What stands out?

Four-wheel disc brakes, rear parking sensors, five doors and a punchy powertrain help the tiny Kia Picanto rank among the best buys in a city hatchback. The stylish Picanto also has an auto gearbox standard, a seven-year warranty, and a five-star safety rating.

The car covered in this review was replaced by a third-generation Picanto early in May 2017.

What might bug me?

Monitoring the speedo on long drives. Cruise control is not available on the Picanto, even as an option.

Perhaps sore thighs, on long drives. The Picanto’s front seat cushions don’t support you well enough to ensure comfort over long distances.

Perhaps motion sickness, on rough roads. The Picanto’s suspension is set up for comfort, which is fine about town. On the open road, the way the body pitches over bumpy surfaces might induce queasiness.

Having to stop to adjust the multimedia system. To set up and use it, you have to take your eyes and hands off the job of driving the car. That is dangerous when moving, and so best done when parked.

What body styles are there?

Five-door, five-seat, hatchback only.

The Picanto drives its front wheels, and is classed as a micro car.

What features do all versions have?

Full instrumentation – a speedometer, tachometer (which tells you how fast the engine is spinning), petrol gauge, and trip computer.

An AM/FM radio, a CD and MP3 player, and four speakers. Bluetooth phone connectivity, with audio streaming and steering-wheel mounted controls. A USB input, and a 12-volt power outlet.

Air-conditioning, with a pollen filter. Power-opening windows (with driver's auto up-down), and power-adjusting exterior mirrors.

Height adjustment for the steering wheel, driver’s seat and driver’s seatbelt. A driver's foot rest. Fabric seat upholstery.

Headrests in all five seating positions. Seat belt reminders on all seats.

A rear window defroster with timer. A rear-window wiper and washer system.

Automatic transmission.

A space-saver spare wheel.

Electronic stability control, which helps you control the car if it skids. (Every new car must have this feature).

Six airbags. (For details of where they are placed, please open the Safety section).

The Picanto is offered with a seven-year, unlimited distance warranty, and fixed-price servicing for that period.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

Only one engine is available with the Picanto, a 1.2-litre, twin-cam, four-cylinder petrol unit, driving the front wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission. It returns 5.3L/100km on the official test (city and country combined).

This is a smooth yet punchy powertrain combination, taking advantage of the Picanto’s low (994kg) weight to provide a fine balance between performance and fuel economy.

In a real-world comparison conducted for the July 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, a Picanto with this engine averaged 7.5 litres/100km, a litre less than an accompanying Holden Spark but 1.4 litres more than the other micro car reviewed, a Suzuki Celerio.

The four-speed auto is the only transmission available: you can’t have a manual.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

There is only one Picanto variant, the Si, and it is very well equipped for the money.

Options are limited to metallic paint and alloy wheels (which typically will be lighter and will look nicer than the standard plastic-trimmed steel wheels).

There is a range of dealer-fit accessories, such as floor mats and bodywork stripes. Otherwise the Picanto is a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

Only one colour – Clear White – is a solid colour and so does not add to the price of the car. The rest are considered metallic (or premium) paints, and cost extra.

How comfortable is it?

The Picanto is generally more comfortable than it looks. For starters, at about 1.48 metres it is fairly tall, and the doors open wide, so that it is easy to get in and out of. Once inside, head room is generous. If there is nobody sitting behind, both front seats slide back far enough for even long-legged people to fit easily.

The dashboard is a solid and coherent design, offering very clear instrument markings (especially at night), obvious and uniform placement of all controls, and very direct access to ventilation outlets and storage compartments.

The driving position puts everything within easy sight or reach, aided by a seat-height adjuster and a tilt-adjustable (only) steering column.

However, the driver’s seat-height adjuster moves the base up on an unusual backward tilt. And support from the front seat cushions may be insufficient to keep your legs ache-free over long distances.

Otherwise, all outboard seating positions are comfortable for a car of this size and price. Note that the sheer narrowness of this city car means that the centre-rear position is best reserved for slight people, such as young children. All five positions have headrests and inertia reel seatbelts.

The Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming is confusing to figure out and fiddly to operate – to the point of being dangerously distracting if attempted when driving, since the menu requires concentration. It would be best done when the car is stationary – or leave it to the passenger to pair the driver’s media device. Note, also, that sound quality is on the poor side.

Vision out is good, though. And the standard reverse parking sensors take the guesswork out of backing into tight spaces.

Wind, road, and tyre-noise intrusion are commendably low – again, for a car at the Picanto’s price point – underlining the pleasing level of refinement that has been engineered into it.

What about safety?

The Picanto comes with six airbags: dual front (for the driver and front passenger), and side and head-level curtain items that protect the upper bodies of occupants front and rear against side impacts.

There are the mandatory anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. And the Picanto has disc brakes on all four wheels (some city cars have inferior, but cheaper, drum brakes at the rear).

Daytime running lights make you more visible to other road users. Rear parking sensors make it less likely you will reverse over someone.

However, no reversing camera is offered, even as an option.

Autonomous emergency braking is not available on the Picanto.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded the Picanto five stars for safety, its maximum.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

The short answer is yes. But it’s a qualified yes.

Despite being tied to a relatively old-fashioned four-speed automatic gearbox (when most micro cars have a more modern and efficient CVT auto), the Picanto’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is a sweetie.

Zippy off the mark and punchy darting through traffic, the Picanto has an eager and energetic feel about town. Yet it is also flexible and refined enough to cruise comfortably out on the open road.

Some forward planning is necessary for fast overtaking, but for such a small city car, the performance is pleasingly lively.

Additionally, unlike any other car of its type, the gearbox has the facility for the keener driver to slide the indented gear lever down from D for drive into 3, 2, or L. The gearbox will hold each lower ratio right up to the rev limiter, or downshift under manual control as quickly as required.

Another unexpected surprise is the Kia’s sporty handling. Steering is sharp and roadholding precise. Whether nabbing tight parking spots (in no small part due to a compact turning circle), or racing along a mountain road, the Picanto feels up to it.

Note, however, that some drivers might find the keenness to change direction makes the car feel a tad too nervous, even though electronic traction and stability systems intervene early and effectively to keep everything under control.

Enthusiasts ought to revel in this city car’s dynamic maturity.

Finally, a note about ride comfort. Around town, the suspension’s ability to absorb bumps is commendable. But at speed over less than smooth roads, the Kia can feel bouncy and unsettled.

How is life in the rear seats?

The rear seat area is snug. Yet, despite its diminutive proportions, the Picanto offers some comfort here, due to a thoughtfully angled backrest. Plus, there’s space for feet to tuck under the front seat, and enough ceiling height to clear heads.

However, knee room is very limited for long-legged passengers, the cushion is set a bit too low for adequate thigh support, and squeezing a third person in between would be stretching friendships.

Deep side windows that wind all the way down offer additional ventilation if needed.

While there are no door pockets to store stuff in, map pockets behind the front seats are provided, as are overhead grab handles for passengers to hold when the driver discovers how much fun the Picanto can be through corners.

How is it for carrying stuff?

A fairly large glovebox (that’s illuminated), front door bins with provisions for bottles, a lower console area with retractable clamps for cups, and two map pockets behind the front seats, offer storage inside the cabin.

Beyond the map pockets, there is nowhere else for rear-seat passengers to put stuff in or on, however.

At 200 litres with the rear seatbacks upright, the cargo area is on the large side for this class of car.

The rear seatback split-folds and the rear seat cushion tips forward, to provide a low extended cargo area measuring a handy 605 litres.

The tailgate is smartly shaped for easy loading, too.

The spare wheel beneath the boot floor is a space-saver, and limits your recommended speed to 80km/h when fitted. But it boosts cargo space, and so is arguably a good choice for a car of this size.

Where is it made?

Every Kia Picanto is made in South Korea.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

The ability to display some smartphone apps (including mapping) on a dashboard-mounted touchscreen, and control them from there (or by voice) via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Holden Spark offers this, for example, as does the Suzuki Ignis micro-SUV.

Cruise control. This convenience item, which will hold a set speed automatically on the highway, is available in the Spark and the Ignis.

A reversing camera: though small and agile, with rear sensors providing audible approximation to objects behind, a camera that let you see where the car was heading while being reverse parked would be handy. This too is an option on the Spark.

Autonomous Emergency Braking, which can sense that you are about to plough into a car ahead, and will warn you and - if you don’t react – apply the brakes automatically. This is available on some slightly bigger cars –it is standard on the Mazda2, for example.

And perhaps a manual gearbox, so that you can make more of the Picanto’s sporty performance and involving handling. Many alternative city cars offer manual transmission – among them the Spark, Mazda2, Suzuki Celerio or Ignis, Mitsubishi Mirage, and Fiat 500.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

Only one variant of this Picanto is offered in Australia, the generously equipped Si automatic.

When did Kia replace this Picanto?

A mostly new, third-generation, Picanto replaced this car early in May 2017.

The new Picanto brought a revised body, suspension and steering, a more comfortable cabin, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and cruise control, among other changes. It retained this car’s engine but offered a manual gearbox, with the auto optional.

Although it arrived in Australia only in April 2016, the Picanto reviewed here had been on sale elsewhere for four years.