2020 Kia Picanto review

The new-generation Picanto is an eye-catching city car with a comfortable ride and great steering. The tiniest Kia does a lot with your phone, and has auto emergency braking.

Kia Picanto review
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Equipment
  •   Handling
  •   Styling
  •   Value
  •   Warranty
  •   AEB
Not so much
  •   Four-speed auto
  •   Clutch feel in manual

What stands out?

The Picanto is an eye-catching city car with a comfortable ride and great steering. The tiniest Kia comes with cruise control, a reversing camera, and a big touchscreen that does a lot with your smartphone. Broadly effective autonomous emergency braking is also standard. The range now includes a turbocharged GT version.

What might bug me?

In an auto Picanto, wishing you had a bit more zip on steep hills – and more than four ratios.

In a manual Picanto, how much care you need to take with the clutch on take-offs: it is hard to tell exactly when it will bite.

In the GT Picanto, how the more powerful 1.0-litre turbocharged engine is let down by the gear ratios in the manual gearbox as you reach higher speeds.

That your Picanto was awarded only a four-star rating (out of five) by safety authority ANCAP – even though it has autonomous emergency braking.

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 Picantos have?

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

A sound system with an AM/FM radio, Bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio streaming, Aux and iPod compatible USB inputs, and four speakers.

A 7.0-inch touchscreen for controlling cabin functions, with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can plug in a compatible smartphone, display apps (including mapping) on the touchscreen, and control them from there.

A USB port for charging mobile devices, and a 12-volt power outlet.

Cruise control, and buttons on the steering wheel from which you can operate the cruise, the audio system, and your phone.

Height adjustment for the steering wheel, driver’s seat and driver’s seatbelt. A driver's footrest. Fabric-covered seats with height-adjustable headrests on all seating positions.

Air-conditioning. Power-opening windows on all four doors (with driver's auto up-down), and power-adjusting exterior mirrors.

A reversing camera and rear parking sensors (which indicate how close your bumper is to obstacles).

Headlights that switch on automatically when it’s dark.

Steel wheels with plastic trim, and a space-saver spare wheel.

Hill-start assistance, which helps you take off from rest on uphill slopes by controlling the brakes automatically.

Autonomous emergency braking, which works at city and highway speeds. (On Picantos built after June 2017.)

Six airbags. Electronic stability control, which helps you control the car if it skids. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Picanto safety features, please open the Safety section below).

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?

The 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine in the Picanto GT is the most powerful engine in the range, as well as the most economical. On the official test it consumes just 4.8 litres/100km.

It’s a lively engine, but does struggle a little when you get to higher speeds - the manual gearbox could do with a sixth gear.

One reason you wouldn’t want this engine is because you want an automatic transmission. The Picanto GT is only available with a five-speed manual gearbox.

Another reason is want to pay less for your Picanto – the turbo GT is the most expensive version.

The other engine available with the Picanto, is the 1.25-litre, twin-cam, four-cylinder petrol.

This is a very mildly revised version of the engine in the previous, second-generation, Picanto. On the official test it consumes 5.8 litres/100km with the auto gearbox (city and country cycles combined), and just 5.0 litres/100km with the manual.

The engine remains smooth but punchy, taking advantage of the Picanto’s low (995kg) weight to provide a fine balance between performance and fuel economy. In the real world, you could expect to average about 7.5 litres/100km in auto trim over a mix of city and country driving.

(Power outputs and all other Kia Picanto specifications are available from the Cars Covered menu, under the main image on this page.)

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The Picanto S comes standard with the 1.25-litre engine and five-speed manual gearbox. Spend more and you can have the four-speed auto – and it might not be much more, given Kia’s drive-away offers.

You also get standard cloth seats. 14-inch steel wheels, halogen daytime running lights.

Paying more the Picanto GT-Line brings LED daytime running lights, front fog lights, premium leather-appointed seats, fancier steering wheel and gear shifter, body kit, power folding door mirrors, alloy foot pedals, height-adjustable front seatbelts, and bigger 16-inch wheels made from aluminium alloy, that look better and don’t need plastic hubcaps to look good.

The Picanto X-Line is similarly but has a more rugged SUV-inspired look and slightly higher ground clearance.

Spending more on the Picanto GT brings all he GT-Line's kit, plus the zippier 1.0-litre turbocharged engine, and sports tuned suspension and tuning.

The only other option for each version is the exterior colour, though alloy wheels can also be added to the Picanto S as a dealer-fit accessory. Otherwise, it’s an all or nothing proposition.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

Auto Picantos use a bit more fuel than the manuals.

The most-expensive Picanto, the GT doesn’t have an automatic option.

White paint is standard; any other colour is an extra-cost option.

How comfortable is the Picanto?

For such a compact car, the Picanto has plenty of room inside. There’s enough space between the front seats to ensure drivers won’t be rubbing shoulders with their passengers. Headroom and leg room in the front is better than in some cars a size bigger.

Doors open wide to ease entry and exit. The front seats offer good support for backs and thighs, and you can adjust the driver’s seat for height. Outward vision is great, thanks to big windows.

The only downside ergonomically is the absence of reach adjustment for the steering column. It’s a good driving position, but some will wish they could tailor it more finely.

The infotainment system is easy to control from the Picanto’s 7.0-inch colour touchscreen, which is well-positioned high on the dashboard.

Cabin materials and finish are better than you might expect for the price.

Kia has worked to make the Picanto quieter than its predecessor, but at highway speeds on coarse asphalt the cabin is still a noisy place to spend time. There is a fair bit of tyre roar, and a buzz from the little engine – more so in the lower-geared automatic.

The new Picanto is about the same size externally, and so it remains very easy to drive around town. Its turning circle is tight, and its light steering is more direct than before – you don’t need to turn the wheel as much for sharp corners. A standard reversing camera and rear parking sensors will help you create parking spaces where others see none.

Comfortable suspension makes light work of urban obstacles such as manhole covers, potholes and speedhumps.

What about safety in a Kia Picanto?

The Picanto comes with stability control, six airbags, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, auto-on headlights, daytime running lights, and seatbelt reminders on all seats. Picantos built from June 2017 also have autonomous emergency braking.

That is a very comprehensive safety package for a car this size.

The Picanto also has disc brakes on all four wheels (some city cars have inferior, but cheaper, drum brakes at the rear).

The six airbags are in the usual places: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one outside each front seat to protect at chest level from side impacts; and curtain airbags extending down each side of the car at head level to protect front and rear passengers from side impacts.

The Picanto’s auto braking relies on a radar-type sensor and is effective at city and highway speeds. The sensor scans the road ahead for other cars that have slowed suddenly or stopped. If the AEB system concludes a collision is likely, it will first warn you. If you ignore the warning, from speeds up to 160km/h it will automatically brake at part-pressure. At speeds under 80km/h it can follow the partial braking with an automated emergency stop, using maximum brake pressure.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rated the new Picanto at four stars, of a possible five, in September 2017. Its report praised the provision of auto braking. But it criticised (as Marginal, one step better than Poor) head and chest protection for rear passengers in a frontal crash, and chest protection for the driver in a frontal offset crash. Outcomes for the driver in frontal, side-impact and pole crashes were assessed as Acceptable or Good (the top two steps on the four-step scale). ANCAP also criticised protection for pedestrians.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

Absolutely. The new Picanto is satisfying to drive and rides well on Aussie roads. Kia did a good job of developing the suspension for local conditions.

Cornering is assisted by brake torque vectoring, which automatically brakes gently the wheels on the inside of a turn (if you’re turning left, it’ll brake the left wheels).

When you steer the Picanto into a bend, it goes just where you hoped it would go. You feel confident that you are the boss. And at high speeds, the car feels stable and secure.

The only downside is the big steps between ratios in the Picanto’s four-speed automatic. For driving around town, each engine is more than adequate with this transmission. However, when you ask the engine to deliver its maximum, it is often operating outside its sweet spot.

The five-speed manual is a better choice for keen drivers, although you need to get used to a spongy clutch pedal.

How is life in the rear seats?

Surprisingly good. Even with two adults in the back seat, it doesn’t feel as cramped as you might imagine. Outward vision is good, and the backrest reclines you more than in the previous Picanto, with the aim of improving comfort over long trips.

This is a very narrow car, though, and so the centre position is only usable for allowing you to seat three small children across the rear bench.

The outboard rear seats are equipped with integrated ISOFIX child seat anchorages.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The Picanto has a modest boot area that’s typical for something of its size. It is 55 litres bigger than its predecessor’s boot, however, accepting 255 litres of cargo.

The loading lip is well above average knee height so you’ll need to lift cargo high to clear it, but the boot opening is wide for a micro car. The 60-40 split rear seatbacks fold down to increase cargo capacity, but don’t fold flush with the boot floor.

Where does Kia make the Picanto?

Every Kia Picanto is made in South Korea.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

More ratios in the auto gearbox, or a CVT auto – which could give the little engine an easier time of things. The Mitsubishi Mirage and Suzuki Ignis micro-SUV offer CVT autos, for example.

Otherwise, the Picanto is very well-equipped and deserves to be the biggest seller in the smallest vehicle segment.

Among other micro cars you might consider is the Fiat 500.

Are there plans to update the Picanto soon?

No. This Picanto replaced the second generation model in May 2017, and auto emergency braking was added to cars built from June 2017.

The Picanto GT-Line arrived in June 2018 with a sportier look but no change to performance, followed by the X-Line and GT in January 2019.

Kia does tend to bring in special-edition ‘AO’ versions each January to coincide with the brand’s sponsorship of the Australian Open Tennis,

Don’t expect an all-new Picanto until at least 2022.

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

The Picanto S automatic is the smart buy – especially when you factor in Kia’s drive-away price offer. You might wish for more than its four ratios in highway use or on steep hills, but it does the best job of negotiating city streets. If you like the idea of a manual you could be well-placed to haggle.

That said, the extra features in the GT-Line, X-Line and GT don’t bring a huge price premium, and are still priced well below $20,000.
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Equipment
  •   Handling
  •   Styling
  •   Value
  •   Warranty
  •   AEB
Not so much
  •   Four-speed auto
  •   Clutch feel in manual


How are you finding our new site design? Tell us in the comments below or send us your thoughts at feedback@whichcar.com.au.


Subscribe to Australian car magazines

Subscribe to any of our motoring magazines and save up to 49%




2015 Nissan Navara

Nissan recalls 2015 Navara over child seat fault

The problem affects the top tethers which could break in an accident

6 hours ago
Kathryn Fisk

We recommend

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.