After taking delivery of this latest test car I parked it up beside our ancient little runaround and marvelled at how much they had in common.
They were both from the Far East, designed for urban use, with five doors, small petrol engines and virtually identical footprints. The only thing separating them were 18 years and an entire vehicle segment.
it’s a sign of how our cars have grown that Kia’s Picanto city car is the same size as an old Toyota Yaris – a segment leader in the supermini class. It’s not unusual though, the likes of the Skoda Citigo and the Yaris’s little brother the Aygo are also now the same size as a first-generation Yaris.
Kia Picanto 3
Engine: 1.25-litre, four-
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Top speed: 107mph
0-60mph: 11.6 seconds
CO2 emissions: 106g/km
The demand for better crash protection, improved comfort and more safety and convenience technology has seen cars in every category grown. But “small” cars like the Picanto aren’t just getting bigger, they’re also getting more mature, offering a big-car feel rather than the faintly tin can terror of the likes of the Kia Pride.
The Picanto is a prime example of this growing-up. It feels just as solid and at home on quick country roads as it does around the town. The 1.25-litre four-cylinder is bigger and more powerful than the engines found in most city cars and gives the Picanto driver a bit more confidence they can keep up with fast-moving traffic.
The steering and handling also have enough heft and stability to them to feel secure out of the urban environment, meaning owners needn’t fear the longer trips than expose the weaknesses of some city cars.
Of course, that said, this is still a city car and its main abilities have to be in the urban jungle. And here it’s just as capable as on the open road. It is compact, light and easy to manoeuvre. The steering is light enough to spin through tight city traffic without being completely vague and it rides surprisingly well over the crater-ridden roads urbanites have to face on a daily basis.
The engine has enough low-down punch to squirt into gaps and still return 61.4mpg but for drivers who will never leave the city the smaller 60bhp 1.0 will probably suffice and offers better economy.
The Picanto is also pretty grown up in terms of what you get for your money. Our ‘3’ spec car came with toys that are often only optional in cars a class above. The likes of AEB, cruise control, automatic headlights, a seven-inch touchscreen with sat nav and live traffic updates, Android Auto and Apple Car Play are all standard.
For a chunk of cash less you can have all the on-road abilities of the Picanto without the bells and whistles but the 3’s high spec represents pretty good value in the face of rivals.
The Picanto’s biggest letdown is the interior. It scores well in terms of comfort, layout and front and rear space but it’s all a little black and dreary where rivals go all out to be vibrant and colourful. Whether that’s an issue will come down to personal taste but appearance and customisation are big buzz words in a market looking to attract young and first-time buyers.
It’s a relatively minor issue, however, and the Picanto’s strengths in terms of on-road behaviour and value mean that it remains the small car to beat – even if it’s not all that small.