Used test: Kia Picanto vs Volkswagen Up

The Kia Picanto and Volkswagen Up are two sizzling little city cars, but which one makes the most sense bought used? We've got the answer...

Kia Picanto vs VW Up

The Contenders

Kia Picanto 1.25 3

  • List price when new £12,650
  • Price today £9000*
  • Available from 2017-present

The diminutive Picanto has loads of equipment, including a swanky infotainment touchscreen.

Volkswagen Up 1.0 TSI 90 Beats

  • List price when new £11,905
  • Price today £7200*
  • Available from 2012-present

The funky Beats edition packs a punchy stereo and a powerful engine by city car standards.

*Price today is based on a 2017 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

While the SUV seems to have been busy capturing everyone’s attention, it’s the humble city car that has quietly grown in stature, appeal and capability over the past few years. Once upon a time models in this class used to be slow, impractical and poorly provisioned, and really only suitable for buzzing around town; easy parking and low costs were the only real reasons you might have considered one.

Now, though, things are very different. These small wundercars can offer all the driveability and practicality of far larger cars within usefully shrunken dimensions. They’re cheaper to buy and to run too. Choose one at a couple of years old, as we’re testing them here, and you’ll save even more money, while still getting a car with some of the manufacturer's warranty left on it.

Kia Picanto

So, just how capable can a used version of the best modern city car be, not just in town but also out on the open road? To find out, we’ve lined up two of the leading lights in the class: the Kia Picanto and the Volkswagen Up.

What are they like to drive? 

Think of the Up as the Usain Bolt of the city car class. Okay, that’s perhaps a little generous, but it will easily outsprint any of its peers, including the Picanto. And because the tiny 1.0-litre petrol engine is turbocharged in this range-topping TSI model, you don’t even need to rev it hard to keep pace with some of the bigger boys.

 Swift progress in the Picanto isn’t so effortless. Venture onto the outside lane of the motorway or encounter a moderate incline on a faster A-road and you’ll find yourself changing down a gear or two and using the lower reaches of the accelerator. Do that, though, and the Picanto isn’t actually that much slower than the Up.

Because you need to work the Picanto’s naturally aspirated 1.2-litre engine hard to get the best from it, this inevitably means it can be quite vocal. However, the fact that it has an extra cylinder than its rival (four versus three) means it’s actually smoother; you feel fewer vibrations filtering up through the pedals and steering wheel. In fact, the Picanto is the quieter companion at a steady 70mph, although chatting with your passenger will still require raising your voice. Whisper-quiet limousines these cars most certainly are not.

Volkswagen Up

You won’t grumble about heavy steering or wide turning circles in either of these cars, but venture onto a winding B-road and it’s the Picanto that feels more at home. It darts into corners with surprisingly little body lean and hangs onto the road willingly, and its steering is hard to fault for accuracy. By contrast, the Up sways about when asked to change direction and its steering wheel kicks back in your hand when you approach the limit of grip. On the plus side, its steering does provide you with a slightly better sense of what the front wheels are doing.

The Up’s softer suspension gives it the more comfortable ride, too, no matter what speed you’re doing. That said, wider experience tells us that shopping around to find a car fitted with 16in or 17in wheels (from the standard 15s) will have you wincing over sharp-edged bumps. And the Picanto isn’t at all fractious; it just jostles you around a bit more over minor road imperfections.

Next: What are they like inside? >

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