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Kia Picanto 2018 review

EXPERT RATING
7.9
The Kia Picanto commands almost half of all micro-car sales in this country, so what makes it so compelling? Price? Looks? Quality? Being fun to drive? Safety gear? Or could it be all of those things?

Sales of micro cars are as small as the cars themselves. Really, there are just four choices for Australian buyers, but that includes the dwindling stock of the discontinued Suzuki Celerio.

Gone are the halcyon days of the Hyundai i20 and Nissan Micra, Australians rejected the rather good (but manual-only) Volkswagen Up and thus today the clear leader in the segment is the Kia Picanto.

The new Picanto is far and away the best-selling car in the segment, pitted against Mitsubishi's underwhelming Mirage and Holden's ageing Spark, both of which show monthly sales that have dropped to double digits. The Picanto commands almost half of micro-car sales, with Kia shifting 250 a month. What makes it so compelling? Price? Looks? Quality? Being fun to drive? Safety gear? Or could it be all of those things?

Kia Picanto 2018: S (AEB)
Safety rating
Engine Type1.2L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$13,000

Is there anything interesting about its design?  8/10

This is Kia Australia's second run at the Picanto and, as is the case with the rest of the Kia range, it's a looker. While it's hard to get the proportions right in such a small car that also has to be practical, it's an excellent effort.

The new 'Tiger grille' and lights are a tougher (but still friendly) look than before and are distinctive in their class. The Mitsubishi Mirage looks like the budget, developing-market car that it is and the Suzuki Celerio is just odd-looking, which might explain its sales figures.

  • The new 'Tiger grille' and lights are a tougher look than before. The new 'Tiger grille' and lights are a tougher look than before.
  • The look of the Picanto is distinctive in its class. The look of the Picanto is distinctive in its class.

Probably the only PIcanto let down is the funny little wheels with hubcaps. For the price, you can't have it all, but they do look small.

Inside it's hardly avant-garde yet handsome enough, with class-mandatory hard plastics. The whopping 7.0-inch screen dominates the cabin. Apart from that, everything is clear and obvious and seems reasonably hardy. The cloth trim isn't nearly as cheap as the neoprene-style fabric in other cars in this segment.

How practical is the space inside?  8/10

The boot is literally a big surprise, swallowing 255 litres with the rear seats up and 1010 litres with them down. It would be nice to have a false floor as the boot is quite deep (but that obviously helps with the volume) and when you fold the seats, "flat" is the last adjective you would use for the load space.

Probably the only PIcanto let down is the funny little wheels with hubcaps. Probably the only PIcanto let down is the funny little wheels with hubcaps.

Apart from that you've got two cupholders up front and a single in the rear. Bottle holders grace the front doors and a smart interior designer has whacked an iPhone Plus-sized tray under the USB port.

Passenger space is predictably limited in the back, but front-seat passengers do very nicely indeed. This Picanto has a longer wheelbase, which has mostly been handed to those up front, while the rear is a little tighter. Having said that, short trips for up to 180cm rear occupants are doable, if not luxurious.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?  8/10

The Picanto S comes in two flavours - manual or auto, with the latter starting at $15,690. Add premium paint, like the lairy 'Honey Bee' yellow of our test car, and it rises to $16,210, courtesy of a stiff $520 impost for its shiny coat. But it's very unlikely you'll have to pay that if you know how to negotiate at all. The manual, by comparison, is $14,190.

  • The four-speed auto blunts what little it has got, whereas the manual makes more of what's there. The four-speed auto blunts what little it has got, whereas the manual makes more of what's there.
  • Passenger space is predictably limited in the back. Passenger space is predictably limited in the back.

Standard are 14-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a four-speaker stereo with Bluetooth and USB, four-wheel disc brakes, power windows all round, cloth trim, remote central locking, cruise control, electric and heated mirrors and a space-saver spare.

The 7.0-inch touchscreen dominates the interior like a 60-inch TV dominates a lounge room. Kia's media software is shared with Hyundai and it's quite good. That also means Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, making it a standout in the class. It also means a good view out for the reversing camera and a big maps display when you use navigation apps. So no need for factory sat nav, either. It's just a pity that the four speakers are so small, and a touch tinny.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?  7/10

Under the Picanto's stubby bonnet is a 1.25-litre 16-valve four cylinder producing 62kW and 122Nm. Power is fed to the front wheels via a five-speed manual or, in our car's case, a four-speed automatic.

The four-speed is a bit old-school, but at least it's not a CVT.

The vast majority of buyers will not muster up enough energy to care about the four-speed automatic, but it is a bit old-school and means high revs on the freeway. At least it's not a CVT.

How much fuel does it consume?  7/10

The official combined-cycle figure for the Picanto auto is 5.8L/100km, but we struggled to get under 8.2L/100km. It's not a terrible number but the Kia's tiny 35-litre fuel tank means regular stops for petrol and the economy figure was probably that high because we ran almost exclusively in the city. As will most Picantos, frankly.

What's it like to drive?  8/10

I am going to declare ahead of time my bias to small, underpowered, slightly under-tyred cars. I just love them. The base-model Honda Jazz and Renault Clio are lots of fun, great to drive and tiny. The Picanto takes the fun of both of these cars and pushes it further into the smile zone, in an even smaller package.

  • The boot is literally a big surprise, swallowing 255 litres with the rear seats up. The boot is literally a big surprise, swallowing 255 litres with the rear seats up.
  •  When you fold the seats "flat" is the last adjective you would use. When you fold the seats "flat" is the last adjective you would use.

Recent history has delivered a couple of pretty disappointing machines in this micro-car segment - the Mitsubishi Mirage is a deeply ordinary car and the Suzuki Celerio never really recovered from a troubled start. You could put the Fiat 500 in this bunch, but it's over $20,000 and, while it's not a bad car, it's not really a budget alternative.

It took a day or two, but once I got past the four-speed automatic (I'd choose a manual in a heartbeat), the Picanto is a brilliant small car. Its ride and handling have had the local treatment from Kia's suspension team and the results are excellent.

The 1.25-litre isn't a bad engine, but it's old and isn't exactly overflowing with  urge .

The lady of the house enjoyed driving it, gravitating towards the Kia for its general chuckability and the fact it fits pretty much anywhere and is a dream to park.

The drivetrain is probably the Picanto's weakest link. The 1.25-litre isn't a bad engine, but it's old and isn't exactly overflowing with urge. The four-speed auto blunts what little it has got, whereas the manual (as enjoyed by fellow CarsGuider Andrew Chesterton) makes more of what's there. I spent a lot of time with my foot to the floor in the auto, which is a shame because a bit more power and torque and/or another gear or two would make the Kia a lot more relaxed.

The Picanto comes with a space-saver spare. The Picanto comes with a space-saver spare.

What was surprising was the Kia's motorway performance. While single-carriageway country roads wouldn't be much fun if you were stuck behind a caravan, the Kia is an impressively quiet and usable machine when streaking along at 100km/h.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

7 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?  8/10

Kia fits six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, auto emergency braking, reversing camera, three top-tether anchorages and two ISOFIX points.

ANCAP awarded a four-star safety rating in September 2017.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?  9/10

The Picanto comes with Kia's excellent seven-year/unlimited km warranty, which includes roadside assist for the duration.

Part of the package is a capped-price-servicing regime for the first seven visits, which are scheduled every 12 months or 15,000km. Services range from $240 to $532, with a seven-year total of $2552 or a seven service average of $365.

Pricing Guides

$16,575
Based on 724 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$12,980
Highest Price
$18,531

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
AO EDITION 1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $14,900 – 17,790 2018 KIA PICANTO 2018 AO EDITION Pricing and Specs
GT (TURBO) 1.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $17,888 – 17,990 2018 KIA PICANTO 2018 GT (TURBO) Pricing and Specs
GT-LINE 1.2L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $14,990 – 18,500 2018 KIA PICANTO 2018 GT-LINE Pricing and Specs
S (AEB) 1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $13,000 – 15,190 2018 KIA PICANTO 2018 S (AEB) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.9
Design8
Practicality8
Price and features8
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Driving8
Safety8
Ownership9

“The Picanto is a terrific small car with the manners and handling of a bigger one. The whole family was quite taken with the Picanto, our opinion only growing more positive as the week progressed. With a better engine (and one is coming), the Picanto's almost 50 per cent segment share would only grow, because sometimes, in the micro-car world, quality wins.”

If you're not already convinced, what does the Picanto need to lure you away from the bargain basement Mirage or a premium retro Fiat 500? Tell us in the comments.

Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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