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Kia Picanto 2021 review


Daily driver score

3.8/5

Urban score

3.8/5

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.

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.

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

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 Picanto features a giant 8.0-inch touchscreen (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The Picanto features a giant 8.0-inch touchscreen (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).

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.

The base S has ‘upgraded’ (but still dull) halogen headlights (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The base S has ‘upgraded’ (but still dull) halogen headlights (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).

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.

The GT-Line gets a set of upgraded projector headlights (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The GT-Line gets a set of upgraded projector headlights (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).

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).

Is there anything interesting about its design?

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.

  • The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). 
The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).
  • The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).
  • The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).
  • The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).
  • The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).
  • The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).

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 full of hard plastics (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The interior is full of hard plastics (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).

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.

Both specs excel with that massive touchscreen (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). Both specs excel with that massive touchscreen (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).

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.

How practical is the space inside?

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.

The Picanto is all about maximizing the use of its tiny footprint (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The Picanto is all about maximizing the use of its tiny footprint (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).

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.

Hopping in the back seat is a much better experience for an adult than you might imagine (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). Hopping in the back seat is a much better experience for an adult than you might imagine (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).

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 (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The boot comes in at 255 litres (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).
  • The boot comes in at 255 litres (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The boot comes in at 255 litres (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).
  • The boot comes in at 255 litres (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The boot comes in at 255 litres (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).
  • The boot comes in at 255 litres (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The boot comes in at 255 litres (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).

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.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

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.

  • The S and GT-Line continue to be powered by the same 1.25-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The S and GT-Line continue to be powered by the same 1.25-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).
  • The S and GT-Line continue to be powered by the same 1.25-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The S and GT-Line continue to be powered by the same 1.25-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).

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.

How much fuel does it consume?

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.

What's it like to drive around town?

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 Picanto offers a straightforward driving experience (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). The Picanto offers a straightforward driving experience (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).

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.

GT-Line owners will need to keep an eye out on those giant 16-inch alloy wheels (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line). GT-Line owners will need to keep an eye out on those giant 16-inch alloy wheels (pictured: 2021 Picanto GT-Line).

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.

 

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

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.

Adaptive cruise control and  blind spot monitoring aren't available anywhere in the Picanto range.

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.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

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.

The Picanto comes with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty promise (pictured: 2021 Picanto S). The Picanto comes with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty promise (pictured: 2021 Picanto S).

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.

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.

$14,690 - $17,740

Based on new car retail price

Daily driver score

3.8/5

Urban score

3.8/5