rpm (as tested)
ANCAP safety ratingFour stars (2017 rating year)
Warranty7 years/unlimited km
Main competitorsMitsubishi Mirage, Toyota Yaris, MG 3

On the road

The Kia Picanto is surprisingly fun to drive, even in its most basic guise. It won’t win any land-speed records, but it’s not meant to.

By runabout standards, this is a zippy car with well-sorted suspension, brakes and steering. It feels as though you’re wearing the car rather than sitting in it, such is its size and the immediate feedback.

You can feel the suspension hunker down when you’re hard on the brakes, and the steering is light and precise, whether it’s in a roundabout or a shopping centre car park. It’s a cinch to parallel park because you can see (and almost reach) every corner of the car.

The 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol engine hums along nicely, and the only time you wish you had a sixth gear (the manual is five-speed only) is when you’re on a freeway. At 100km/h in fifth, the engine is revving at about 2800rpm, which is a touch on the high side, and one of the reasons we used more fuel than the consumption label predicted (see table, above).

Around town, though, it is geared perfectly. Although the Kia Picanto feels faster than it is, we put our testing equipment on it to see how it compares to other city hatchbacks.

It stopped the clocks in the 0–100km/h dash (if you can call it that) in 11.5 seconds, which for context is only a touch slower than a new Toyota Yaris. Suffice to say, it has enough oomph to comfortably keep flow with traffic, but it won’t exactly pin your ears back with exhilaration.

We also brake-tested from 100km/h to zero in an emergency stop, pulling up in 39.3m. To be frank, given the Kia Picanto is so light (about 1000kg all told), it should stop in a shorter distance than this, especially armed with four-wheel discs in a class dominated by rear drum brakes.

However, the 'eco' Kumho tyres are designed for low friction, and this was noticeable when braking and cornering. Full disclosure: the Toyota GR Yaris also pulled up in about 39m in the same conditions on the exact same stretch of tarmac, which is an indictment on its particular Dunlop 'performance' tyre package, rather than a compliment for the Kia.

The Kia’s Kumho tyres were fine in the dry, but they became slippery in the wet (more so than other tyres on other similar cars we’ve tested recently). So, be sure to take it easy.

If you are a tyre fanatic, the Kia Picanto would benefit greatly from quality rubber. If you buy tyres on price (as most people do), you’ll be fine, just take it easy in the wet.

The interior has five lap-sash seatbelts, but this is better suited to four adults at best. One-up or two-up there's plenty of room for shopping across the back seat and in the generously sized boot.

Visibility all around is good thanks to the large glass area, wide-view side mirrors, and the compact size of the car. It's a good confidence-builder for first-time drivers, but would also suit drivers who just need a commuter car or a shopping runabout.

Overall, the Kia Picanto S is a good option if you need a city runabout that can squeeze into tight parking spaces.

Although it lacks some of the latest advanced safety aids, this is a fair alternative to an older used small car and feels right at home in tight city and suburban streets. It’s easy to see the renewed appeal of this car.

Verdict

The Kia Picanto is a quality option in the city-car class, but it lacks the advanced safety aids and five-star score of newer rivals.