Kia Picanto City car gains 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine
New turbocharged petrol engine gives our City Car of the Year a useful boost in performance On sale Now Price from £9720
DO YOU CLING to the notion that driving a city car is the automotive equivalent of a Victorian workhouse? If so, you’re missing a trick. In decades gone by, agreed, languishing behind the wheel of an urban runabout did feel like a penance, but now? City cars are not only far safer but also can be a real hoot to drive.
The pick of the bunch is the Kia Picanto. It became our 2018 City Car of the Year after beating some serious competition in the shape of the Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Up. But it’s not perfect. While its naturally aspirated 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is our pick of the range, a bit more poke wouldn’t go amiss to help keep pace with quicker versions of the Up.
Which brings us to this, the new Picanto 1.0 T-GDI. Its smaller, 1.0-litre capacity and just three cylinders might sound like a retrograde step, but that’s ignoring a turbocharger that adds power and torque – much of the latter in the mid-range, to the benefit of real-world flexibility.
Yet with a starting price of £13,320, is it the engine that’s about to qualify the Picanto as perfect, or merely potent but pricey?
Compared with the 1.25 engine, peak power is up by 16bhp and peak torque by a substantial 81lb ft. As a result, the 1.0 T-GDI Picanto feels faster than its claimed 0-62mph time of 9.8sec suggests, and while there’s a definite pause as the turbocharger spools up after you’ve put your foot down, it’s pulling solidly by the time you hit 1500rpm and gets stronger still as the revs build.
However, it’s not the quietest of three-cylinder engines, emitting a distinctive thrum that becomes louder the harder you work it. But while it’s a tad more vocal than the Up’s equivalent engine, that isn’t necessarily a problem for two reasons. First, that extra flexibility means you don’t need to extend it to make good progress, and second, it’s not an unpleasant noise. Far from it, in fact; it’s invigoratingly sporty.
The rest of the Picanto’s talents remain intact, which is to say that while you need to accept a slightly firmer ride than in the Up, it’s far from uncomfortable, and the upshot is you’re compensated with tidy body control and neat and precise steering.
As with most city cars, there’s a lot of road noise at motorway speeds, while the Picanto’s standard five-speed manual gearbox is definitely notchier than the Up’s. It’s not too much of a chore to use, though.
Inside, the Picanto has a decent amount of space for four and, relatively speaking, a fine driving position, meaning long journeys shouldn’t begin or end with a groan. The boot is impressive, too, being able to take three carry-on suitcases – more than the i10 and Up.
In addition, the interior is well made, feeling robust to the touch, although not exactly plush, while top-spec Gt-line S trim comes loaded to the gunwales with kit, including keyless start, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats and a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav and Apple and Android smartphone mirroring. Remember, all that in a city car. Now, after that glowing review, we bet you’re expecting to see it get five stars, right? And it would do if only this engine were available in cheaper trims rather than just the two most expensive ones. As it stands, the jump in price over our current favourite version – the 1.25 MPI in mid-range 3 trim – is as much as £1750, and while the 1.0 T-GDI is a good engine, it’s not good enough to justify that considerable expense. It’s not like it’s substantially more efficient, either, so we’ll have to stick with the 1.25 MPI as our pick of the range.
So come on, Kia, do us all a favour and offer this engine with the cheaper trims. That way, we can give it the unalloyed praise it deserves.
Interior is well built; 3 trim and above get a touchscreen