kia - Kia Picanto GT 3 - Kia Picanto GT: fun factor fitted

What is it?

Mention ‘three-pot,’ and most car enthusiasts start thinking about brake calipers.

But those who’ve enjoyed the company of DKWs from the 1950s, Daihatsu Charades of the ‘80s and the just-arrived Kia Picanto GT of 2019, tend to go a bit moist in the noodle when thy talk of their three-potters: the three-cylinder engines.

Each of the above models was a knockout.

The 44kW Charade could be had in De Tomaso form, with a little turbo taking its output 59kW, which made it a rally hotshot and the DKW, also a great performer in competition, was called the  Sonderklasse , which translates roughly to ‘in a class of its own.’

The same term can be applied to the Picanto GT.

There’s nothing in it’s market sector that comes within cooee of the delightful little 1.0litre three-pot turbo tyke.

The regular non-GT model has been a runaway success for Kia, outselling its closest class rivals, Fiat 500 and Mitsi Mirage, by a vast margin.

Last month the combined sales of the latter two was four times less than Picanto’s.

But whether the GT will add much to the sales is debatable. It should, but it comes only with a five-speed manual transmission, and three pedals and a gearstick scramble the  brains of many a modern driver.

The upside is that, for the same reason, it makes the car virtually thiefproof.

kia - Kia Picanto GT 2 - Kia Picanto GT: fun factor fitted

What’s it cost?

It’s a good-looking five-door hatch with a snazzy red-highlighted body kit, 16-inch alloys and twin-exhausts and at $17,990 drive away, it’s cheaper than its rivals and comes with a seven-year warranty.

The goodie list includes a decent steering wheel, sports pedals, Bluetooth connectivity with steering wheel controls, Apple CarPlay and Android connectivity, a 7-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, rear parking sensors and cruise control with speed limiter.

There’s also autonomous emergency braking (AEB) lots of other electronic aids and a sextet of airbags.

Seating in front is pretty impressive with good body support in the well bolstered black seats with red accents and the driving position is fine.

It’s a surprisingly easy car to get in and out of, even for people who cut their teeth on the DKWs of 65 years ago and there’s a lot of head and legroom up front, rather lot less so in the back.

The cargo area is short and quite deep but the back seat rests can be folded forward to cater for bigger loads.  

kia - Kia Picanto GT 1 - Kia Picanto GT: fun factor fitted

What’s it go like?

Performance-wise, it has the legs of a Polo, which is in the class above, nor will it be troubled by a Mirage or Fiat, except for the much pricier Abarth models.

It has impressive take-off, thanks to a low first gear, and the manual gearbox is a sweet shifter which will keep an enthusiast driver happy.

The surprising thing is the torque of the tiny motor and the pleasant thrum of the engine. Engines with uneven pistons produce a music of their own. Owners of five-cylinder Volvos will also know what I mean.

The 74kW/172Nm motor pulls strongly from as low as 1500rpm in fifth and is happy to be stoked right into its upper range.

However, the 100km/h limit on most open roads has the motor running at just above 2000rpm, which makes for very good fuel economy at cruising speeds.

Our average consumption after a week of driving in varied condition – country, city, suburbia – was 6.1, but we had it runny g as low as 5.5 on occasion. What’s more is that despite its feisty performance, it only needs the basic 91 octane petrol.

If I had one I’d rather run it on 95 or 98, which should liberate another kiloWatt or two, and in any case make for cleaner combustion.

The standard suspension has been tuned for firmer, sportier handling and the car is a delight on twisty roads.  

Resident tarmac rally exponent Dr Bobla took it for a couple of days and was equally delighted.

‘It’s destined for future small car cult status,’ he enthused.

‘It’s got all the right ingredients and revisits the great late-1980s Daihatsu Charade De Tomaso Gtti.  Those familiar with the lumpy growl of a 3-cylinder would be forgiven for thinking the Korean had lifted it straight from the hot Charade.

‘It delivers a very surprising amount of torque punch for a little motor.

‘On the road the Picanto is a hoot to drive. There is a good level of cornering poise coupled well with low cabin noise and seating comfort.

‘The 16-inch wheels with 205s do a good job for swift motoring but if pushed can feel a little under-tyred.

‘Coming only with a manual gearbox like a true GT,  it amazed me with the amount of engine flexibility. Delivering mid 5litres/100km fuel consumption when driven to the dash shift prompts at 1250rpm, the little motor pulls healthily through to 6500 in any gear.

‘It’s a little gem and a wowzer!’

kia - Kia Picanto GT 4 - Kia Picanto GT: fun factor fitted

What we like?

  • Equipment level
  • Comprehensive instrumentation
  • Massive warranty
  • Sweet engine
  • Great fuel economy
  • Sporty notes

kia - Kia Picanto GT 6 - Kia Picanto GT: fun factor fitted

What we don’t like?

  • Big A pillar for oncoming sweepers
  • Could do bigger boots for more plant

kia - Kia Picanto GT 7 - Kia Picanto GT: fun factor fitted

The bottom line?

The very well equipped Picanto GT has to be one of the best fun factor cars out there. Tempted to ask Kia if we could borrow one for the Targa Tasmania Tour next year — or the year after, when the TT turns 30.

CHECKOUT: Kia Cerato GT: bring on the awards

CHECKOUT: Kia Stinger: what’s it really like?

 

Kia Picanto GT, priced from $17,990 driveaway
  • 8/10
    Looks - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Performance - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Safety - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Thirst - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Comfort - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech - 8.5/10
  • 9/10
    Value - 9/10
8.3/10

Buys

Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.