In case you haven’t been paying attention, Hyundai is on a roll. Once the icon of the down-market import, Hyundai’s designers have had their ears to the ground and are now consistently producing some of the best-looking – and unusual – affordable cars on the market today.
The Veloster is probably the most out-there design in Hyundia’s 14-car lineup and it is definitely the most youth-oriented. The Veloster has to battle with the likes of the Honda Civic Si (also 201hp) and the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ twins in the beginner sports car market, so what did this, ahem, mature test driver think after a week behind the wheel?
Get Ready to (cringe as you drive over that) Rock
What kind of car is the Veloster, exactly? Sports coupe? Could be. Hatchback? Check. Four-door sedan – with a hatchback? At least on one side it is. Tuner car for the fast boyz and girlz? It certainly qualifies. Shooting brake? You could even argue that. In fact, depending on where you’re standing, it can be any of those things, so what it is exactly is rather amorphous. I guess it could be described as a street-racer-styled 3-door hatchback coupe – with a hidden door. Wha….?
Our shiny red test Veloster Turbo came loaded just about with every trick in Hyundai’s option book including a 201hp turbocharged power plant, six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, leather interior, navigation and a booming 8-speaker sound system that put the B in Bass Response. All for just $27,500.
And if you couldn’t hear the Veloster coming, it truly is an eyeful when you see it, with it’s street-racer front end, LED eyebrows, sporty silhouette and that, uh, shapely back end. The red paint certainly bumped up the aesthetic, along with some sporty 18-inch wheels.
Whatever the Veloster is, it’s mostly just a fun car to be in. And it turns heads (mostly 20 and 30-somethings, a.k.a. the target demographic). Some might disagree on the out-there styling of the car (especially the rear end), but everyone from my car-obsessed 6-year-old to my wife to my 76-year-old momma thought it “looked cool” and wanted a ride. Hyundai, mission accomplished.
Almost 30 years later, Hyundai is well past their baby steps and is now the young gun of the Korean carmaker crowd…
A large central 7-inch LCD touchscreen flanked by useful hard keys and a CD slot soaks up most of the dashboard real estate, with simple enviro controls laid out below. A small central info panel between the analog tach and speedo gauges keeps you apprised of gas, temperature, miles and cruise control. That’s about all the central small panel does, which is sort of refreshing after having to rotate through a dozen factoid options to get some basic info in other recent test cars.
The big 7-inch LCD display was sharp, useful and responsive but also way too bright at night even when fully dimmed. Thankfully, it could be turned off in about three drilldown pecks at the screen, something I quickly mastered. Mastering other aspects of the Hyundai’s tech suite were a bit more complicated but the large icons, clear labels and fast response to touches made working it a snap. I’m as wired as the next kid and it took a while to explore the outer reaches of the Veloster’s brain, but that said, there was also a lot to explore. Additionally, there are both USB, 12-volt and even a 120-volt A/C outlet for charging up a laptop or other gadgets that require household current.
Navigation input was quick and the system uses the highly practical split-screen approach showing a settable wide view of the route but also shows you a close-up of your next turn or waypoint. Gas mileage/eco reports, satellite radio stations, navigation, phone ops, a backup camera and more can also occupy the screen as you drive. And this thing should have also come with a decibel meter for the subwoofer-backed Dimension audio system.
Playing some of my deep bass test tracks (Supreme Beings of Leisure, Sounds from the Ground, m-seven, and OK, some Get Low by the Ying Yang Twins) had the car fairly vibrating itself out of focus, yet the bass response was clean and tight (and deeeep) and the Veloster didn’t suffer from Bass Rattle Syndrome like many others have. Was it an audiophile-level performance of clarity and subtle definition? Well, no, but I don’t think most drivers opting for the Dimension audio system plan on testing it with the latest Mozart compendium. Get low indeed.
Turbo to the rescue
With 201 horsepower from the turbo-charged 1.8-liter four and 198 pound-feet of torque on tap, the relatively lightweight car gets moving in a hurry with the six-speed automatic in Sport Mode. Conversely, hitting the ill-placed ECO button, partially hidden by the steering wheel, lights up a green ECO indicator in the speedometer and promptly neuters most of the fun, but it jacked the Hyundai’s gas mileage up into the low 30s, perfect for trolling down the highway on the way to some twisty bits where drivers can push the Veloster’s track-tight, overly-damped suspension.
But even if you have the car in ECO mode, tapping a paddle shifter drops the transmission into More Fun mode, but you have to deactivate that ECO muzzle to really let the close-in twin rear tailpipes get their full wail on. Easy enough.
And while the suspension is tight and responsive on smooth roads with no straight sections, it’s also tight as a drum everywhere else, including on the crumbling infrastructure of highly traveled thoroughfares. More than once while going through a turn at legal speeds and hitting a bump while driving solo, the rear end would suddenly step out. But Hyundai had a choice to make and a reputation to uphold (or at least build), so stiff-n-sporty it is, unless you pile in some sandbags or three more people to weight the car down. Of course, that has a somewhat negative effect on acceleration. Compromises…
Turning down the bone-rattling stereo and stepping on the gas allows the cabin to fill with a surprising amount of mechanical music that was the perfect accompaniment to time spent wringing out the Veloster on our secret section of twisting roadways. The Veloster suffers from a bit of understeer like most front-drive only speedsters, but some better tires than the stockers might make a difference there. Sure, it’s only a turbo inline-four but ringing up 6,000rpm on the tach while clicking through the shift points on the wheel-mounted paddles kept the grins, velocity and good engine sounds coming.
The electronic steering system felt oddly numb at first but is adjustable via a menu option on the touchscreen. I got used to the lack of mechanical-ness after a while and the steering aways did what it was supposed to when turning the leather-wrapped wheel. I understand the move towards electric steering since it can save carmakers development and parts costs on cars going to different countries (left/right side drive), but I wonder what might happen in an electrical systems failure that leaves you holding a useless round thing as you careen towards oblivion. Is this not-really-physically-connected steering system really necessary? Debate.
A second childhood
I first drove a Hyundai in 1984, shortly after they started importing the car to the U.S. It belonged to a friend and it was his first new car, costing all of $4,000 ($99 a month!). I remember how tinny and plasticky it was. The stereo was horrible. It was slow, crude and frankly, ugly (although I never told the owner that). But we drove the crap out of it and it never let us down.
Driving the Veloster, I kept thinking to myself “this would have been a great car in high school,” but in truth it would be a pretty great car for me right now, even as I push towards 50. Is it perfect? No. The electro-matic fantastic steering system every carmaker seems to be featuring now is too numb and frankly felt a bit odd at first. But I got used to it, and it’s adjustable, which is another nice touch for a car at this price point. The suspension is too tight (or maybe I’m too old?) but that can be fixed easily enough in the aftermarket.
The look of the car gave me pause at first, but the more I drove it and stuffed dogs, kids, grocery bags, sleeping bags and even a bicycle into the voluminous back end, the more I appreciated the junk-in-the-trunk rear section, style be damned. And under throttle, it had a nice sporty rasp some new cans could probably open up a bit more.
Almost 30 years later, Hyundai is well past their baby steps and is now the young gun of the Korean carmaker crowd, taking chances and scoring points while the others try to catch up. The Veloster is one of those cars where you look at it closely and say “that’s a pretty cool idea.” It could be called odd-ball – but it could also be called unique in today’s me-too world of budget sports cars. It was fun to drive, combined utility with style and was even good on gas. Just remember to turn down the stereo at night when driving through your (or my) neighborhood.
- Peppy 201hp engine with turbo and a willing transmission
- Track-tight suspension loves to corner
- Gets over 30mpg with a light foot
- Junk-in-the-trunk rear end lets you put a lot of junk in the trunk
- Cool hidden third door for easy backseat access
- Kick-butt stereo with bass you can feel
- Love it/hate it street-racerish styling
- Track-tight suspension hops around on rough roads
- Little people only in back seats unless other little people are driving
- Time spent answering “what the heck is it?” questions