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Car reviews - Kia - Picanto - S

Our Opinion

We like
Affordability, design, quality, value, features performance, steering, handling, cabin layout, comfort, refinement, safety (AEB now standard), versatility, seven-year warranty
Room for improvement
No digital speedo, ride is a tad firmer than hoped for, four-star ANCAP rating (done before AEB standardised), not much else


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13 Feb 2018


KIA’S third-generation Picanto looks, feels and drives like a shrunken Rio – that is to say, it isn’t ungainly, uncomfortable or unruly to drive.

Australians aren’t really in sync with city cars this small, but as an alternative to a used runabout, the Picanto offers affordability and peace of mind that is difficult to overlook.

Price and equipment

So, you have $15,000 to spend on a car. New or used?Going the latter can net you any number of still-under-warranty two-year-olds – some very worthy (such as a Mazda2 or Suzuki Swift) while others, such as a Holden Barina, Mitsubishi Mirage or Toyota Yaris, are mired in unnecessary mediocrity. Either way, you’d be buying somebody else’s unwanted car.

Here’s where the Picanto steps in. Kia’s third-gen supermini since 2004, the German-engineered, South-Korean-built hatch arrived in 2016 to firmly establish the brand in the bottom end of the new-car scene. Sassy styling. Lots of features. Stacks of warranty. Autonomous emergency braking. That never-sat-inside-before smell… little wonder sales soared.

And this is in a market that seems to ignore city cars.

Now there’s the Mk3 ‘JA’ version, wearing a fresh set of clothes, overhauled oily bits and a slightly larger interior.

For your $14,190 plus on-road costs, the Picanto S scores big with goodies like a AEB with forward collision warning, four-wheel disc brakes, six airbags, reversing camera, cruise control, rear parking sensors, auto on/off headlights, a central touchscreen offering Apple CarPlay/Android Apple phone connectivity, USB and AUX plugs, electric windows all round and – last but not least ­– Kia’s industry-pioneering seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Try finding all that in a used 2016 Hyundai Accent! No wonder each one that Kia lands in Australia is currently being snapped up.


Kia’s exterior styling has pretty much been at the apex of mainstream brand design over the past decade, and the latest Picanto is no exception. Clearly inspired by the late and lamented (in Oz) Volkswagen Up – with a touch of Polo here and there – the Germanic influence is evident everywhere.

Wide doors open up to an inviting interior, offering ample space for four tall adults (five at a squeeze), commandingly high seating, plenty of all-round vision, and a properly sorted driving position. The steering column tilts rather than telescopes, but that doesn’t stop users finding an ideal angle.

Along with the 1967 Ford Galaxie tail-light-esque look of the vertical (and extremely effective) air vents, what’s most striking is how functional yet detailed the pretty dashboard is. The plastic three-spoke wheel could be out of a Skoda the white-on-black instrument dials ooze classy and the tablet-like touchscreen and stylised heater/vent switchgear would flatter an A1. Or, rather, Audi ought to feel flattered. Access to and understanding of all the controls is simple, and there is no shortage of storage. Plus, the Picanto is comparatively quiet for a cheapie in this segment.

And that’s just the front row. Out back there’s oodles of space for big feet to tuck underneath the front seat (important in a car so short). You’ll find one map pocket, cupholder and coat hook and two overhand grab handles, a surprisingly accommodating middle centre seat and door elbow rests.

Yes, there’s lots of hard plastic in there, but it’s all beautifully built, nicely contrasted and not at all nasty like Kia interiors once were, with smooth edges and appealing textures. The only obvious omission is an overhead reading light. But if you’re familiar with the previous Picanto you’ll also spot the missing front seatbelt height adjustment, or the fact that the rear cushions no longer tip forward for a super-flat floor. Boot space is a reasonable 255 litres, aided by a space-saver spare and the fact that the 30/70-split seatbacks fold.

Engine and transmission

As with the previous Picanto, the JA employs Kia’s long-lived 1.2-litre ‘Kappa’ twin-cam petrol engine. Delivering 62kW of power and 122Nm of torque, it’s mated to a five-speed manual gearbox (or optional and quite effective four-speed torque-converter auto – so much nicer than most rivals’ CVTs).

Performance is sufficiently lively around the ‘burbs, with a zingy eagerness even at fairly slow engine speeds, and, as long as the driver is willing to rev that little atmo four-pot to 6500rpm, adequate for highway use as well.

Rowing that slick little gear lever is necessary if loaded with gear (as our car was), or if steep hills await, but considering how small the engine is, there’s an unburstable can-do ability to the way the Picanto zips about – a consistency that doesn’t feel like the owner has been short-changed choosing the dinkiest Kia. And it does so with little mechanical noise and no harshness.

In fact, so well-conceived and executed is the manual that there is little need to opt for the auto.

Our economy figures were also commendable – in the mid-to-high 5s despite plenty of enthusiastic red-lining – highlighting the fun that can be had with this sort of frugality.

Sadly the 1.0-litre turbo offered in Europe has yet to materialise in Aussie-bound Picantos, but here’s hoping. That ought to be a hoot.

Ride and handling

Speaking of the upcoming turbo version, this car’s platform can certainly handle more power.

The Picanto’s charm continues in the handling department, due in no small part to a chassis that is sporty but not hard.

Find a corner and you’ll likely be delighted with how agile the eager and nimble Kia can carve through, even at speed, with only a bit of leaning and lots of grip. Soon every roundabout beckons the more enthusiastic driver to slice right through.

Being primarily a city car, though, a tight turning circle is important, and here again the Picanto obliges armed with both a reversing camera and rear sensors, this is one of the easiest and lightest vehicles to nip into a tight parking spot.

There’s also a reasonable amount of suspension pliancy over small road irregularities, but larger bumps do reveal a firmness to the ride, leaving us thinking that a bit more wheel travel would probably not go astray, even at the expense of body control.

Still, as it stands, the Kia’s comfortable enough over rougher surfaces, and has the added benefit of having quite good noise suppression for a car in this category. And the reassurance of the four-wheel disc brakes further adds to the Picanto’s impressive dynamic finesse.

It’s again very clear that Germany as well as South Korea figured very strongly in this car’s development.

Safety and servicing

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has given the Picanto a four-star rating, though we suspect that as the testing was conducted before AEB was introduced during the second half of 2017, the outcome might have been bumped up to five stars.

Kia’s warranty is for seven years/unlimited kilometres. The first seven services are capped to seven years or 105,000kms, whichever comes first.

Picanto service intervals are at every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.


The Picanto is yet another Kia that can. Excellent design, strong execution, impressive value and leading aftersales care, the Korean-built city runabout certainly cuts it as a charming all-rounder. Its success is deserved.

The S also offers AEB with forward collision warning, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and USB/AUX ports – all important additions you’ll not likely find on a used car at this price.

We’d love to see that turbo petrol engine (coming soon we hear), but other than that, there’s plenty to like and hardly anything otherwise in the third-gen Picanto.

Long live the city car! Rivals

Holden Spark from $13,990 plus on-road costs
The second-gen Spark is as good as its Barina Spark predecessor was awful, offering a big-car feel inside and from behind the wheel. A bit thirsty for a city car, but otherwise the supermini from South Korea gets a thumb’s up.

Fiat 500 Pop 1.2 from $17,900 plus on-road costs
Five years ago, Fiat lit a fire with the base 500’s $13,990-driveaway pricing, and sales soared, but now it’s too expensive and too short on features. Still, nothing touches this four-seater Italian icon for design and sheer feel-good factor.

Suzuki Ignis GL from $15,990 plus on-road costs
Appealing design, great packaging and superb efficiency make the Suzuki exceptional on paper, but on Australian roads, dull steering and harsh suspension sour the experience. Such a shame because there’s heaps to love about the Ignis.

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