The Kia Picanto is one of Australia’s cheapest new cars, but we want to find out just how GT this Picanto really is over the next three months
Cast your mind to small performance hot hatches and the first car that springs to mind is unlikely to be the Kia Picanto GT. But this ‘warm’ city carver is an affordable way to have some fun, especially if you live in a really busy city like we do here in Sydney.
But the Kia Picanto GT is also in the running to be a great first car, too, starting from just $20,490 before on-road costs.
It’s got a thrifty 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, a five-speed manual transmission, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and a four-speaker stereo system all as standard.
Importantly, the Kia Picanto’s claim to fame is that it is currently Australia’s cheapest new car, beating the MG3 by $500. The Picanto S manual trim costs $18,490 driveaway – $2000 less than the spicy GT I am running. So, should you spend a bit more? We’re going to find out.
Kia’s marketing says that all Picanto variants have been tuned for Australia, with the GT variant gaining sports tuned steering and suspension.
Staff journalist Zak Adkins has been tasked with testing just how well Kia’s claims stack up and whether this is the best value ‘warm’ hatch on sale in Australia today. Grab something to eat and settle in as Zak takes you through the month by month ownership experience with the Kia Picanto GT.
Zak hands back the Picanto GT keys to Kia Australia and will miss its playful nature and charming characteristics
Kilometres this month: 1374km
Fuel economy this month: 6.2/100km
Running costs this month: $163.38
With its odometer nudging eight grand (7974km), the time has come to hand back the keys to my Picanto GT long-termer. It’s been a short but great three months living with ‘my’ little Kia.
From long highway journeys from Sydney to Brisbane and back, to ducking and diving through the mountain passes south of Sydney, I’ve grown pretty fond of the Picanto over the past couple of months.
The rest of the team here at Chasing Cars will happily agree with me that this car is a riot. A fun, entertaining and engaging way of getting around town.
Our production manager Tom Place said that “the Picanto GT is one of few cars that lets you have fun without breaking the bank or making you compromise on safety, in the way that you almost certainly will on a cheap second-hand car in the current market.
“Young drivers exploring the road for the first time would do well to consider this loveable hatch,” Place continued.
So how can I sum up how I feel about the little GT?
For $20,490 before on-roads in flagship GT guise, there is little competition out there to knock this pocket rocket from its perch.
The little hatch could play multiple roles in one’s life – a suitable first car, a better second car (if the first is an SUV for the family) or a fuel-efficient city carver for any age group.
Some of the key highlights for me with the Picanto GT were its funky exhaust and induction note, frugal fuel use, lightweight handling characteristics and decent ride comfort for the price.
If you’ve just stepped out of something at a higher price point, you may be a little disappointed by the Picanto’s basic interior, however everything works exactly as you want it to.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen is fast enough and lag-free, and connects well to your smartphone – wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
What I haven’t liked so much about the Picanto is that it’s crying out for a bit more power. As this car is marketed as a Kia ‘GT’ product, I did expect a little more poke out of the 1.0-litre turbocharged triple when I drove it for the first time.
A touch more power (or torque) would come in handy especially when entering the highway, or pulling out into moving traffic from a side street. I’m a firm believer that a little extra grunt can be a positive.
You can drive almost everywhere flat out without breaking any speed limits and, with the rorty exhaust note blaring as you row through its five forward gears, a sense of enjoyment comes over you – a feeling some more expensive cars surprisingly fail at.
So the Picanto GT is cheap and cheerful, economical to run and a blast to drive. I am left wondering what could be better. A little more power and torque here, a shorter throw transmission there – otherwise this really is a great car.
Car manufacturers are slowly transitioning from building small cars to throwing all they have at SUVs and electrification. That’s where the market is now destined. With news that hot hatches such as the Ford Focus ST will be no more, fun small petrol cars will arguably become harder and harder to find.
And even though the Kia Picanto GT is not a performance car, it has the ingredients there – like a hint of chilli in your favourite dish – to pep you up.
Kia Australia claims that its Picanto GT flagship has sports steering and suspension, but how much of a GT model is our long termer? We took it to the twisties to find out.
Kilometres this month: 2086km
Fuel economy this month: 5.8L/100km
Running costs this month: $220.57
The Macquarie Pass tucked within the mountains south of Sydney is an epic bit of road. Winding back and forth, hairpin by hairpin, this stretch of tarmac is extremely popular with motorbike riders and car enthusiasts alike.
The eight-kilometre stretch of road is extremely narrow in parts and is not for the faint of heart, so I thought ‘our’ Kia Picanto GT could be the perfect pairing for such a mountain pass.
When I was recently back home in Brisbane, I wanted to take the Picanto GT to my favourite stretch of road – the winding mountain switchbacks of Mount Nebo and Mount Glorious, however I just didn’t get the time to do it. The Macquarie Pass would have to be the back-up plan.
Before I began the ascent, I was a little worried that the Picanto’s tiny 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine would struggle. With just 74kW/172Nm, I’m not going to lie by saying I planned to have the throttle pinned for the majority of the road.
But listening to that little turbo triple work its way up the Macquarie Pass was a joy. The characterful tone made me think of the Toyota GR Yaris – a hot hatch with more than twice the power, but a similar exhaust burble.
As I worked my way up the mountain pass, windows down and inhaling the clean rainforest air, I couldn’t stop smiling. There are not many cars that you can drive at full throttle without losing your licence, however the Picanto GT is one of them.
Ducking left and right round corners like a boxer in a fight, the Picanto GT was much more capable than I had expected. The grip around corners was impressive. The only downside when cornering at higher speeds was that the seats lack some side bolstering, meaning that you often find yourself beginning to slip out of your perch.
Half way up Macquarie Pass, I hit traffic. Yep, on a Saturday morning far from Sydney, I got stuck in a traffic jam. While the pass is popular with car enthusiasts and motorbike riders, it is also a major trucking route, connecting the south of Wollongong with Moss Vale. Damn.
My fun had come to an end and I was forced to a slow crawl. The traffic wouldn’t get back up to speed until we reached the summit.
While I was stuck on the side of the mountain, I had the chance to think about my little Picanto GT. What did I love, and what needed work?
Immediate thoughts came about driving engagement and thrill. This really is a fun car. And on Facebook Picanto owners groups, the consensus is the same – people get in their Picanto and have a blast, regardless of whether it is a GT variant or not.
And in a climate where fuel is steadily getting more expensive, the GT returns good fuel economy figures, making it an ideal city car. If you only drove ten or so kilometres to work every day, you may only need to fill the GT once every three weeks or so.
However, I must say that the 35-litre fuel tank is a tad small when driving long distances. If the tank increased to 50-litres, you could likely get around 800km of driving range or more.
In terms of driving the Picanto GT to the limit on a twisty road, there is some noted body roll and, when ascending a mountain pass like I have, the GT cries out for just a touch more power and torque.
If I bought a Kia Picanto GT for myself, I would look at an aftermarket tune to get a little more pep out of the 1.0-litre turbo unit. Several are out there, including a Bluespark chip that can boost outputs to 98kW/227Nm. Sounds brilliant!
The five-speed transmission is a good unit, however it could do with being a little shorter in terms of throw. When rowing through the five speeds, I found the travel between the actual gears a little long for my liking.
In the slow crawl up the mountain, I was also thinking about the things that matter most to the majority of buyers – how practical is the Picanto GT?
While the boot is fine for school bags and shopping, I wouldn’t recommend trying to move house with the Picanto GT. The back seat provides ample space for a car this small and there is plenty of storage space in the doors, along with cup holders for the front seats. There is no charging port for the rear occupants and no air vents, either, however for a car this size, you can’t have everything.
In terms of design and looks, I think the Picanto GT is a really smart little car. The highlights for me are the integrated quad DRL pattern in the headlights that look really good in low light. Unfortunately, the headlights themselves are halogen units rather than LED.
For the flagship GT, it would have been nice to get LED headlights.
Inside, the main touchpoints such as the wheel and gear shift feel like really quality items, and although the seats aren’t genuine leather, they look great.
There are plenty of hard plastics around the cabin, but that is expected considering the relatively low vehicle cost.
We finally get moving and I’m forced to put my mind back on the road. The Kia Picanto GT continues to make me smile every day I drive it. At the end of its tenure, this car will be hard to let go of. What’s next? I’ve just passed a bakery. Future plans will have to wait.
The little Picanto GT is thrown into real-world testing with a long distance blast to Brisbane and a fun adventure to Australia’s greatest racing circuit – Mount Panorama.
Kilometres this month: 4354km
Fuel economy this month: 4.9L/100km
Running costs this month: $250 (fuel)
Here I sit in my parents garage as the Picanto GT cools down after a massive drive from Sydney to Brisbane. I made it, and without any trouble at all.
I’ve got this little pocket rocket for the next three months and I have a lot planned for it. Say hello, then, to ‘EMT-47F’ that will be ‘mine’ to look after until December.
As first impressions go, the little Picanto GT has already won me over for the sheer fun factor alone. Powered by a tiny 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine with outputs of 74kW/172Nm, Kia’s smallest model won’t win any drag races, however it’s full of character and charm.
In the past three weeks I had already driven roughly 2000 kilometres. On the first weekend I had the car, I couldn’t have been more excited to obtain my first long-term test car and decided to drive to the Mount Panorama racing circuit in Bathurst – the first real test for the mighty Picanto GT.
I wonder how many Picanto GT owners would take their car to one of Australia’s most iconic motor racing circuits, but I did, and it was great (although I was sad because I was limited by the 60km/h strict speed limit).
The trip there was pretty comfortable and I was altogether impressed with how the Picanto’s suspension rode at both low speeds and highway speeds. My phone paired well using its Android Auto mirroring function and the speakers are surprisingly good for a car that costs $20,490 before on-road costs.
Inside, there are quite a few scratchy plastics but this is to be expected at such an affordable entry level.
The leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear lever are nice to touch and certainly make the interior feel premium at this price point. I just wish the seats were proper leather instead of being fake ‘pleather’ items. There is also a fair chunk of red trim here and there throughout the cabin to let you know you are driving the flagship GT variant.
The rear seat room is slightly cramped when the front pews are in the position for a duo of large adults and the boot space is, at 255 litres, super small. I couldn’t fit my electric scooter in the boot without dropping the rear seats down, which wasn’t ideal, however if you are travelling with just two people it’s fine.
Within only two weeks of getting the Picanto GT, I decided to drive home to see family and friends in Brisbane. After leaving my apartment at 1am, I immediately regretted getting up so goddamn early in the morning to drive the long 10 hours north out of Sydney.
However, the Picanto was a good companion and felt super stable humming away at 110 on the highway. Occasional wind gusts will cause the 950kg car to move around somewhat, so it’s a good idea to be on your toes if driving through bad weather, for example.
And the Picanto GT is frugal with its fuel use, sipping an average of 4.7L/100km on the highway, although it didn’t quite get to its 4.4L/100km extra urban claim. The lowest numbers from the car so far have been just 2.2L/100km heading down out of the Blue Mountains. Pretty impressive!
Getting from Sydney to Brisbane took just over two tanks of petrol, however it would be good to have a fuel tank larger than the 35L one fitted to ‘my’ car.
The Picanto GT might only have a tiny 1.0-litre engine (not far off the size of a Yamaha MT09 motorbike engine) but it does pack a turbocharger and that certainly gives the car a bit of pep when getting up to speed. It’s no racecar, but then again, was it ever going to be?
In first and second gear, the engine plays an interesting note thanks to the offbeat thrum of three eager cylinders. It’s entertaining and fun and somewhat unique when compared to other small cars on the market. Otherwise, the engine is quiet and pretty refined, although it does have a slightly bumpy idle (again thanks to the unique nature of three cylinders).
I think the car would benefit from a different, less restrictive air intake as well as an exhaust to make the engine feel a little more responsive across the rev range, but for what it is, the Picanto GT nails its brief of being a fun city car.
I can’t think of many competitors here in Australia for a car like this. Who else sells a small city car that has a warm amount of performance? The Volkswagen Up isn’t sold here and cars like the Honda Jazz are no more (and never offered a warm performance version). So the Kia Picanto GT is in a league of its own, really.
I am hoping to get the little car on some proper driving roads to see how the Picanto steps up as a GT model in the range. Kia claims the Picanto GT is fitted with “sports tuned suspension and steering”, so we will have to test that accordingly.
It would be interesting to feel the differences between a Picanto GT-Line and a GT and whether the gap between them is big or small.
A day at the track would be great, too, however I’m unsure whether we will get the opportunity between now and the end of tenure, however anything is possible!
We want to know if you have any questions or queries about the little Picanto GT and would love to answer them for you.
I’ll be doing another update in a month’s time to see how life is going with the little Kia Picanto GT.
Key specs (as tested)
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