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Kia Picanto

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Kia Picanto

Model/Engine size: 1.0 ‘1’ 5-door

Fuel: Petrol

Fuel economy combined: 67.3 mpg

Beating Spirit rating: 8/10

The £7,995 Kia Picanto happened to be our press car when we visited Bentley to see how a £225,000 Mulsanne is built – so could we live with the Picanto after spending the day with a factory full of Bentleys?

It would be hard to find two other cars at such different ends of the price spectrum as the Picanto and the Mulsanne – as well as in terms of size. The Mulsanne’s engine alone seemed to be the same size as the entire Kia.

Staff at the Bentley factory spend weeks just making the wood and leather elements of the interior, whereas the whole Picanto is likely to be built in a fraction of the time it takes to just put the Bentley dashboard together.

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Power and performance of the two cars are also poles apart, so was there anything to make us want to drive home in the Picanto from Crewe?

A Bentley versus a Kia seems like a very unfair contest, but there are ways for the Kia to score points here. For a start, you could cancel your Bentley order and instead buy both the Picanto and a house. Or at least a Picanto and an impressive range of other cars. You’d obviously use the Picanto for nipping around town, and this is an area in which it excels – definitely more so than the Bentley.

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The Picanto has a characterful and revvy (or some might say noisy…) three-cylinder, 1-litre petrol engine. Combined with its small, lightweight body, the car is reasonable fun to drive around the city (in a cheap and cheerful way), but it’s certainly not fast. Cities invariably seem to contain a large number of speed bumps and potholes, and the Picanto’s firm ride and very short wheelbase means that such features provide an unpleasant intrusion for the car’s occupants. Its steering is better than you might imagine, and it does have a usefully small turning circle, but it’s not as sharp as some other small cars.

Of course, the Picanto is also going to be considerably cheaper to run than a Bentley. The official combined fuel consumption figure is 67.3 mpg, with CO 2 emissions of 99 g/km. However we struggled to average any more than 50 mpg when testing the agility of the Picanto around town. And this is the challenge with very small engines that have been optimised to perform well in the NEDC fuel economy test – when put under extra load to make decent progress in real-life driving, such engines rarely come close to their official figures.

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It’s going to be difficult to argue that the Picanto offers more luxury and comfort than a Bentley, but, possibly with the exception of its three-cylinder engine, the rest of the Picanto has levels of refinement normally associated with cars from a class above. The interior is also a much more mature place than you would have expected from a car in this price range a few years ago, with a pleasant-looking dashboard. However the driver’s seat isn’t particularly comfortable for long journeys, and this isn’t helped by the steering wheel, which adjusts for height, but not for reach. Of course the Picanto is a small city car, so you’re going to struggle getting lots of people and their things inside.

Our journey to Bentley also involved a trip down the M6 in the middle of winter in a huge torrential downpour. This highlighted the fact that although it’s possible to tackle motorways in a Picanto, with its narrow width and small, narrow tyres it’s not the most planted of cars when driving conditions are so poor, and at motorway speeds it doesn’t have any reserves of power to help you accelerate to avoid potential hazards. Hardly surprisingly, it’s not the quietest car on a motorway.

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The Picanto may look good value next to a Bentley Mulsanne, but does it make more sense as a city runabout than an electric car such as a Mitsubishi i-MiEV? The i-MiEV costs £28,990, but qualifies for the £5000 government plug-in car grant. That still makes the Picanto £16,000 cheaper. And whereas with the i-MiEV you have a realistic maximum driving range of around 80 miles, the Picanto can theoretically do around 500 miles on one tank. It can then refuel in less than 5 minutes, whereas an electric car such as i-MiEV would take at least 8 hours using a domestic energy supply. Both the i-MiEV and the Picanto pay zero road tax and zero London Congestion Charge. Cars such as the i-MiEV may make sense as an ownership proposition for certain companies in areas such as London, but the average private motorist driving relatively few miles in urban areas would struggle to make the economics of such an electric car work compared to the Picanto.

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There’s also the Hyundai i10 which is essentially the same car as the Picanto but with different styling. We think that the more angular Kia looks better than the curved Hyundai, especially at the rear.

The Picanto 1 is basic in terms of equipment, although it does have standard safety features such as anti-lock brakes and stability control, but you can opt for better-equipped ‘2’ and ‘3’ models which feature luxuries such as air conditioning. You can also choose a larger a four-cylinder 1.25-litre petrol engine, which has better performance, but the official fuel economy is worse. However the difference in fuel economy between the two in real life is likely to be less than the official figures suggest, because you’ll always tend to overwork the 1-litre engine to extract sufficient performance, with a consequent reduction in fuel economy.

You can also chose between the five-door version, as tested, or a three-door version at an even cheaper £7,795 in ‘1’ trim. The Kia comes with a seven-year warranty and it should prove reliable.

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Summary

If you’re looking for one of the cheapest and reliable ways to get around the city, while still having some fun, then the Kia Picanto must be one of the best solutions. The promise of 67.3 mpg from a petrol-engined car is impressive, but you’ll have to drive it very carefully to achieve this in real life.

The Picanto may not have the zero-tailpipe emissions of an electric car, but it’s much cheaper to buy, there’s no need to have an off-road space to recharge it, and there’s no need to wait over 8 hours for it be refuelled before you can drive anywhere. We think the Picanto also looks good, so for this price, we’d recommend it. It gets a Beating Spirit rating of 8 out of 10, and once again shows that longer established manufacturers need to take note of Kia and Hyundai as they are increasingly becoming a serious force to be reckoned with. Bentley needn’t be worried at the moment…

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Paul Clarke

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Fuel economy extra urban: 78.5 mpg

Fuel economy urban: 52.3 mpg

CO 2 emissions: 99 g/km

Green rating: VED band A – first year £0

Weight: 845 Kg

Company car tax liability (2011/12): 10%

Price: £7,995

Insurance group: 3

Power: 68 bhp

Max speed: 93 mph

0-62mph: 14.8 seconds

Read our Hyundai i10 road test

Kia Picanto review, Kia Picanto road test