The original small, cute looking Kia Picanto was released in 2004, and it was very well received. The model tested here is the second generation car, released in 2011. A facelift model has just come out which has several updates from the car we drove, notably new bumpers, a re-styled, brighter-lit instrument cluster, redesigned steering wheel controls, and several other small tweaks. The engine, transmission, running gear, and price remain unchanged.

Being a small car it’s available in a range of bright colours – yellow, red, two blues, and even pink. Our test car was a very sensible black. It looks smart though with alloys, a rear spoiler and side skirts. We are cheating a little bit with this one for our $20k Challenge as the test car is the EX spec with a list price of $20,990. The LX is $2k cheaper though, plus this particular pre-facelift car is currently on special at $19,990.


The interior is uncomplicated, well laid out with lots of black plastic, and silver highlights. The plastic is decent quality and solid feeling for a car in this segment. There are knobs for the temperature controls with an interesting double level knob for fan speed and interior/exterior vent. The steering wheel is much nicer than some of the other cars in this price range, leather trimmed with a good shape, though I’m not sure about the plastic trim at the bottom. On the wheel are controls for the stereo and phone. I like the flip-up-and-down controls for volume and track number. The instruments are clear with a large central speedo, inset with a digital display for trip computer and odometer, rev counter and fuel gauge either side.

There are pockets and bottle holders in the doors, a massive 9.6 litre glove box, and some nifty rotating cup holders in the centre to convert between holding two cups, or a larger storage space. The stereo has Bluetooth and USB input, and there’s a power socket for your phone charger. The EX has six speakers, the cheaper LX has four. The sound is clear, but there isn’t a lot of bass.


First Impressions

For such a small car, the Picanto is surprisingly big inside. I’m a pretty average height and with the seat in a comfortable driving position I could fit in the back with ample leg room. As with all cars this size it would fit four comfortably but five would be a bit of a squeeze over longer distances.

The seats are comfortable. Not a lot of side support, but this isn’t a sports car, and they’re better than some of the competitors. The driver’s seat is height adjustable and the steering wheel adjusts for height too so it was easy to get a comfortable driving position. The windscreen is fairly tall, giving great forward visibility.

The suspension feels firm but pliant in the way that a lot of larger modern cars do. You feel the bumps and get feedback from the wheel, but it’s not harsh. This firmness translates to decent cornering with minimal body roll, especially compared to other small cars. In fact I’d say compared to most small cars I’ve driven recently it feels more grown-up as though it’s a generation newer. The brakes are excellent too. They are discs front and rear and have great feel, giving real confidence when braking.


The four cylinder 1.25 litre engine produces 64kW and 121Nm and is mated to a four speed auto transmission. There aren’t any modes, or manual shift options, just the traditional auto shifter with 1/2/D and reverse, but it does its job and is well matched to the engine. The engine has a nice little growl to it, and doesn’t get harsh at higher revs like the three cylinders often do. It feels pretty nippy around town, partly due to the car’s light weight. By the time I had driven it home I was really starting to like the Picanto.

It has all of the usual safety acronyms – ABS, Vehicle stability Management, Electronic Stability Control, Hill Start Assist. There are six airbags, with the EX having a seventh driver knee airbag. Seatbelt pre-tensioners are also standard.

Rear parking sensors are included, as are heated electrically adjustable mirrors, which also fold in with the press of a button. The EX has auto lights too. The EX also adds front fog lights, LED daytime lights (the LX has traditional bulb running lights). The EX has 15” rather than 14” alloys.

One thing I was surprised it didn’t have was cruise control. It would have been nice to have as it’s a great feature for making sure you don’t accidentally speed, especially out on the highways. And the Picanto makes a pretty decent highway cruiser – it’s quiet, happy to cruise at 100kph, and doesn’t struggle to get there like some small cars seem to.


My AutoClique colleague Fred and I met up to compare the cars we had. I swapped to the Skoda Fabia, he took the Picanto, and we drove out along the winding roads to Makara Beach. The Fabia has a turbocharged engine, making about the same power but more torque than the Kia, and that made a noti
ceable difference. Combined with a manual gearbox it made the Fabia feel much quicker. But I preferred the handling and brakes of the Kia. The similarly priced Skoda seemed to have a lot more toys than the Kia.

The Kia warranty is impressive: 5 year/100000k warranty; 5 year roadside assist and 5 year incident care. Incident care helps you if you have an accident – Kia manage the process of repair, recovery and delivery of the car, provide a courtesy car and help with the insurance claim process, as long as you have your own insurance. Kia’s confidence in their product is justified – a 2013 reliability in the UK survey placed the Picanto first, with the fewest reported problems of any new car.


What it’s up against

As the Kia Picanto is part of our $20K Challenge, you can check out its rankings on the updated table here.

The good and the bad

Pros Cons
  • Handles well
  • Build quality
  • Great warranty
  • A little more equipment would be nice


What do we think?

I really enjoyed the long weekend I spent driving the Picanto. We used it for our family transport, went to the shops, DIY store etc and I could see myself using it daily. It feels solid and well built,  and has a good warranty to back that up. Equipment levels could be a little higher to compete with its rivals, but the way it drives and the build quality make up for that.

Autoclique would like to thank Brendan Foot Kia for supplying us with the review car.

We would not have been able to complete the $20K Challenge without their kind assistance.


Rating – Chevron rating 4 out of 5


Vehicle Type Small City Car
Starting Price $18,990 NZD
Tested Price $20,990 NZD (Currently on special at $19,990)
Engine Kappa 1248cc DOHC CVVT MPI 4 cylinder
Transmission 4 speed auto
0 – 100 kph 14.4 seconds
Kerb Weight 870kg
Length x Width x Height 3595 x 1595 x 1480 mm
Cargo Capacity 200/870 Litres
Fuel Tank 35 litres
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 stars


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Rob Clubley
I love everything about cars! Driving, looking at them, modifying. It's great to see what people do with cars, the different car cultures. If I was rich, my garage would be bigger than my house!


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