The Kia Picanto GT has moved the benchmark for very small warm hatches. I’m not shocked, just very, very pleased.
When I started this site, I decided that it would cover performance cars. And what did I think was a performance car? Everything from a Swift Sport and up. That left me with a pretty wide range of cars to play with and that suits me just fine. Just because you can’t afford something expensive doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun.
Thing is, here in Australia, the Swift Sport isn’t very cheap at all. For what you get, you’re actually paying a fair bit. And I think the original starting price of $25,490 – just a few grand short of the now-departed Ford Fiesta ST – came about because there was nothing else.
But there is. It’s not from Europe, but from Korea. In what is a continually pleasing and inevitable continuation of the Koreans doing to the Japanese what they did to the West, Kia has taken the small warm hatch formula and done it quite well.
And for not very much money.
Picanto GT History
Not much to report here. It’s the first Picanto GT. But it does fit in with a short, if impressive list of performance-oriented cars from Kia. The Stinger GT everybody knows about but do you remember the stupidly-named Pro’ceed GT? No, I didn’t think you did, but it was a nice prelude to what was to come not only from Korea. The Hyundai i30 N surely took some inspiration from that underrated quick hatch.
Look and Feel
I quite like the Picanto for many of the same reasons I like the Swift. Small, chunky, ready to rumble. The GT-Line Picanto is a nice looking thing and the GT amps things up a bit.
You get a nice set of alloy wheels, some funky red flashes, deeper bumpers, fog lights and styling details to lower the look of the car. It’s nice looking but clearly Korean. That’s okay, they’re doing a pretty job of styling these days, so I’m not complaining.
The cabin also contains a few flashes of red, but it’s basically the same as the bog-standard Picanto’s. Which is to say very cheap and reasonably cheerful. The top half of the dash is quite stylish and has a nice blade of aluminium-a-like to break up the plastic. The steering wheel is covered in buttons and has nice red stitching while avoiding the flat-bottom cliche. Nice work. Once you go to the bottom half of the dash, it suddenly goes super-cheap with big old-school controls for the air-conditioning. No big deal, just be aware that this is a genuine bargain for what it is.
Plenty of room up front, too – co-pilot Spencer is a tall unit with even taller hair and he was quite happy punting it around, chasing me in the Range Rover SVAutobiography.
Super-tight in the back though, so this is really only a two person car for most of the time.
A surprisingly large screen on the dash houses an okay sat nav and multimedia system while it also has the magic of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T I drove charges (in Australia) $7000 just for CarPlay whereas that kind of money would pay for quite a lot of upgrades on the Kia.
Drivetrain and Chassis
The Picanto GT scores a single-scroll turbocharged version of Kia’s 999cc three-cylinder. It’s good for 74kW (100PS) and a very decent 172Nm to shift 1007kg. It’s still a front-wheel drive and only has five forward gears, but you change the gears yourself. A nicer bonus would be the 88kW version from the Rio, but you can’t have everything,
Chassis changes are more of the detailed variety rather than seriously different. Luckily, here in Australia Kia has a small and hugely dedicated team who have already extracted a pretty decent tune out of the basic car and didn’t have to do too much to improve things. The team couldn’t do much with the rear-end’s torsion beam setup. Which is a shame, so it meant there wasn’t a lot you could do with the front-end without making it feel like two different cars welded together.
And for some reason the wheels have a set of 195/45 16s (good) from Nexen (bad) and they’re eco-style tyres (oh dear). And the tyres have a stupid name – N’Blue.
So budget a few bucks for a set of better tyres and you’ll be doing the right thing.
I’m known for my unpopular/optimistic opinions about cars and I hold a very optimistic one about the Picanto GT – I think it’s a blast. No, it’s not very fast – in fact, I think my VW up! is only ever so slightly slower to 100km/h.
The tyres are noisy and not very good, the gearbox has only two gears worth using when you’re on it and even with 72kW and 172Nm, it’s not very quick. But I don’t care.
You see, I quite like underpowered hatches with a good chassis. The base Picanto rides really well and I reckon the GT holds on to most of the ride comfort with a bit more pointiness. Rowing it down through tight bends, just leave it in second and swoop around, enjoy yourself.
It’s got a proper sense of humour, the front tyres squealing if you push too hard into a corner, but hanging on pretty well. The triple likes to rev, but only you know about it – it’s pretty quiet. If you want noise, you’ll have to upgrade the exhaust, which might yield a bit more power.
I think the Picanto GT has all the makings of a cult car and replaces the (long dead) Barina RS as my small car surprise.
The Picanto GT is a lot of fun. I seriously considered buying one after spending a week enjoying its many charms. It has AEB, lots of gear to keep you amused in traffic and has a very long warranty. The cheap servicing and insurance were also a top consideration. This car will cost a lot less to own than a Swift Sport and is more fun to live with.
A lot of folks buy their kids a new car to keep them safe and ensure reliability – I think this is the best first car option you can buy new – safe, fun, cheap to run and looks pretty cool. And it won’t coax you or your kids into any trouble.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.