- Great value for money
- Actually very decent to drive
- Roomy enough for four
- Not that cheap to run
- Dated interior, no colour screen
- Steel wheels are a bit 90s
This is the cheapest new automatic car that you can buy – the 2017 Kia Picanto Si. At just $14,990 on the road, the pint-sized Picanto undercuts all of its similarly-sized automatic rivals. The Kia is about $4,000 cheaper than a Holden Spark; about $2,500 cheaper than a Mitsubishi Mirage, and about $2,000 less than a Suzuki Celerio.
The catch is that the other city cars often can be had for less if you don't mind a manual gearbox. But these cars are meant for zipping around town, so an automatic can't be beat. Kia smartly offer the Picanto in just one spec – and it's a real bargain, combining a willing four-cylinder engine, a simple four-speed auto, cute looks, a decent interior and a seven-year warranty.
At fifteen grand you expect the Picanto to be pretty basic – and it is. So, after spending a week with the smallest Kia, is the Picanto all the city car you need – or is it worth stepping up to a more expensive and larger car?
Weighing in at under 1,000 kilograms, the Picanto doesn't need much poke to get around town. The sole engine is a 63kW four-cylinder petrol engine producing 120Nm of torque. Those numbers are admittedly very modest – but behind the wheel, the Picanto does feel stronger than its tiny engine would suggest.
For zipping between errands or for the school run, the Kia has plenty of go. Because it has quite a sensitive throttle, it feels perky off the line and accelerates smoothly and smartly up to city speeds. City cars in the past tended to be noisy and unrefined, but the Kia only sounds like its battling when you've got all the seats filled.
Highway driving isn't the Picanto's main game. It can do it – I saw one on the F3 on a recent trip to Newcastle – but the engine is buzzy, and because the Picanto is so lightweight it can be blown around a bit in high wind.
Most of the car industry moved away from four-speed autos some time ago, but in the Picanto it's not bad at all. Because most of these cars will spend their days doing 80km/h or less, you don't really need a lot of ratios – but a six-speed would reduce fuel consumption.
We found that it was pretty hard to match the Picanto's claim of 5.3L/100km. With mostly in-town driving, the Picanto returned a figure close to 8L/100km for us – which is thirsty for such a small car. A Golf, for example, will happily do about 7L/100km in town.
A number of people asked me through the week whether – because it's so small – the Picanto was really safe. ANCAP says yes: the little Kia scored a full 5 star rating from the Australasian crash tester. Obviously, size will be a factor in an accident with a very large vehicle but that can be said for most cars on the road. In terms of safety features, the Kia is well-stocked. It comes with seven airbags, brake assist and electronic brake distribution, stability and traction control and hill hold assist.
The Picanto's steering feels really natural and it is quite a fun little car to dash around in. Drive it into a corner fast and the body will lean quite a bit – this isn't a sporty hatch – but the handling is respectable, and the soft ride quality is very bearable for an inexpensive vehicle.
Australia received the Picanto quite late in its life cycle – and the cabin is starting to show its age. The Kia does pack most of the creature comforts you'd want, though, including air conditioning, Bluetooth music streaming, and power windows.
What it doesn't have is a colour screen – and as an aside, that means no reversing camera is available (even on a tiny car, a camera makes seeing kids or animals behind the vehicle much easier). Instead, the audio options are displayed on a small red screen which is navigated with buttons and rotary dials. It's easy to learn how it all works and once you have your phone paired, there's not much left to do. The stereo doesn't produce sound too well though.
There are buttons on the steering wheel for quickly controlling the audio and phone functions – and that wheel actually looks like that in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class … it's very distinctive! Material quality throughout the cabin reflects the price but the Kia feels well-built – not cheap and nasty.
The front seats are comfortable for doing decent stints zipping around town. If you're in and out of the Picanto they'll be great. On longer trips though, you'll notice that they are a little flat and lacking in the bolstering that supports your back when driving long distances.
It's actually in the back where the Picanto really shines. Despite being just 3.6 metres long, the little Kia packs in very decent room for passengers in the second row. Ideally, you'll drive with two back there, but the car has a full five seat belts for occasional use. That's worth noting – Suzuki's rival to the Picanto, the Celerio, only has four seat belts.
Back seat passengers will find there is excellent headroom and decent legroom, too – plus the big windows make it easy to see out.
The Picanto's small size really works in its favour – I think its best feature is that you can park it anywhere. I managed to get into spots smaller than I think I ever have before during my week with the car. The good visibility out, and quick steering, makes it really easy to park, as well. The lack of a reversing camera, though, is a notable oversight.
It might be small but there's adequate room inside to stash a bunch of shopping bags or even a couple of medium sized suitcases. Open up the light boot and you will find 200 litres of boot space – that's about 25% less than in a (bigger) Toyota Yaris, but it's a good, deep boot which can fit a medium-sized suitcase.
It is possible to fold the back seats if you need more room and are only carrying one or two people. If you do that, the 200 litres expands to 900 litres – a very decent amount of room for carrying bigger items. The seats don't fold perfectly flat – there's a big step between the boot floor and the seat back – but it's good to have the flexibility.
Inside the cabin there are a number of places to stash everyday clutter. There is a dedicated cupholder up front but a number of extra cubbies between the seats for other drinks, change, or a phone. Plus, there are door bins in both the front and back for an extra water bottle.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Kia offers essentially the best peace of mind in the Australian market when it comes to reliability. The unlimited kilometre, seven-year warranty that comes on all new Kias is the longest warranty you can get here – and it is transferrable to a new owner for when you sell that car.
Although Kias share many of their components with sister brand Hyundai, Kia buyers get an extra two years of warranty – bonus.
The Picanto also gets seven years of capped price servicing – and as you'd expect, maintaining this small, uncomplicated car doesn't break the bank. The Picanto requires servicing once annually or every 15,000 kilometres, and the first three years will cost $930 all-in.
Beyond maintenance, the other major running costs are fuel, insurance, and depreciation. Let's run through those to find the real cost of a Picanto over the typical three years and 40,000 kilometres of ownership.
A major every day running cost is fuel. Though the Picanto claims scant fuel use, we found the realistic figure to be more like 8L/100km, which is the figure we'll base our estimates on. At $1.30/litre, the Picanto will cost about $1,456 per year in fuel. Over three years, that adds to $4,368.
The Picanto is a relatively cheap car to insure. We solicit quotes for comprehensive insurance from mainstream insurers, for a 30 year old driver with a good driving record, living in a middle-income suburb in Sydney. The Picanto averaged $740 per year in insurance costs. Across three years, the Kia can be expected to cost around $2,220 to insure.
Based on Glass's Guide data, we measure how much a car will depreciate over 3 years and 42,000 kilometres of driving. The Picanto can be expected to retain about 50% of its value after this period – so you'll recoup about $7,500 at sale. That puts the 3 year depreciation at $7,490.
Total cost of running a Kia Picanto for three years
Adding servicing, fuel and insurance, the Picanto will cost $7,518 to keep on the road over three years, or about $2,500 per year. Then, add in depreciation of $7,490 over the three years. If you sell the Picanto in three years time, it will have cost your wallet about $15,008 – coincidentally about the same as you paid for the car brand new.
VALUE FOR MONEY
There's just one model in the Picanto range and there are no extra-cost options. What you see here is what you get. The Picanto Si is $14,990, and you can choose one of seven paint colours. Only metallic black commands a $520 additional cost – the others are free. Our Picanto came painted in Signal Red metallic.
The Picanto may have a basic price but it includes most of the features that you'd want for zipping around town. The stereo may not be touchscreen, but it still has Bluetooth, iPod and AUX connectivity through the four (average) speakers. Cheap cars have come a long way – these days, power steering, air conditioning, all four power windows, central locking and power mirrors are all included.
The Kia also comes with a number of nice-to-haves, including daytime running lights, a trip computer, rear parking sensors and a chrome grille.
For $14,990 driveaway, it's hard to argue with the Kia's superb value for money if what you need is a basic car.
That puts the Kia on a par with most of its rivals. On feature set, it's only clearly bested by the more expensive Holden Spark, which recently upgraded to a much more modern interior. The Holden has a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – which means projecting sat nav to the screen is possible – and you can also option the Holden with a reversing camera. However, you'll pay almost $5,000 more for the Holden on the road – questionable value.
Holden Spark LS automatic ($15,690 plus on-road costs – about $19K on road)
With a much more modern interior, Holden's Spark is an easier sell as a first car to young drivers. Like the Picanto, the Spark has five seat belts. It has a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built-in. That also means you can option a reversing camera on the Spark – though this adds $550 to the price. The Spark is also a touch more powerful, though it can't match the Kia's warranty and long-term dependability.
Mitsubishi Mirage ES automatic ($14,290 plus on-road costs – about $17,782 on road)
Like the Picanto, the Mitsubishi Mirage is a pretty basic small car – though like other Mitsubishis, it's likely to be very reliable. The Mirage has a three-cylinder engine that actually sounds pretty cool when you give it the beans – and it's also not a bad car to drive. Like the Picanto, the Mirage has five seat belts. If anything, the interior is more spartan than the Kia's – no touchscreen here. While the Mirage's list price is lower than the Picanto's, on-road costs add up to make the Mirage auto about $17K out the door.
Suzuki Celerio automatic ($13,990 plus on-road costs, about $17K on road)
The Celerio is relatively unique here in being just a four-seater. If you plan on carrying the occasional fifth person, you'll need to look elsewhere. That caveat aside, the Suzuki Celerio is a great little car for nipping around in. It has a willing – but tiny – three cylinder engine and comes closer to its fuel economy claim than the Kia. We just wish the warranty (3 years, 100,000 kilometres) was more generous – and it goes without saying that the cheap as chips Celerio is also very basic inside.
|Power||63kW at 6,000rpm|
|Torque||120Nm at 4,000rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||71kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||5.3L/100km|
|Average range||660 kilometres|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Configuration||Continuously variable automatic (CVT)|
|Drivetrain||Front wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Unoccupied weight||885 kilograms|
|Cargo space (seats up)||200 litres|
|Cargo space (seats down)||605 litres|