kia - kia picanto GT 8 - Kia’s pint-sized Picanto packs a punch

What is it?

Kia’s little pocket rocket.

Everyone whinged the GT Line looked the part, but needed some go to match the show.

The answer is a turbocharged, three-cylinder engine that gives the Picanto GT pronounced more pep.

But any comparisons with the lamented Swift GTI which produces similar levels of power are little more than fantasy.

A GTI it ain’t.

kia - kia picanto GT 11 - Kia’s pint-sized Picanto packs a punch

What’s it cost?

Picanto GT is priced from $17,990 driveaway.

That’s $700 more than the 1.2-litre, naturally aspirated GT Line which includes an auto.

Picanto GT can be distinguished by its contrasting trim, single but twin exhaust outlet, sports body kit and GT badge.

It’s available in white, silver, black and red — but only white does not attract a $520 premium.

Picanto gets four stars for safety, with six airbags, forward collision warning, auto emergency braking, vehicle stability management, and even torque vectoring to help it corner more quickly.

Standard equipment includes faux leather, air conditioning, driver seat height adjustment, power windows front and rear with auto-up for driver, auto headlights, rear park sensors, a reverse camera, plus four-speaker audio with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

kia - kia picanto GT 2 - Kia’s pint-sized Picanto packs a punch

What’s it go like?

The turbo lifts performance.

But it’s still a slug out of the blocks.

Where the extra oomph comes into its own is in the mid-range.

It makes the car more flexible and responsive once it’s up and running.

The 1.0-litre turbocharged, three-cylinder engine produces 74kW of power at 4500 revs and a handy 172Nm of torque between 1500 and 4000 revs.

Below the 2000 rev mark, however, where the boost kicks in, the GT falls in a screaming heap.

This can be problematic where engine revs are liable to drop below this mark, say on rising hairpin turns.

The 5-speed manual gearbox is also a challenge.

It’s spongy and inaccurate, with a long throw between gears, making it easy to miss a gate when you’re hustling.

And there’s no automatic option for those who can’t or don’t want to change gears themselves.

This could be a deal breaker for its young, target market — many of whom may never have driven a manual.

The GT’s size makes it perfect for zipping around the city, nipping in and out of traffic and squeezing in and out of tight car parking spaces.

But the back seat is cramped with little legroom and the boot is tiny at best.

And, at just 3.6 metres, the short 2400mm wheelbase sees it bounce around on bumpy roads, so it’s not going to be very comfortable on extended country hauls.

Firing the car into a tight turn or two, the tyres offer plenty of grip, but we wouldn’t go pushing our luck.

Downstairs re-tuned springs and shocks have been fitted to reduce body roll, deliver better feedback and the ride.

The electric steering has also been re-mapped to return quicker response and enhanced stability under load.

While the addition of a lower profile 195/45 R 16 rubber improves both grip and predictability.

With fuel consumption rated at 4.8L/100km overall, we were getting 6.6L/100km from the 35 litre tank after close to 400km of driving.

That’s good, but frankly not that impressive considering the car’s diminutive size — although it still tips the scales at whisker over 1 tonne.

The GTI by the way weighed just 760kg from memory (that was long before safety became such an issue).

kia - kia picanto GT 12 - Kia’s pint-sized Picanto packs a punch

What we like?

  • The concept
  • Fun factor
  • Cheeky looks
  • Easily keeps up with traffic

kia - kia picanto GT 1 - Kia’s pint-sized Picanto packs a punch

What we don’t like?

  • Struggles without revs
  • Spongy gearbox
  • Grabby brakes
  • Manual only
  • Aircon not up to it sometimes
  • Fuel consumption relatively high
  • No cruise control
  • No digital speedo
  • No satnav
  • No digital radio

kia - kia picanto GT 3 - Kia’s pint-sized Picanto packs a punch

The bottom line?

The addition of a turbo is a powerful drawcard. It will certainly sell more cars for the company. While it offers significantly more performance, don’t go getting too excited.

CHECKOUT: Picanto’s inner GT waits to break free

CHECKOUT: Kia back in the hot hatch business

Kia Picanto GT, priced from $17,990 driveaway
  • 7.5/10
    Looks - 7.5/10
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Safety - 7.5/10
  • 7/10
    Thirst - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 7/10
    Comfort - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Tech - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value - 7.5/10
7.4/10

Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.