picanto - MY19 KIA PICANTO GT 01 - Pumped up Picanto better than old banger

What is it?

The Picanto is Kia’s four-door micro car, an urban runabout which since launch three years ago defied widespread opinion that it wouldn’t be a success in a receding part of the market.

The little Kia quickly emerged as the best seller in the segment, with 5394 Picantos sold last year — a 69 per cent chunk of the segment.

The doomsayers were wrong.

Picanto’s sales romp has encouraged Kia to offer up a turbocharged GT hottie version with a sporty Aussie suspension tune, a manual ‘box and some cute styling embellishments — to make it look more boy racer than shopping trolley.

Kia CEO Damien Meredith reckons the time is right for “a sporty version of the car, a version for which there has been a constant undercurrent of demand”.

Based on the good “bones” of the regular Picanto, importantly for a car of such small dimensions, there’s a stiff body shell, composed of 44 per cent advanced high-strength steels, and providing beneficial effects beyond handling and comfort.

The new, stronger steel has been used to strengthen the floor pan, roof rails and engine bay, as well as the A- and B-pillars, creating a rigid core structure and improved passenger protection across the line-up.

While the regular Picanto uses a 1.25-litre four-cylinder engine, the new GT gets a perky turbo 12-valve 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual. There is no auto available.

The Kia baby GT is aimed at those who like to drive rather than just motor about.

It’s about the appeal of an engaging driving experience, at eye-opening value.

The combination of single-scroll turbocharging and direct injection gives the little engine a handy 74kW of power and 171Nm of torque (from 1500-4000rpm) and is a boon to low-speed response and driveability.

Technically, the GT is quite advanced, with continuously variable valve timing on both the inlet and exhaust sides, electronic throttle control and light, low-friction moving parts.

The crankshaft is offset from the centre-line to aid smoothness.  As a result there’s minimal throttle lag.

For added durability, the cylinder block has been heat-treated and the crankshaft, pistons and connecting rods strengthened.

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What’s it cost?

Picanto GT 5-speed manual comes is just $17,990 driveaway, or three grand more than the 62kW entry Picanto S manual.

Generously spec’d, similarly to the Picasso GT-Line model,  the safety kit includes automatic emergency braking, six airbags, LED daytime running lights, dusk-sensing auto head lights, hill-start assist, stability management, forward collision warning and of course obligatory stability control and anti-lock braking.

Picanto GT has a 7.0-inch touchscreen through which are operated Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, choice of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with voice recognition and a reversing camera. Steering wheel audio controls are also part of the package.

Other comfort and convenience features include manual airconditioning, heated power exterior mirrors, parking sensors, cruise control, driver seat height adjustment, and power windows on every door with auto-up on driver’s window.

The cabin takes on greater eye appeal with red splashes on the dark pretend-leather seats and door trims, with bottle holders in the front doors and two cup holders in the console

The hero GT can’t be missed with its contrasting contrast body accents, twin exhaust, a body kit and GT badge. External colours are Clear White and premium colours Titanium Silver, Aurora Black and Signal Red.

All Picantos are equipped with a temporary spare and 255 litres of luggage space which jumps to 1010 litres with the rear seats down.

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What’s it go like?

Let’s get this out there; the GT is not a red-hot hatch but more a lively little jigger, with some go-kart handling character while making pleasing noises in the way other three-pot models have done before it.

Its 74kW output could never be accompanied by rocket-like acceleration. But the GT tips the scales at just 1007kg, so has power-to-weight numbers in its favour.

Kia doesn’t release 0-100 times but the GT is not remotely in Polo GTi or Clio RS territory (and nor, you may have noticed, is its price!)

The GT is about having a smile on your dial rather than getting your ears pinned back.

Seeking a sporty, no-compromise ride-handling set-up, the local chaps who rejigged the suspension – MacPherson strut front with torsion-bar rear – have opted for the firmest springs available, accompanied by a strong damper tune. Lower profile 195/45 R 16 tyres on 16-inch alloys complete the picture.

The electric power steering system has been tuned specifically for the GT, with changes to the mapping giving faster response under load. It still feels light though for city parking and manoeuvring.

The brakes through remain the same as the rest of the Picanto range.

Though grip levels are not high, the focus on handling will appeal to those who enjoy their driving.

The GT turns into corners with little body roll and barely any understeer (unless you’re being a bit silly, or strike some damp – the 195/45 R16 Nexen tyres are not the grippiest on wet roads).

Be aware though that there is a trade-off in ride comfort. You’ll be first to know if your local council needs to resurface a few roads in your suburb.

There is no sporty flavour to the manual box which has a light, long-throw action and noticeably tall gearing in the higher cruising gears. The rationale here is reduced cabin noise and enhanced fuel efficiency.

The efficiency of the engine is underscored by claimed fuel efficiency of 4.8L/100km with an urban cycle return of 6.2L.  We managed a real-world 6.7L/100 in a mix of semi-rural and city driving.

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What we like?

  • Cute styling
  • Fun drive
  • Generous equipment
  • Seven-year warranty
  • New car for used car price
  • Fits into tiny parking spaces
  • Disc brakes all round
  • Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity
  • Uses just 4.8 L/100km

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What we don’t like?

  • It’s not for sumo wrestlers
  • Four-star safety
  • The long-throw gearbox
  • Okay, some will want an auto

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The bottom line?

The GT version of the Picanto isn’t for everyone (especially those who can’t use a clutch pedal and an old-school manual gear lever).  But those wanting to relive a youth once decorated by Minis or Suzuki GTi funsters might be interested.

With generous active and passive safety gear, Kia’s seven-year warranty, zippy performance and that new-car smell, the Picanto rates highly as a compelling argument against an old banger.

CHECKOUT: Kia back in the hot hatch business

CHECKOUT: KIa breaks the sound barrier

 

Kia Picanto GT, priced from $17,990 drive away
  • 8/10
    Looks - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Safety - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Thirst - 9/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Comfort - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Tech - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value - 8.5/10
7.9/10

McKay

Peter McKay started in journalism writing about rock music, then motor sport, before easing into general motoring at a Holden Sunbird launch in 1976. Not a great start. But went on to edit Motor magazine ever-so-briefly before starting an unbroken freelance career in 1981, around the time of his first of seven Bathurst 1000 starts. Byline has lobbed in Wheels, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Sun-Herald, Sunday Telegraph, The Australian, Top Gear, Australian Penthouse, Motor Trend, F1 Racing, Men’s Health, Inside Sport. Still admits he prefers driving cars to dissecting them.