Kia spices up city car market with new Picanto

Small hatchbacks are among the most popular cars currently on sale. With so many brilliant options to choose from, Kia's new Picanto has a bit of a fight on its hands.

AOL Cars got behind the of the South Korean manufacturer's latest offering to find out what's what.

What is it?

You may think the Kia Picanto is the car most likely to be driven by your granny, and you'd be right. But now the manufacturer is looking to ditch that blue-rinse image and target a younger age group with its suitably spiced-up city car. Designed to attract youthful buyers, the refreshed model teams sporty looks with a more focused driving style to woo young professionals to part with their cash. But are the tweaks enough?

What's under the bonnet?

Three engine options will be offered when the Picanto goes on sale on May 1: a 1.0-litre, 67bhp, 89g/km, three-cylinder; a 1.2-litre, 84bhp, 104g/km four-cylinder, and a 1.0-litre turbocharged, 100bhp version of the three-cylinder.

Sadly, we didn't get the chance to try the latter – that one will be arriving later – but with a promise of 60mph in 10 seconds, it should be a riot.

Both the 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre are punchy little units and more than adequately powered to push the Picanto along with little drama. Our pick – but only just – would be the 1.2-litre, which hits 60mph in 12 seconds, tops out at 107mph and returns 61.4mpg.

It's mildly spicier than the entry-level option and just a tad more fun. Manual and automatic options are available across the range.

What's the spec like?

As this was an early test of a left-hand-drive model, sadly there were little details as to what options will feature on UK models.

The Kia UK boss explained each market is given a menu to pick from and said his team is currently working on refining what they'll take. We do know that this will follow the conventional Kia strategy of 1, 2, and 3 levels of specification and that the GT-Line, driven here, will slot between 2 and 3.

In the GT-Line model we tried at the Spanish launch, a seven-inch media screen, wireless charging for mobiles, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay all featured. There was a heated steering wheel, seats, climate control and electric windows and mirrors. Buyers will have to wait a few weeks to find out exactly what's on offer in the UK, though.

Any rivals?

The city car market is certainly a competitive one, and the Kia Picanto will find itself going head-to-head with the likes of the Fiat Panda, the Toyota Aygo and the excellent Volkswagen Up.

What's it like to drive?

It's behind the wheel where the Picanto will divide opinion. Older buyers looking for a relaxed and comfortable ride will notice the improved suspension and the capable way it deals with nasty, pot-holed road surfaces.

However, the sprightly engines, quicker turn in and faster steering may make them feel a little too hurried behind the wheel. It's these very characters that Kia is hoping younger buyers will appreciate.

Kia spices up city car market with new Picanto
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Kia spices up city car market with new Picanto

The juxtaposition of characteristics is a trait of a car designed for a global market, where different markets want different things. In the UK you may be more likely to find a Picanto in the bridge club car park, but in southern Europe it'll be left abandoned outside nightclubs while its owners party the night away.

Overall, there's a noticeable improvement in both ride and handling, largely thanks to reduced weight and stiffer body, but whether that's suitable for you will depend on your driving style.

AOL Cars verdict

There's no doubt the improvements Kia has made to the third-generation Picanto have sharpened up its looks and driving dynamics.

In titanium silver or shiny red it's striking to look at too and will likely attract those younger buyers who demand cool technology, such as Apple CarPlay.

However, whether these tweaks come at the expense of putting off the stalwart Picanto buyer – buyers who'd sooner learn Russian than work out what on earth torque vectoring is – remains to be seen.

Kia is confident it's got the mix right, though, and is promising 'modest price rises' over the current range. We were told the entry-level model will be no more than £9,000 and the top of the range no more than £14,000. That said, the well-known formula has been meddled with and with that comes risk – only time will tell if that gamble will pay off.

The Knowledge:

Model:Kia Picanto GT-Line
Engine tested: 1.2-litre, four-cylinder
Power (bhp): 84bhp
Torque (Nm): 122Nm
Max speed (mph): 107mph
0-60mph: 12 seconds MPG: 61.4mpg
Emissions (g/km): 104g/km
Price as tested: £13,000 (estimate)

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