We like cars that fly in the face of convention.
Nissan’s Juke, Kia’s Soul, many Minis…all a little off of center, but lovable and fun. And to this list, you have to include the Hyundai Veloster. The quirky, sporty, three-door hatch that some love and has other scratching their heads, has always be an affordable funster.
And now we have an all-new 2019 Veloster, and that’s always a crap-shoot. Will it keep the unique vibe, or go more mainstream and lose the plot in the second chapter?
Well, the looks have gone from funky to aggressive, but we like it. The quirky, asymmetrical coupe with an additional rear door is still there. (It’s on the passenger side, so you’re not tumbling out into traffic). The proportions have gone from cute and chunky to wide and muscular. The oversize corporate grille is flanked by LED headlights, and it looks angry. The lines are crisper, the roofline is lower, and the wheel wells are larger – all the better to house big rims.
Taking advantage of that opening, our tester Turbo R-Spec model featured unique 18” alloys with meaty 225/40 R 18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer performance tires. The rear makes a big statement, with cool chevron-shaped LED taillights, and a sporty diffuser enveloping large center-mounted dual exhaust pipes. In the past, we’ve had bright and cheerful colored testers – including a red one we named the V-Lobster – but our tester’s ominous Thunder Gray exterior stepped up the menace, and turned heads wherever it went.
The Plot (and quality) thickens…
Inside, the Veloster has received an upgrade as well. While the exterior is bold and audacious, the interior plays the part of a serious driving environment. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, even for those long of limb. R-Spec unique cloth looks and feels upscale, and the textures of the plastics are good. Contrasting stitching and flashes of yellow trim help brighten up the interior.
With the rakish lines, rear seat headroom is a little compromised – probably best for kids for longer trips – but the passenger side rear door does help give easy access – unusual in most small coupes. Flip the rear seat down, and you’ve got plenty of cargo space for weekend activities and road trips.
For the driver there’s a fat, leather-wrapped wheel, an aluminum shift knob that looks like it was stolen from a Honda S2000, and large, clear, analog gauges. There’s the typical expected tech, including a 4.2-inch driver’s TFT driver display, and a tablet-style 8-inch color touchscreen sprouting out of the center.
Info-tainment is state of the art, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and voice-activated Bluetooth. Typical of Hyundai/Kia the system works quickly and easily with your choice of connected device. Hyundai also includes their Blue Link Connected Care and Remote Package for 3 years, so you feel well looked after.
Attack of the Veloster-raptor
All this would be nice, but the real entertainment we’re interested in is found on the road. Here the hot-hatch, Turbo R-Spec trim really shines. The improvement is immediate and noticeable. The previous Veloster Rally R model was fun, but if felt like it was cobbled together from different parts of different vehicles. The new model is a polished gem.
The 1.6-liter turbo four is a little powerhouse, punching out 201 hp and an impressive 195 lb.-ft. of torque at just 1500 rpm. This engine lives in a bunch of Hyundai/Kia (Hunkie?) products and always impresses with its sporty nature and strong punch.
With those other models, we usually get the excellent DCT automatic transmission, but in the R-Spec you can only get a 6-speed manual, and it’s a welcome partner here. Hyundai hasn’t given up on those who row their own, and with nice light throws and an easy clutch mechanism, the R-Spec is as easy to use in stop and go traffic as it is when tearing up your favorite roads.
When tearing is the order of the day, the Sport button on the center console lets in some extra engine sound – a throaty burble that’s neither to quiet or too loud. It’s just right, and we wouldn’t mind if this was the default setting.
Music to our rears, the chassis feels much more solid, and at the same time lighter – the R-Spec is about a half-second quicker than the previous model to 60 mph, but it feels much quicker, and really wants to play.
That firmer chassis, featuring aluminum suspension components and a multi-link rear suspension team up with the massive 18-inch Michelin Pilot Sports to give loads of grip. It’s a willing and able partner to slice and dice traffic, manhandle an off-ramp, or take out for a weekend blast.
Equally impressive, the ride is still compliant and comfortable – no high-strung, touchy performance special here. (More about that in a moment.) In many ways, the Veloster reminds of VW’s GTI – wonderfully balanced, great fun to drive, while oozing impressive levels of refinement.
VW refinement, VW Price?
Hey, it’s still a Hyundai, so value is always a priority. There’s a whole family of Velosters available, so just pick and choose what you want and the budget can afford. There’s the stylish and nicely equipped, 147-hp, normally aspirated 2.0 model, starting at just $18,500. We’d probably pop for the 2.0 Premium, with goodies like a sunroof, Infinity Premium Audio, 8-inch touchscreen, 18-inch alloys, Blind Spot warning and more. A friendly $22,750.
The value player in the performance world is the Turbo R-Spec like our tester, at just $22,900. For the purist that wants the luxuries found on the Premium, there’s the Turbo at $25,400 or go for the whole enchilada Turbo Ultimate at $26,650.
The closest competitor price-wise is the Honda Civic SI Coupe, at $24,300. A great drive as well, but it feels like a larger, heavier car. Choose the one that fits your needs.
As nice as the Civic is, we keep coming back to the GTI as the Type R’s natural competitor – but it’s a pricey upgrade. The most basic GTI S starts at $26,415, and loading one up can easily go north of $37,000. Ach du lieber!
Speaking of holy lederhosen (not to be confused with holey lederhosen), Hyundai will soon be launching its ultra-performance N-Division models – much like Nissan’s Nismo or Mercedes’ AMG. The Veloster N will be the first out of the gate for the US. With 275 hp and a Nürburgring-tuned chassis, it will be something special – look out Honda Civic Type R!
In the meantime, we’re happy to report that the sequel is a solid improvement in every way.
Still flying in the face of convention, the all-new Veloster remains one of the most exciting players in the hot hatch segment.