The Kia Picanto is the undisputed king of the micro car segment. It’s seen rivals come and go, and now accounts for around three quarters of the segment’s volume in Australia.
Key selling points include a vast array of features and technologies for budget pricing, distinctive looks, and of course Kia’s industry-leading seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
To spice things up a bit, Kia added a turbocharged ‘GT’ model at the very beginning of 2019, which is something of a unicorn in this segment and price point. Many Volkswagen fans groan at the fact you can’t buy an Up! GTI in Australia – this might be the closest you can get to one Down Under.
So, is the Kia Picanto GT a budget hot hatch bargain, and should you wait for the facelifted model that’s just months away?
How much does the Kia Picanto GT cost?
For 2020, the Picanto GT is listed at $18,190 plus on-road costs – a little up on the super-sharp $17,990 drive-away pricing it launched with in January last year.
At the time of writing, Kia Australia is advertising the Picanto GT for $19,190 drive-away, which is still pretty cheap once you consider the level of standard equipment and turbocharged performance available.
The only factory option available is a selection of metallic paints, such as the lovely Titanium Silver metallic ($520) fitted to our test car.
Also keep in mind the Picanto GT is a manual-only proposition, if you want an auto you’ll need to swap out the turbocharged engine for a 1.25-litre (very specific, we know) naturally-aspirated unit and a four-speed automatic, as well as ‘GT-Line’ badges instead of ‘GT’.
What do you get?
Despite being an entry-level city car, the Picanto packs quite a but of kit in for your sub-$20,000 spend.
Key equipment highlights for the Picanto GT include sports-tuned suspension and steering by the company’s local division, as well as that model-specific 74kW/172Nm 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine. More on the powertrain a little bit later.
Otherwise, the Picanto GT essentially mirrors the spec of the GT-Line, which means you get sporty exterior styling – bumpers, side skirts, twin tailpipes and 16-inch alloys – leather-look seat and steering wheel trim with red accents and stitching, alloy pedals, halogen projector headlights with LED daytime-running lights, front fog lights, partial LED tail-lights, and electric-folding side mirrors.
Carryover specification from the entry-level Picanto S includes low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, a reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, rear parking sensors, cruise control with speed limiter, as well as a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
It’s a shame the Australian market misses out on some other high-end features available in other markets, namely climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, as well as inbuilt satellite navigation to complement the standard smartphone mirroring.
Buyers in Europe can also get an electric sunroof, keyless start and a wireless phone charger, two features that would gel well with Aussie tastes.
Serving as the flagship for the Picanto range in Australia, the GT is handsomely equipped.
However, at this price it’s duking it out with entry-level versions of larger vehicles such as the Skoda Fabia 70TSI Ambition (from $17,490) and Volkswagen Polo 70TSI Trendline (from $18,990) which may not look as sporty but pack similar powertrains and technology features for equivalent money.
Is the Kia Picanto GT safe?
All versions of the Picanto wear a four-star ANCAP safety rating with 2017 date stamp, based on crash tests conducted by sister firm, Euro NCAP.
The little Kia managed a respectable 87 per cent for adult occupant protection but was let down by 64 per cent child occupant score, as well as 54 per cent for pedestrian protection and 47 per cent for safety assist.
Key feedback included marginal rear passenger head and chest protection in the full-width frontal test, marginal chest protection for the driver in the frontal offset test, and marginal whiplash protection for both front- and rear-seat occupants.
There was also poor neck protection for the 10-year old dummy in the frontal offset test, as well as poor protection for the head and chest for the 10-year old dummy in the side impact test – where the dummy’s head made contact with the vehicle’s interior.
ANCAP and Euro NCAP also didn’t test the speed limiter included as standard on Australian and New Zealand models, meaning the Picanto scored 0 out of 3 for speed assistance systems which makes up one quarter of the Safety Assist category.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), autonomous emergency braking (urban and interurban), forward collision warning, and the requisite electronic aids like ABS, stability control and traction control.
The Picanto may not be best suited as a family car based on the crash test results, but is still head and shoulders ahead of rivals like the ageing Fiat 500 and Mitsubishi Mirage, with the former wearing an archaic five-star safety rating from 2008 (and likely would score nowhere near that today) and the latter a five-star stamp from 2013.
What is the Kia Picanto GT like on the inside?
Despite its budget car origins, the Picanto GT’s interior presents nicely, with a modern, upmarket design and a good choice of materials and textures.
The leather-look touch points feel nice in the hand and the free-standing 7.0-inch touchscreen are very good, while the faux hide seat upholstery looks cool but is a bit hard and slippery.
It’s a very simple layout ergonomically, with a minimalistic approach to switchgear to maximise the feeling of space, and all the controls fall easily within arm’s reach. A minor omission is the lack of a digital speedometer in the monochromatic driver’s instrument display, though the incoming facelift will bring a larger 4.3-inch TFT display with a digital speed readout, amongst other upgrades.
The infotainment display is clear and responsive, and smartphone mirroring worked flawlessly. We were also very impressed with the sound quality from the standard six-speaker stereo.
You won’t find many soft-touch materials bar the elbow rests in the doors and the centre armrest up front, but that’s pretty par for the course at this end of the market. Regardless, everything feels very well built and ready to stand the test of time.
For taller drivers like six-foot-one-ish me, there’s good head- and legroom up front thanks to that tall van-like roofline. That said, the steering wheel lacks reach adjustment and the front seats aren’t too sculpted which means it can take a bit of experimenting to find the perfect driving position.