The Kia Picanto GT is, pound for pound, the best sports car in Australia

In a world where cars are getting bigger and boring, the Kia Picanto GT is a very small and very fun car which, although not a real “hot hatch”, offers a lot of pizzazz and practicality. for the most discerning (and budget-conscious) motorist.

City cars never really took off in Australia. Even though 85% of all Australians live in urban areas, Australia is still a big country, and while our collective taste for cars is not as great as that of our American cousins, we also tend like big vehicles.

It’s a shame because, as our cities become increasingly crowded and gas prices continue to climb, there’s a lot to be said for small, space-saving, fuel-efficient cars.

That said, most superminis that have been sold in this country over the past two decades have been pretty boring. With the exception of a few superstars like the Fiat 500 (and its Abarth derivatives) or the short-lived Volkswagen Up, most of the city cars on offer here have been boring.

The Kia Picanto GT is a notable exception, however. Indeed, it’s so much fun that we’d say pound for pound it’s the best sports car in Australia. We mean literally, by the way – it has an empty weight of just 1,031kg…

A major use case for the Picanto GT: ultra-tight parking spaces in the city center. Image: Jamie Weiss/DMARGE

As with many cars, the numbers don’t tell the whole story of the Kia Picanto GT. Case in point: Its 1.0L turbocharged inline three-cylinder engine produces “only” 74 kW/174 Nm and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 13.7 seconds. On paper, these are not impressive numbers. So it’s a hot hatch as opposed to a hot one.

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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 called soft or boring to drive.

One number that tells a good story is its price. With prices starting at a paltry AU$20,490, to say it’s a good buy would be the understatement of the century. Indeed, it’s more than $8,000 cheaper than the second most expensive car in the segment, the Suzuki Swift Sport.

And for your money, you not only get a whopping 7-year/unlimited-mile warranty, but also a car that fits and finishes better than most luxury cars. Seriously. I drove one of these things for a week and have to say the quality of the Picanto GT’s interior looks, feels and is put together better than some cars five or ten times its price.

The interior of the Kia Picanto GT is truly upscale. Image: Jamie Weiss/DMARGE

Despite being so irritating, it’s also a rather comfortable and spacious place; Kia really nailed the wraps with this one. The infotainment system is great with phones connecting to it quickly, the steering wheel is thin but solid, the seats are comfortable, even for a tall, stocky bastard like me… I also like the way it looks, with its nice handle red highlights and a modern, angular design.

But how’s driving, Jamie? I’m glad you asked.

Simply put, it’s a gem. Its boxy design with wheels at each corner of the car means it has kart-like handling, just like a classic Mini. Steering input is direct and smooth, and the 5-speed gearbox is snappy and efficient, with a predictable and reassuring clutch bite point. The exhaust note is surprisingly buff—you can even get a little turbo flutter if you really hit it.

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Is it perfect? No. From 0-50 it’s really quick and torquey, but it quickly gets a bit puny at higher speeds – it’s not a natural highway cruiser. Although it has an upshift indicator, it’s all about fuel economy and tells you to shift way too soon. The fairly upright driving position will also be a bit of a pretense for drivers used to lower and longer vehicles.

Masculine but tiny. The Picanto GT could pretty much fit in the bed of the 70-series Toyota Land Cruiser next to it in this photo… Image: Jamie Weiss/DMARGE

But in the grand scheme of things, these issues aren’t dealbreakers. For a car this affordable and this small, you have to compromise somewhere. It’s just remarkable how little compromise you have to make with this car… I don’t know how Kia does for the money.

In my opinion, the Kia Picanto GT is both a head and heart buy, which is really what a hot hatch should be. It’s both very practical and 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 in Kia’s online showroom here.

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