Hyundai i20 VS Kia Picanto
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
- Excellent value
- Seven year warranty
- Makes the most of its size
- S feels a bit basic still
- Both transmissions have drawbacks
- Barren back seat
After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021.
On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.
But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Kia Picanto is not only one of the smallest brand new cars you can buy in Australia, it’s also one of the most affordable.
Despite that though, the Picanto and cars like it are becoming an increasingly rare breed in Australia.
Read More:Kia Picanto 2021 review: S snapshot
This is partially because manufacturers are finding it increasingly hard to bring small cars to our relatively remote country with our more stringent safety requirements.
But, it’s also consistently true that what might work on the streets of Seoul or Tokyo might not necessarily translate well into the vast expanses of Australia.
But if you are just sticking to a metro capital, isn’t a car like the Picanto all you really need? To find out we’ve driven the updated-for-2021 Kia Picanto range. Read on to see what we made of it.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot.
Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..
Really when you boil everything away, the Picanto is probably all the car you need around one of Australia’s capital cities. This little car is brilliantly equipped on the multimedia front, is smartly packaged with a long warranty, and even offers a decent drive experience too.
It’s the lack of a compelling intercity drive experience that will really stop it from being the kind of car most Australians want. But as a second car or daily runabout, it’s hard to fault.
Our pick of the range is the S auto for its supreme value and better ride quality.
Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out.
That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen.
Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.
Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.
The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at. I even like how plain the base car is with its dorky 14-inch steel wheels and flat paint, but the Picanto really stands out as a true city car in a segment that barely exists anymore.
Japanese manufacturers (for safety or price reasons) don’t bother to bring cars like this to our market, so it’s unique to see something that literally exudes its practical boxy aesthetic rolling around our streets.
While you can option the S in ridiculous colours, the GT-Line really brings a bunch of attitude with its over-the-top angry face, slicker-than-they-should-be alloy wheels, and nicer interior treatment. It’s streets-of-Asia kerb appeal won’t be for everyone I suppose, but you’re left with few options in this class.
The interior is, as you might imagine, full of hard plastics. This is especially noticeable in the base S which misses out on soft surfaces for your elbows – a pain (literally) on longer journeys.
Both specs excel with that massive touchscreen and bright multi-function cluster to bring a bit of wow-factor compared to rivals.
The dash design and simple but effective steering wheel help the Picanto feel like it’s no less a part of Kia’s increasingly design-led range with tastefully applied silvers and gloss finishes.
Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here.
It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.
For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.
That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
It should be clear from the outside that the Picanto is all about maximizing the use of its tiny footprint, and from the inside that goal has been achieved.
You’ll notice immediately from the driver’s seat how big the Picanto’s tall roof makes the interior feel. You do sit quite upright, and there’s no telescopic adjust for the steering, but I had no trouble finding a comfortable seating position regardless.
Kias generally have plenty of cabin storage, and the brand has done what it can with the space available in the Picanto. There are small binnacles in the doors with a decent bottle-holder, several small binnacles on the transmission tunnel, with a modest console box in the GT-Line, and a two-tiered shelf with neat flip-out cupholders under the air-conditioning controls.
Connectivity on offer includes a single USB port and 12-volt outlet for front passengers.
Hopping in the back seat is a much better experience for an adult than you might imagine. If you look at the Picanto in profile, it’s clear the brand has maximized the amount of aperture space for the doors, as they take up so much of the car’s diminutive length. This helps the rear seats be 90 per cent as easy to get into as the front ones.
Sitting behind my own driving position, I was pleasantly surprised to find airspace for my knees, and the same tall roofline made ensured there were no issues for my head either.
One area you will suffer in the rear row is a lack of amenities. There are no power outlets, cupholders, or adjustable vents, regardless of variant.
The boot comes in at 255 litres, which doesn’t sound like much, but is on par with the slightly larger Mazda2. I found much of that quoted number is useful, too, as the boot would eat the largest (125L) CarsGuide travel case with a little extra room to spare on either side. A space-saver spare wheel even lives under the boot floor on every grade.
Price and features
This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark.
In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.
Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...
Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.
For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.
Like its size or not, the Kia Picanto is a relatively rare offering which is also great value. The base S, for example, starts from just $14,390 before on-road costs, which makes it the second cheapest brand new car on sale in Australia (pipped, just, by the soon-to-be discontinued Mitsubishi Mirage ES).
Imagine how taken aback I was to discover that this incredibly affordable little car has wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto (an Australian first) on its giant 8.0-inch touchscreen. Amazing. This is a feature we were surprised came on a $50k Audi Q3, and here it appears on what could soon be Australia’s cheapest brand-new car.
The base S also has ‘upgraded’ (but still dull) halogen headlights, and a full colour multi-function display in the dash cluster. The same cloth seats, 14-inch steel wheels, plastic steering wheel, and basic air conditioning also feature.
Next rung up is the GT-Line starting from $16,140. It gets re-designed and more aggressive styling front and rear, a set of upgraded projector headlights and LED DRLs, 16-inch alloy wheels, a better interior treatment including gloss finishes, soft-touch surfaces, as well as a leather bound wheel and leather-look seats, alloy pedals, and a centre console box.
A somewhat antiquated four-speed (torque converter) automatic transmission can be optioned to replace the standard five-speed manual at a $1600 premium on either variant.
Both cars also get a decent safety suite (with a caveat) explained later in this review, and as always this car’s lengthy seven-year warranty is a major draw.
The top-spec GT manual will also return later this year at $18,990 and will include a slightly revised 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and five-speed manual at $18,990. Final spec hasn’t been locked in for this halo variant, so stay tuned for a single car review when it becomes available.
How does the Picanto compare to rivals other than the Mirage? You could compare it against the increasingly popular MG3 Core (auto-only from $17,190) or similarly-sized Suzuki Ignis GL (from $16,960).
Engine & trans
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.
So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.
We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.
More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.
The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.
The S and GT-Line continue to be powered by the same 1.25-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine with outputs of 62kW/122Nm. While not an impressive number to quote, it’s about right for something this size and weight.
This engine can be paired to either a five-speed manual or throwback four-speed torque converter automatic.
The GT will offer more oomph with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo providing a punchier 74kW/172Nm, although it's only offered with the five-speed manual. The Picanto range is front-wheel drive only.
That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet.
We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank.
Old engine tech means not particularly impressive fuel figures. At least, that’s what I found after testing the S manual and GT-line auto back-to-back over two weeks.
Official combined cycle figures have the five-speed manual S (as tested) consume 5.0L/100km, while the GT-Line auto is claimed to sip 5.8L/100km.
Our real-world figures over city, suburban, and freeway kays saw the manual S return 6.4L/100km and the auto GT-Line slip to 7.5L/100km
Those numbers are by no means a deal breaker, given they're not much higher than the claim, but hatchbacks a full size larger than this with 2.0-litre non-turbo engines can deliver equal or better real-world consumption.
The Picanto’s tiny 35-litre fuel tank needs to be called out. This car may be a fuel sipper, but you'll still be refueling with annoying regularity.
How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.
Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?
If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?
Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former.
Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.
But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.
One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.
There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time.
It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel.
Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.
The Picanto offers a pretty straightforward driving experience, which is a plus in a car this simple.
The 62kW 1.2-litre engine in both our test cars proved peppy enough for the Picanto’s weight. It won’t set any hearts on fire, but I think it’s more than adequate for the task at hand.
The basic transmissions threw up a few typical issues. The four-speed auto is particularly transparent, lurching through each gear with little panache. The lack of ratios on offer makes accelerating in the auto a noisy, thrashy experience, and it’s evidently not the best for fuel consumption, either.
The manual meanwhile proves a bit better for keeping the revs in check with its extra gear, but has a simple and somewhat sloppy action, which makes switch cogs yourself a less than 'sporty' experience.
The ride is locally tuned, although I found it most compliant in the base S with its larger tyres. The 16-inch sporty wheels on the GT-Line increase cabin noise and ride harshness significantly.
Neither car was quiet above that 80km/h freeway mark, in terms of road and engine noise (with the 1.2 running at 3000rpm at 100km/h on the flat) making for predictably raucous inter-city drives.
I found the steering to be surprisingly direct and full of feel, giving the Picanto at least a little spark of entertainment for driving around city streets.
The Picanto also has to be one of the easiest cars in Australia to park. Visibility is fantastic all-round, and you’ll fit in pretty much any spot you can find. GT-Line owners will need to keep an eye out on those giant alloy wheels, however.
More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit.
The good news here is the Picanto impresses with standard city-speed auto emergency braking and forward collision warning regardless of variant chosen.
That’s great, and puts it ahead of its main rivals, the MG3 and Ignis but annoyingly that’s where the active items stop.
Interesting, given in its Korean home market the Picanto scores rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and driver attention alert.
Passive items include two ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat mounting points (good luck getting a third child seat in the rear row), six airbags, and the usual electronic stability and traction controls.
The Picanto carries a four-star (from a possible five) ANCAP safety rating as of 2017.
Like all Kias the Picanto carries that famous, class-leading seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty promise, rivalled in this segment only by the MG3 which now has a warranty of the same length.
Service pricing is capped for the life of the warranty and varies from $269 to $565 per yearly (or 15,000km, which ever comes first) interval, for a surprisingly expensive average yearly spend of $389.42.