Kia's bubbly Picanto has received a mild refresh to carry it over until the new model, we found out whether a facelift is enough to keep it competitive.

The thing about tiny entry-level hatchbacks is they have an irresistible charm, “Underdog Charm” I like to call it; the kind of charisma that leaves you cheering them on despite the fact you know full well they aren’t sporty, or even vaguely rapid in any sort of way.  Drive anything along the lines of the Chevrolet Spark or Hyundai i10 and you’ll understand what I mean – they have an uncanny ability to draw a smile and a giggle from you as you chant, “come on you little thing, you can do it!”  They all have it, I’m yet to encounter one that doesn’t; but what sets the Kia Picanto apart from the rest of the pack is that besides charm it’s actually a rather capable little bugger.


The Picanto recently received a midlife refresh – however insubstantial it may have been – which revised nothing mechanically or internally.  The changes instead were kept to revised fog lamps and a slightly revised grill, now with a ‘sporty’ red rim around it.  It still looks like an angry caterpillar though, the minor changes only increasing the visual charm with cute aggression.


Naturally, the Picanto couldn’t be anything further from aggressive.  The 1.2-litre engine churns out 65 kW and 120 Nm, hardly the epitome of power; but it has a revvy nature and a playful growl that beguiles playfulness and tempts one to drive it in a spirited manner.  It responds eagerly to throttle inputs, and although not particularly potent, it delivers power sweetly through the rev range.  The short gearing in 1st and 2nd make for peppy acceleration, whilst the taller ratios from 3rd to 5th ensure milder fuel consumption – something the Picanto delivered happily at 5.9l/100kms.


The sweet charm of the Picanto’s drive was further enhanced by its keen handling.  The steering, slightly vague off centre, is relatively sharp and direct.  Thanks to its diminutive size the Picanto’s turn in is keen, and change of direction quick.  Feedback through the steering wheel is subtle, but present and pleasantly accurate.  The result of keen steering and eager change of direction was one of a fizzy disposition, the Picanto feeling light and bubbly at all times.  The underdog charm was unashamedly present, urging it be driven that little bit more zealously; the fun growing proportionately to the smile on my face.  Even the brakes, wooden as they were in feel, were smile-inducing in the way they aided the Picanto’s nose at ducking in quickly with their sharp nature.


Impressive handling doesn’t come at the compromise of comfort though.  The ride quality is compliant over poor surfaces yet communicative of exactly what was beneath each wheel, displaying clearly the harmony shared between the suspension and chassis setup.  Cabin insulation matches the ride comfort to a tee, keeping out the bulk of the road and wind noise, and preventing the permeation of engine noise to the cabin even at highway speeds.


The little Picanto that could seemed to bring a smile to my face inadvertently through all the little things that it seemingly couldn’t do wrong.  Even long journeys, usually a chink in the armour of many a small car, seemed pleasant and dare I say it, fun.  The usual amenities of a compact car were all present, with the Picanto boasting a rather decent audio system featuring faultless Bluetooth audio streaming, aircon, central locking, electric windows, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and even the odd feature not as commonly seen in this class, such as automatic headlights.


Sure, there were faults, no car is without them – the Picanto is just a tad too narrow and upright and as such gets blown about by the wind quite easily.  The interior is a bit bland too; whilst the steering wheel is funky and sporty – bearing resemblance to the red-rimmed grille up front – and the materials seem relatively impressive for the most part, some plastics seem a bit tawdry.  Truth be told though, these flaws fell by the wayside entirely, overshadowed immensely by the fun factor and comfort on offer.


The Picanto, refreshed in a last ditch effort to keep up with the competition, does a sterling job against the likes of the Hyundai i10, offering character and verve in abundance and a level of class the others can only dream of.  But, against the new Grand i10, with which it’s matched on price, it just feels outdated and a tad out-gunned, and it’s priced a little heavily against the older group of cars.  Luckily, the 3rd generation Picanto is on the horizon – and if the fizz and sheer fun factor of the current Picanto is anything to go by, the next one will truly be something truly spectacular.


The Stats:


Engine Capacity:


No. of Cylinders:

Inline 4

Max. Power:

65kW @ 6000RPM

Max. Torque:

120Nm @ 4000RPM


5-speed manual

0-100 time:

11.6 seconds

Top Speed:


Dry Weight:


Fuel Tank Capacity:

35 litres

Fuel Consumption (Combined cycle):




Price (as tested):

R143 995,00



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