Which of these turbocharged 1-litre crossovers offers suburbanites the best combination of performance and practicality?
TURBOCHARGING enables small engines to produce as much power as bigger naturally aspirated units. It’s a win-win for carmakers who must meet more stringent emission standards, and for motorists in Singapore who want a bigger car without paying more road tax.
Applying this formula to crossovers, which are the most popular type of car today, should make for a winning combination.
Tempting buyers with its sharp lines and well-equipped cabin is the Seat Arona. The Spanish brand, which is owned by Volkswagen, will undoubtedly want to capitalise on the fact that its parent company has no equivalent model available here.
Offering buyers an even more unique driving experience is the rugged-looking Hyundai Kona. Unlike its more powerful turbocharged 1.6-litre sibling, which has a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, this entry-level variant is only available with a 6-speed manual tranmission.
The newest newcomer in this story is the MG ZS. Formerly a British brand, MG is now owned by Chinese manufacturer SAIC Motor. The ZS has a surprisingly nice design, with its front end resembling a Mazda CX-5 and a rear end resembling the Hyundai Tucson. But as we shall soon discover, the ZS actually has more to offer than just lookalike styling.
Which of these cheap and good 1-litre crossovers will buyers find the most “one-derful”? Keep reading and find out!
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Hyundai’s turbocharged 1-litre 3-cylinder with 118hp and 172Nm is the most eager, and it enjoys being redlined repeatedly.
Kona’s 6-speed manual gearbox will be welcomed by enthusiasts for its effortless action. However, the gearlever’s throws are longer than expected.
RIDE & HANDLING
Kona’s firm ride caters to keen drivers who want to chuck this crossover around. But it could use more pliancy to deal with our roads, which are becoming increasingly woollier.
The most intuitive space of the three cars has nicely labelled controls and a build quality that feels even more solid than the Arona’s. We also love the Kona’s powerful air-con, but cannot stand the woefully tiny doorbins that reduce overall practicality.
Sharpest and easiest to read thanks to the large digits.
The Kona’s user-friendly menu makes scrolling through pertinent information and tweaking the various options really simple, too.
Kona’s backseat may be the smallest of the bunch, but it’s the cushiest and also the only one with an armrest and cupholders. However, the overall practicality is the lowest, no thanks again to those tiny doorbins.
Kona’s 361-litre boot is the most flexible of the group as it’s the only one with a cargo net and underfloor storage. However, it lacks a parcel shelf to keep items hidden from view.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
MG’s 1-litre 3-cylinder with 109hp and 160Nm has the most relaxed power delivery, but its century sprint time is similar to the Kona’s, at least according to the specifications.
ZS’s 6-speed automatic feels the least urgent, even in Sport mode, but the good news is that it delivers the smoothest gearchanges overall.
RIDE & HANDLING
ZS is ideal for road trips as it has the cushiest ride quality in this company. Drivers can choose from three steering assistance levels, but it’s too bad that none of the settings enhances feedback from the front wheels.
Would have been the most comfortable, if not for the fact that the ZS lacks a footrest and keyless entry/ignition. However, the MG’s seats are the cushiest and its steering wheel is even nicer to hold than the Arona’s.
Least user-friendly cluster is also potentially confusing due to the “mph” markings, which could lead to accidental speeding tickets. Even the digital speedometer of the ZS is in miles per hour, and the fuel economy gauge is in miles per gallon.
Roomiest cabin of the trio easily seats three adults, as the ZS’s bench is the widest and its floorboard is the flattest. The bench, although well-padded, is ironically the stiffest of the three benches.
ZS’ 448-litre cargo capacity is ideal for bulky items, and the netted partitions are bigger and more useful than the Arona’s, too. The loading ledge is the highest here, though, so anyone shorter than 1.75m will find it tricky to stow items inside the boot.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Seat’s turbocharged 1-litre 3-pot with 118hp and 200Nm is the punchiest and most efficient motor of the group.
Arona’s 7-speed dual-clutch transmission provides the fastest gearchanges, and its manual override function is naturally the most fun to use.
RIDE & HANDLING
Arona is the nimblest of the trio, thanks to its compact size and sharp steering. Impressively, it also strikes the best balance between ride comfort and handling capability.
Sportiest of the three has a dashboard that’s angled towards the driver and more red stitching than the ZS. The huge doorbins make this space the most practical, while the Seat’s snazzy infotainment unit is the most fun to use.
Motorcycle-inspired dials of the Arona look the most dynamic and unlike the MG ZS, customer cars sold by Seat here will have speedometers with km/h markings only.
Like in the Kona, the Arona’s bench is better for two occupants instead of three. But the generously sized doorbins mean that they’ll have more space for items such as phablets and powerbanks.
Arona’s 400-litre cargo hold is easily accessed by all users, as it has the shortest loading height. But with the fewest tethering points and a lack of underfloor storage, it’s the least flexible in this company.
Suburbanites who want a lot of crossover for not a lot of money should consider the MG ZS, which has the roomiest cabin and largest boot.
It also has the cushiest front seats and, for less enthusiastic drivers, reasonable performance.
As enthusiasts, we wish we could’ve spent four weeks with the Hyundai Kona. You’d imagine that its manual gearbox would be a turn-off to many buyers, but that hasn’t been the case. With around 100 units sold so far, we can assume that the 1-litre Kona’s design, performance and relatively affordable price (it’s also the least expensive contender here) have proved to be a compelling combination.
Less convincing, though, are the Kona’s tight rear accommodation, firm ride and small storage points. But if you’re a keen driver who can live with these drawbacks, then the Kona will make you quite happy.
The “one-derful” Seat Arona gives us many reasons to smile. Instead of the Kona’s manual transmission, it’s equipped with a faster dual-clutch gearbox, as well as quicker overall performance. Although the Arona is not as firmly damped as the Kona, the Seat’s small size does give it added manoeuvrability.
We also like the Arona’s practical cabin and enjoyable infotainment system. Less wonderful are its smaller backseat, less flexible boot and significantly higher price tag. At press time, the $128,900 Arona FR costs $23k and $37.9k more than the MG ZS and Hyundai Kona respectively.
THE KONA IS THE SPORTIEST, THE ZS IS THE MOST COMFORTABLE, WHILE THE ARONA IS THE MOST PRACTICAL.
(Left and right) Both the Arona and ZS have switchblade-type keys, but the latter’s ribbed finish offers better grip. The Kona’s device (middle) is the most elegant and it feels solid, too.
PHOTOS TAN MENG CHOON
ART DIRECTION MICHAEL CHIAN