Kia Picanto GT set to become most affordable performance car in Australia

Kia Picanto GT set to become most affordable performance car in Australia

Kia has only just rolled the first examples of its next-generation Picanto into local showrooms, but plans are already afoot to turn up the heat on the Korean brand’s likeable compact.

Local suspension calibration work has already been carried out on the Picanto’s performance-oriented variant, with the turbocharged Picanto GT having undergone Kia Australia’s localisation process alongside the regular Picanto range earlier this year.

Though yet to be officially confirmed by Kia’s local office, the Picanto GT is so far destined for sale in Europe and Korea. Wheels understands the local business case for the Picanto GT is already well advanced.

If given the official green light, the Picanto GT will join the local line-up around Christmas to sit alongside the just-launched Picanto S automatic and manual. With 73kW of power at 4500rpm and 172Nm of torque spread between 1500-4000rpm, the Picanto GT’s 998cc turbocharged three-cylinder petrol offers a substantial increase in oomph over the regular Picanto’s 62kW/122Nm atmo 1.2-litre four-pot.

A gain of 11kW may not sound like terribly much, but that amounts to a 17 percent increase in peak power. The 50Nm uplift in torque is significant any way you cut it, and equates to a huge 41 percent surge in twisting force.

There’s a question mark over transmissions, though. In Europe, the 1.0-litre turbo “T-GDI” engine will be mated exclusively to a five-speed manual gearbox, but the Morning Turbo (the Korean version of the Picanto GT) pairs that powerplant with a four-speed automatic. Whether one or both will come to Australia isn’t presently clear.

Kia Australia has been burned in the past with manual-only performance cars, with sales of the now-departed ProCeed GT being stymied by the absence of an automatic transmission option. Australians love automatics these days, even those shopping for hot hatches.

However the bargain-priced Picanto GT could be a different story. Buyers looking for a spunky circa-$20k performance car aren’t exactly spoiled for choice, and would likely be more receptive to three-pedal transmissions. A manual would also help keep the price of entry low and ensure good separation to warm hatches in the slightly-bigger light car segment like the Fiesta ST and upcoming Suzuki Swift Sport. That said, don’t discount the prospect of an auto going on sale alongside it.

It’s not just about that turbo triple either. There’s plenty of visual aggression to help woo buyers as well, with the Picanto GT boasting pumped-up bumper and sideskirt plastics, low-mounted foglamps, big alloys, projector headlamps and twin chrome exhaust pipes.

Inside, stainless steel pedals and black/red faux leather offer more visual separation to regular Picantos, while overseas-market mod-cons like climate control and a sunroof could also make their way onto the Aus-bound GT’s spec sheet.

Handling is already helped along by the stiffer bodyshell and segment-first brake torque vectoring that equips all third-gen Picantos, but expect more dynamic gloss courtesy of performance-tuned suspension settings.

Kia could soon boast Australia’s cheapest performance car in the form of the Picanto GT, and we can expect to hear more about specific pricing and specifications towards the end of 2017.

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