Ran into a friend this week while driving the Hyundai Veloster. Actually, this person is in a senior role at another car brand and hadn’t seen the Korean coupe-cum-family-hatch in the metal before.
A quick walk-around, then, taking in the CAD-gone-mad styling and odd door arrangement: one on the driver’s side, two on the passenger’s.
“It looks weird. But I couldn’t say it’s ugly. I kind of like it.”
I’d be willing to bet that would please Hyundai’s design team. That’s the way I feel about it, too. I know it’s gimmicky, but I like the fact that an ambitious company like Hyundai can sit back and do something a bit silly. It’s no bad thing to be different; if you don’t like the Veloster, you can always buy an i30 instead.
I didn’t even get into the real reason I was driving the Veloster, which would have made the conversation even more complicated. For this is the eagerly awaited turbo version and should you be in any doubt, there’s an eighties-style badge on the back telling you so. Yes, I like that too.
The standard Veloster is actually a technologically interesting car for Hyundai, introducing a direct-injection 1.6-litre engine and dual-clutch transmission (DCT) to the brand. What it isn’t is fast: with 103kW/167Nm it’s a modest performer by any measure.
While Veloster never pretended to be a sports car, there was a lot of talk about much more credible it would be with some serious shove.
It has that now. The $49,990 turbo version boasts 150kW/265Nm, which seems like fantastic value for the extra $5000 asked over the standard car. It looks the part, too: new front and rear bumpers add a lot of visual aggression, as do the 18-inch alloys.
There has been an interesting development for the turbo model, though. Hyundai says that the DCT can’t handle the extra torque of this powerplant (they should talk to Volkswagen and get some engineering tips), so if you want a two-pedal turbo it’ll have to be a conventional automatic. That’s how our test car was equipped, although you can order a six-speed manual.
Does the turbo have plenty of extra grunt? Naturally, with a 50 percent increase in power. Does the automatic dampen down the performance? Well, yes and no. It’s hardly a rocketship even in manual form (0-100km/h in 8.4 seconds). In terms of shift quality the automatic and non-turbo Veloster’s DCT are not as far apart as you’d think: the latter is quite lazy for a twin-clutch unit and I’ll confess I drove the turbo for a day before a colleague confirmed to me that it was actually automatic. I thought it was a DCT, as it has a sport mode and shift paddles. Sorry about that.
I’d like to drive the manual. It would certainly offer a lot of extra driver involvement. But as it stands the automatic probably suits the car’s character. It’s not an enthusiast’s express or track-day machine: more a quirky coupe with a bit of tyre-chirping ability.
The turbo’s suspension is not changed from the standard car, although the car’s ride is noticeably firmer on the 18-inch rims and cornering ability has been enhanced, with extra grip and quicker steering for the turbo car.
The Veloster turbo is capable of decent A-to-B speed but it won’t have you laughing in delight. The upside of the automatic is that it acts as a moderating factory for that extra power: you’ll occasionally feel a tug on the steering wheel but there’s no way those kilowatts are going to find a clean route out to wreak havoc at the front wheels under hard acceleration.
The problem for Veloster is price. Even though it’s great value compared with the standard car, it’s less than $3000 away from what is arguably the greatest hot-hatch in the world right now, the Ford Focus ST.
True, I’ve said the Veloster is not pretending to be a hot-hatch. But when a car like Focus offers all of the refinement and more practicality than the Veloster turbo, yet also offers you proper sports-car performance and handling should you be in the mood, you can’t help but make the comparison.
Despite that, I still rather like the Veloster turbo. It’s a head-turner and it’s weird and it helps you not to take life so seriously. While also having the performance to shame those who might be laughing at you.