Test Drives

Hyundai Kona 1.0 review: Clutching at success

The bad news for Hyundai’s Kona 1.0 is that it only comes with a manual gearbox. The good news is, it comes with a manual gearbox.

SINGAPORE — The eye-catching Hyundai Kona is what you might call the right car for the wrong market. At the moment it comes in two flavours: a 1.6 T-GDI with all-wheel drive that we’ve tested before, and its sibling here in a jolly shade of red, the 1.0 T-GDI with front-wheel drive.

With 177 horsepower, the 1.6 model is a hoot in city traffic, but it’s tripped up somewhat by a S$20,000 surcharge under the new Vehicular Emissions Scheme. That’s apparently due to its all-wheel drive system, but whatever it is… right car, wrong market.

In contrast, the 1.0 model receives a S$10,000 VES rebate, which bolsters the cheap-n-cheerful case for the Kona significantly.

The catch? It comes with a six-speed manual.

If you’re still here, it means you either don’t mind the fact that the Kona 1.0 has three pedals, or positively welcome the fact.

That makes you a rare specimen in Singapore, so much so that few dealers bother to even offer manual cars.

Yet, the three-pedal Kona is a car we wouldn’t mind spending money on. If the 1.6 Kona feels expensive, this version seems like plenty of car for the money. Its specs list is surprisingly long, with the manual air-con probably the most noticeable difference between this and the 1.6 (which has an auto system).

You get welcome stuff like lane keep assist (which uses a camera to look for lane markings, thereby allowing the Kona to gently steer itself to keep within its lane), autonomous emergency braking (fail to react to a hazard ahead and the Hyundai does it for you), and blind spot monitors to warn you against changing lanes into someone.

There are cars from luxury brands that cost twice as much and lack those features.

There are six airbags if you crash anyway, and a plethora of convenient features such as keyless entry and engine starting, and a touchscreen system with Apple CarPlay. Say what you like about Korean brands, but it’s clear that they try harder.

If you’re wondering about the driving experience, the manual set-up is a nice one. The clutch is light and it’s easy to find its biting point, while the gearshift action is pretty slick. The throws are pretty long, so changing from second to third almost feels like you’re delivering a punch, but overall the Kona has a gearbox that’s nice to use.

It works well with the peppy engine, too. A litre might not sound like much, but thanks to turbocharging the Kona really picks up speed smartly as long as you keep the engine spinning faster than 2,000rpm, where there’s plenty of boost and lots of ready torque.

The engine isn’t quiet, but it makes a pleasant little three-cylinder chirrup that’s easy on the ear.

All that isn’t to say that there are no flaws. The Kona has a busy, sometimes jiggly ride over little road imperfections, and the entertainment system’s speakers sound woefully tinny. The boot lacks a cover and isn’t that big.

As for the manual air-con, the blower control will drive you crazy because airflow at “1” is non-existent, and “2” is too gusty.

Still, there’s nothing quite like the Kona on the market. Its slim lights, huge grille and boxy shape give it distinctive looks (in a good way), and the latter attribute helps to create a cabin that feels roomy and offers lots of headroom in the back.

The safety equipment is entirely worth having, and of course, the fact that it’s a manual means the Kona has a sort of built-in market; I can see owners of old manual Mitsubishi Lancers or Honda Citys trading them in for a Kona because they’ve had nothing to change to until now.

It’s worth pointing out that Honda also offers the Jazz with three pedals, but since crossovers are hotter than hatchbacks at the moment, the Kona seems likely to scoop up more sales.

Of course, once Singapore’s stock of old manual bangers is depleted, demand for the Kona 1.0 is likely to tail off. By then, however, Hyundai should have one with a twin-clutch auto available. That would be the right car for a ready market.

NEED TO KNOW Hyundai Kona 1.0 T-GDI
Engine 1,591cc, 16V, turbo in-line four
Power 177hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 265Nm at 1,500 to 4,500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed manual
Top Speed 205km/h
0-100km/h 7.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.7L/100km
CO2 153g/km
Price S$80,999 including Certificate Of Entitlement
Agent Komoco Motors
Available Now


about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.