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Kia Picanto Review

8 / 10
8 January 2024
Kia Picanto review front three quarter

If any car truly deserves to be called 'cheap and cheerful', it's the Kia Picanto.

This affordable city car has lightweight running costs but bags of charm thanks to its fun handling, cute styling, and impressive practicality for the size.

What we like:
  • Agile handling
  • Excellent practicality for the size
  • Clear, simple dashboard
What we don't like:
  • Can feel underpowered on the motorway
  • Slightly firm ride quality
  • Some plasticky dashboard details

Should I buy a Kia Picanto?

The Kia Picanto is one of the smallest and most affordable cars you can buy. So, surely, it's a penny-pinching, bargain basement misery box, right?

Thankfully not. Despite its diminutive dimensions and tiny price tag, the Picanto exudes the kind of charm that only the best small cars have achieved. It's genuinely entertaining to drive, with just enough grown-up sophistication to make it easy to live with day-to-day. Plus, the littlest Kia is astonishingly practical considering how small its overall footprint is.

You do have to accept a little compromise to make the Picanto so cost effective, however. Desirable equipment is reserved for higher-end trims and you'll find plenty of cheaper plastics in the cabin. In addition, neither of the non-turbo petrol engines are particularly powerful so can feel a little underwhelming on the motorway.

Interior and technology

Most of the Picanto's interior is made up of black plastic mouldings – missing out on the retro charm of the Fiat 500 or the more colourful elements you'll find in a Volkswagen Up, for example. That said, it's neatly screwed together, with no obvious creaks or rattles on the move.

What it lacks in visual impact, the Picanto's dashboard makes up for in ease of use. Most of the key controls including temperature, stereo volume and even infotainment shortcuts are physical buttons, which are easier to hit at a glance than the touchscreen-based setups in some rivals. Plus, the straightforward driver's dials feel instantly familiar compared to some of the fussy digital dials used by competitors.

Picantos in 1 and 2 trim get a simple radio with Bluetooth connectivity and an aux-in socket. Models above this come with a high-mounted touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This screen was subtly updated along with the rest of the car in 2020, gaining sharper graphics and better responses although neither system is especially tricky to get your head around.


The Picanto is small – less than 3.6 metres long – which makes the amount of space available in the cabin truly remarkable. Even with full-sized adults in the front, it's still possible to fit another pair of adults in the back, with only six-footers finding their knees grazing the front-seat backs. The Fiat 500, by way of comparison, takes up roughly the same amount of space on the road as the Picanto but has rear seats in name only.

Picantos are offered in either four or five-seat layouts – essentially by adding or removing the centre-rear seatbelt. It'd be an enormous squeeze, however, to put three passengers across the rear row, so this will only work for very, very brief drives.

The boot's more than a match for a weekly shop or a handful of cabin suitcases which, again, is impressive for a car this size. Larger items will need you to fold the rear seats down to make the most of the Picanto's boxy body.

Engines and performance

There are three petrol engines available for the Picanto – a 1.0-litre three-cylinder, a 1.25-litre four-cylinder, and another 1.0-litre three-cylinder equipped with a turbo, badged T-GDi.

The non-turbo units are more common and should be capable of returning well over 50mpg if you drive smoothly. At urban speeds, the 1.0-litre feels like a good match for the lightweight Kia, but you'll have to work it hard if you want to hit overtaking speeds on the motorway. The 1.25-litre engine is more alert around town and feels a little less strained at motorway speeds, although the long fifth gear means you might be reaching for fourth if you want an extra burst of acceleration.

Range-topping cars are available with a turbocharged 1.0-litre engine. This has quite a lot of low-down grunt compared to the non-turbo models, making it feel much more effortless at all speeds, allowing you to keep it in gear for longer when accelerating.

Driving and comfort

There's no need for an affordable commuter car like the Picanto to be fun to drive, and yet Kia has taken the time to ensure its little city car is properly entertaining behind the wheel. With its four tyres pushed right out to the car's corners, the Picanto feels planted on the move, but the short wheelbase means it steers with the reactions of a housefly, darting into tight turns like a mini hot hatch.

The Kia's composure and valiant resistance to body roll does mean its suspension errs slightly on the firmer side, however. Most bumps are felt in the cabin, although all their sharp edges are rounded off in a manner not dissimilar to some much more expensive German cars. At the same time, some high-frequency patter from scruffy road surfaces is translated through the base of your seat but, again, not so much that it makes the Picanto hard to live with.

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