One-litre, manual version of Hyundai's Kona crossover surprises with a peachy, punchy drive
Hyundai Kona 1.0: Little wonder The Hyundai Kona 1.0 is equipped with a 998cc three-cylinder turbo engine and comes with premium features such as multi-function steering wheel, keyless function, cruise control and lane-keeping assist. ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN

A one-litre manual transmission crossover may seem at best a niche product in Singapore, but Hyundai reckons a cheaper option Kona could have a wide appeal. And it might well be right.

For starters, the car is a whopping $42,000 - or 33 per cent - less expensive than its 1.6-litre automatic sibling.

But there are other reasons which make this puny-engined car attractive and they mostly have to do with the way it drives.

Equipped with a 998cc three-cylinder turbo engine, the compact Kona is far more responsive than you expect. Much of that, of course, has to do with its six-speed manual box. As advanced as automatic transmissions are, there is something to be said about deciding for yourself which gear you want to be in at a given point in time.

This takes into account various inputs that a machine can never hope to match, including prevailing traffic conditions and how you, the driver, are feeling at any given moment.

Its first two gears are torquey, giving a powerful burst which will often see the Kona ahead of the pack when the lights turn green.

The third gear is extremely flexible, allowing the car to move about almost like an automatic in the city.

Beyond that, the car is fairly relaxed, with the sixth gear best reserved for highway driving.

Gear changes are smooth and precise, with clutch and shift gate configured for easy engagement and very slim chance of error. This makes driving a manual - which many consider to be a chore - an absolute joy.

Then there is the on-demand torque which avails itself to every conceivable situation. Combined with the natural low-end punchiness of a turbo engine, progress is effortless and fun.

Indeed, the car might make those whose driving licence allow them to operate only automatics regret a little. And it will even make those who have driven the manual Mazda MX-5 nod with approval.

For an entry-level car, the Kona 1.0 is surprisingly well-equipped. The test-car comes with premium features such as multi-function steering wheel, keyless function, cruise control and lane-keeping assist.

The last two are a tad incongruous in a manual transmission car. Lane-keeping assist, which is mildly irritating even in the best automatics, feels absolutely out of place in a manual car. Because a manufacturer who trusts you to be able to select your own gears, should also trust you to be able to keep in lane.

An intervening steering just feels ghostly and weird in a stick shift.

On the whole, the Kona 1.0 is a peachy car with plenty of exuberance. And like its 1.6-litre sibling, it handles very well for a crossover - agile, confident and reasonably sticky around fast bends.

And at below $90,000, it is hard to beat in terms of value.