In a world where cars are getting bigger and more boring, the Kia Picanto GT is a very small and very fun car that, while not a true ‘hot hatch’, offers plenty of piquancy and practicality for the discerning (and budget-conscious) motorist.
City cars have never really taken off in Australia. Even though 85% of all Aussies live in urban areas, Australia is still a big country, and while our collective taste in cars isn’t quite as supersized as our American cousins’, we tend to like big vehicles, too.
It’s a shame because as our cities become more and more crowded and petrol prices continue to climb, there’s much to be said for small, space and fuel-efficient cars.
That said, most city cars that have been sold in this country over the last two decades have been rather boring. With the exception of a few standouts like the wildly successful Fiat 500 (and its Abarth derivatives) or the short-lived Volkswagen Up, most city cars offered here have been mind-numbingly boring.
The Kia Picanto GT is a notable exception, however. Indeed, it’s so fun that we’d argue that pound for pound, it’s the best sports car in Australia. We mean that literally, by the way – it has a kerb weight of only 1,031kg…
Like with many cars, numbers don’t tell the full story when it comes to the Kia Picanto GT. Case in point: its 1.0L turbocharged inline-three engine ‘only’ makes 74kW/174Nm and does 0-100km/h in 13.7 seconds. On paper, those are not impressive figures. So it’s a warm hatch as opposed to a hot one.
But consider this: the Kia Picanto GT has a better power-to-weight ratio than a Mazda MX-5, Subaru WRX or the new Toyota GR Yaris – three sports cars that can hardly be said to be slouches, or boring to drive.
One number that does tell a good story is its price tag. With pricing starting at a paltry AU$20,490, to say that it’s a good buy would be to make the understatement of the century. Indeed, it’s over $8,000 cheaper than the next most expensive car in the segment, the Suzuki Swift Sport.
And for your money, you not only get a whopping 7-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty but a car that boasts a fit and finish better than most luxury cars. Seriously. I drove one of these things for a week and I have to say, the quality of the interior in the Picanto GT looks, feels and is put together better than some cars five or ten times its price.
Despite being so titchy, it’s also a rather comfy and spacious place to be in; Kia has really nailed the packing with this one. The infotainment system is great with phones connecting to it quickly, the steering wheel is thin but solid-feeling, the seats are comfortable, even for a tall, stocky bastard like me… I also love the way it looks, with its nice smattering of red highlights and modern, angular design.
But what’s it like to drive, Jamie? I’m glad you asked.
Simply put, it’s a gem. Its boxy design with wheels on each corner of the car means it’s got go-kart-like handling, just like a classic Mini. Steering input is direct and smooth, and the 5-speed gearbox is notchy and effective, with a predictable and reassuring clutch bite point. The exhaust note is surprisingly buff – you can even get a bit of turbo flutter if you really punch it.
Is it perfect? No. From 0-50, it’s really fast and torquey, but then it quickly becomes a bit gutless at higher speeds – it’s not a natural highway cruiser. While it does have an upshift indicator, it’s entirely geared towards fuel economy and tells you to shift way too early. The fairly upright driving position will also be a bit of a headfake for drivers used to lower-slung, longer vehicles, too.
But in the grand scheme of things, these issues aren’t dealbreakers. For a car this affordable and this small, you have to make some compromises somewhere. It’s just remarkable how few compromises you have to make with this car… I don’t know how Kia does it for the money.
In my opinion, the Kia Picanto GT is both a head and heart purchase, which is really what a hot hatch should be. It’s both highly practical as well as incredibly fun; a car that rewards enthusiasts and will challenge your expectations of what a city car can be. I had so much fun with this car, and I know you will too.
Find out more about the Kia Picanto GT and book a test drive at Kia’s online showroom here.