Hyundai can be thought of as a group of willful amnesiacs who happen to build cars. Outside of old fellows in Argentina with oddly Teutonic accents, I can't think of a group of people less willing to talk about their past. We all know Hyundai wasn't always a name associated with not-being-a-miserable-piece-of-crap, but they've clearly moved far beyond the days of the Excel/Pony and only want to look ahead.
The result of this is a car company completely unfettered by heritage or tradition, and that gives them the freedom to try some things other companies balk at. The Veloster Turbo is a great example of this.
(Full Disclosure: Hyundai wanted me to drive the Veloster Turbo so much, you guys, that they flew me out to this rich-old-golf-guy resort in San Diego, full of trees and wood and buffet tables brimming with food, including meats from every major phylum. I may have eaten fried planaria. Also, they gave us pens with an iPad/iPhone stylus at the top end. Neat, huh?)
Hyundai's big idea is to have their halo car at the bottom, not the top of the line. I personally adore this idea, as it gives a much bigger range of people the chance to own a marque's most personal and creative effort. You have to admit, the usual halo car concept is kind of a tease— you go in the Ford dealer to gawk at the GT, and come home in a Taurus? That's a letdown. I'd like to see more manufacturers take Hyundai's approach.
The Veloster Turbo generally feels like a real halo car— it's built on a bespoke platform, sharing many major components with other cars in the line, but the chassis itself is unique to the Veloster (well, and the Veloster Turbo). What's also interesting about the fundamental Veloster design is that, according to the product guys I spoke with, it's designed to compete with used cars more than anything else. The goal was to build something that a potential buyer simply could not find an analogue of in a new or used car lot, and I think they've largely done that.
The overall design does actually feel different than most of what's out there now. Not quite as different as Hyundai would like to think, but assuredly not boring. The three-door (plus a hatch), asymmetrical body style manages to be practical and fun at the same time, no mean feat. Hyundai is taking some style chances with this car, and though I think they could go even further, it's a welcome addition to the increasingly indistinguishable mass of cars on the roads today.
I got to drive the Veloster Turbo through normal city traffic, on wide-open toll roads, and, best of all, through a terrific route of twisty, hilly roads by the US/Mexico border. At one of the border patrol checkpoints I accidentally laid a bit of rubber on the way out, so I apologize if I impaired any international relations with my sloppy display of dipshittery. After the road course, we were able to take the Turbo through two autocross courses, one conventional, one technical.
Turbocharging the base Veloster was the right move for Hyundai. It's sort of like making foie gras, except instead of forcing food down a goose's throat and getting gross liver paté, they're forcing air down the throat of their 1.6 L four and getting an impressive 59% more power, 201 HP, with 195 lb-ft of twist. The fact they decided to make a Turbo variant is a little surprising, since I was told their target demographic "doesn't care about horsepower." Well, screw those tweet-addled safety kids — the extra power makes a huge difference.
The risks taken by Hyundai with the Veloster Turbo's unconventional looks pay off, especially from the rear. Like its slower sibling, the Veloster shares the asymmetrical 3-door layout and overall basic body, but there are many changes. The taillights now sport a Christmas tree's worth of LEDs, arranged in a "waterfall" pattern (with bigger ones at the bottom) that looks great. The hatch's split rear window reminds me a bit of the Honda CRX, and in some ways, it's easy to picture this car as a modern version of the storied CRX: economical and fun. There's two much more prominent exhaust pipes at the rear, which emphasizes the car's sporty feel. There's also a pair of huge round reflectors at the back, which may be rear fog lights in European markets, but seem a little silly here. Not terrible, but for all their prominence, I'd kind of like to see them light up.
I'm not as crazy about the front end of the car. It's more agressive than the regular Veloster, as is fitting, but the huge widemouth grille always makes me think of that alien in the Star Wars cantina scene with the butt-mouth (Google tells me his name is Ponda Baba). There's nice detailing in the creases around the headlights as they flow into the front bumper/spoiler, and it's not all bad. The bold, pronounced wheelarches give the car an athletic stance, and the overall chubby wedge shape I think works very well, especially with the sweeping line of the side windows, and the nice detail of the rear door handle.
There's a good selection of colors for the car, with some fun ones that a car like this demands. I liked the coppery-orange one, and there's a striking matte grey color as well. The matte grey looks great, but seems to take more care than raising orchids. You can't take it through a regular automatic car wash, you can't wash it with normal sponges or whatever (they include a special "customer care kit" which has a cloth made of albino unicorn hide, I think), and to hear them talk, you don't even want to look at it with a abrasive gaze. Still, it does look pretty cool.
The Veloster's interior isn't bad, but I think, based on the goals of the car and the bold exterior, they could have pushed it more. The overall feel is spacious, with the divided rear window giving a pleasing, almost architectural feel to being in the car. The upper part of that rear window is almost like a glass roof for the rear passengers, and coupled with the optional panoramic, opening glass roof, the effect is really airy and open. It feels good to be in there.
They mentioned, but I didn't get to see on a car, something called "headliner graphics." Essentially, it's printed patterns on the headliner, which sounds like a great idea for a car in this segment. The seats are firm and offer good lateral support, and the rear seat is actually usable — it doesn't feel like a punishment to sit back there. Behind the foldable back seats is 15.5 cubic feet of crap-haulage room. The best in its class, and very useful. I could comfortably fit in the cargo area for a fetal nap, if desired. It's cozy.
The dash has a good overall design, forming a large, sweeping V shape, but gets let down in the details. It's still a mass of grey and black plastics (upper parts of the dash feel quite good, but plastic quality goes down as your hand goes down the dash), and I feel like this car, of all their cars, could handle having some more splashes of body color on the interior. The instrument cluster is fine, but it's the same module used on the Elantras, and if they really want this to be a halo car, it deserves its own distinctive set of dials. There is a good-sized nav/media LCD screen in the center stack, but the angle of it on the dash puts it in a near-constant glare from the sun. This was less pronounced on the Veloster Turbo than the other Hyundais I drove, but it was still annoying.
Overall, the interior design is pretty good— but it needs to be amped up a bit to match the exterior.
This is where the Turbo really shines (compared to the non-turbo), taking a fairly anonymous engine and boosting it to output 125.6 HP/liter — the best in its class of small, fun cars. However, the relatively potent engine is severely hamstrung by the albatross of an automatic transmission. The six-speed manual is much better, but I had to take off points since even with an impressive 30% of Velosters going out the door with a manual, most of these will be automatics.
When you stomp on the gas in the manual, the acceleration is pretty strong. Your neck can relax about whiplash danger, but it's not bad at all. No official 0-60 times have been released yet, but the Turbo has plenty of grunt to pass and dart around with aplomb. In the (also six-speed) automatic, though, it feels like you hit the gas, and then a tiny robot moves one of those old ship throttle indicator things to "FULL POWER", and then another robot in the tranny notices it. Which must be the cause of the annoying lag I felt when hitting the gas. You push the pedal down, and there's a pause, an intake of breath, and then you go. This is even in "sport" mode. It grew irritating, fast.
The Veloster has discs all around, like you'd expect, and braking felt confident and strong. There's some plowing of the nose under braking at speed, but it never felt uncontrollable. On the autocross circuit, with lots of hard on-and-off braking, I didn't notice any fade or other issues. Braking seems competent and appropriate.
I was impressed with the Veloster Turbo's stiffness and poise on the road. The ride is firm but not jarring on regular pavement, but can get pretty discombobulated over rough pavement and bumps. No one should think this is an off-road vehicle, but even going on the rough shoulder to get photos felt a bit like doing some time in a bouncy castle. Stay on the road like a non-lunatic, and you should be quite comfortable.
Even in some very twisty turns on the road and autocrossing, body roll was pretty minimal, especially for a relatively tall car. The electrically-assisted steering setup I found to be remarkably good. Firm, very direct, with a quicker ratio than the regular Veloster 13:9 compared to 14.2. It understeers, as you'd expect, but it can be pushed into just a bit of oversteer in the right circumstances.
Driven for fun, it delivers reasonably well, providing a good time. I suspect with better tires and some aftermarket suspension tweaks, it could be made even better. For an entry-level front-driver, I was impressed. It felt agile in the autocross, occasionally succumbing to a chassis judder as I fought the understeer, but the precise, tight steering mostly made up for that. There's better handling cars in this price range, but the Veloster Turbo doesn't have anything to be ashamed of.
As I mentioned in the Acceleration section, I really didn't like the automatic gearbox. I actually think it's this car's biggest flaw, but luckily it's one that can be optioned away. And even save you some money.
The auto box just feels like a leftover part that's durable and just good enough to use until Hyundai comes up with something better. In an age when almost every new robot-shifter gets better gas mileage than a manual, an automatic that still gets worse mileage feels like a throwback. There was the annoying initial acceleration lag, and I never really felt like it was picking the gear I wanted. Sport mode holds the gears longer, but I really only felt it was making the engine louder. I tried the paddle shift, but found that unsatisfying as well.
The manual is miles better for this car, with six well-selected ratios and a nice, short-throw stick. The shift knob incorporated an awkward reverse lockout trigger which I didn't really like, but after the automatic, it was a treat. The clutch isn't too heavy, and feels pretty natural. If you want a Veloster Turbo, do yourself a favor and get the manual. You won't mind it in traffic, I promise. You can use the money you save in initial cost and gas to buy me a beer to thank me. You'll want to.
Hyundai's 1.6 feels like a good engine, and has some interesting features— continuously variable valve timing, a plastic intake manifold— but it has a totally anonymous sound. If you were to hear it out of context, you might think it was anything from a freight elevator to a robot rapidly shuffling cards as part of some Vegas show circa 2080. It just doesn't sound that great. When you stomp the gas, you hear it, but it's just a buzzy tone.
The audio system itself is pretty good, and I'm told it's got 8 speakers and a subwoofer pumping out 450 watts, though I didn't hook up an audiowattificationometer to confirm this. I did connect my iPhone and crank some Rodrigo y Gabriela, and it sounded pretty good. Road noise is pretty minimal in the car with the windows up, and the engine's bland tone never really intrudes much to remind you to ignore it. Sticking your head out the open panoramic roof at 80+ mph is very, very noisy, so I suggest you give it a try at least once.
As you'd expect for the youth-oriented target audience, there's a decent selection of kit for a car in this price range. There's that 7" LCD with navigation, and also a nice media system that offers Pandora internet radio, Grace Note-powered song voice recognition and album cover art display, as well as playing what the PR guys called "fuel economy games." I didn't get to try those, but they smack of the sort of tricks parents use to get kids to eat disgusting and healthy roots and tubers.
My favorite part about the 7" LCD in the center stack is that it comes with RCA cables, so you could, in theory, connect an old Commodore 64 or Apple II or Super Nintendo or Wii or anything that can output a composite a/v signal. And you could actually turn them on thanks to a real inverter and 110V wall-type socket in the center armrest. So, finally, your dream of programming in Applesoft BASIC while being driven around can be a reality. There's also a back-up camera for the screen, allowing some opportunities for reverse-gear voyurism.
The Veloster Turbos use a proximity-key system which, I have to be honest, I didn't really like. I never felt the process of sliding a key in a slot in the dash to be that odious, so this seems like a solution for a problem I never had. Plus, with journalists changing cars often, it was far too easy to walk away from a running car with the key in your pocket, leaving the drivers you switched with stranded when they tried to start the car again. I saw this happen/almost happen several times. I'm sure you get used to it, but there's something to be said for the car being physically attached to its key while running.
Rounding it all out is Hyundai's Blue Link concierge system for getting you out of trouble, or possibly just keeping you company as you tell your problems and dreams to an operator in a cubicle somewhere.
The Veloster Turbo is a good value for your money, if you're looking for a practical, general use car that manages to be unique and reasonably fun to drive. It starts at a reasonable $21,950, and goes up to $24,450 (well, $1000 more for the auto, but like I said, don't do that, ok?) For your money, you're getting something that you can actually pick out of a crowded parking lot, with room for your stuff and your friends, along with a nice bit of electronic kit to keep you amused. The very respectable gas mileage is a big plus as well, as I bet you have other things to spend your money on beyond dead dinosaur juice.
In general, I liked this car, and I think it's a great direction for Hyundai. It's got its share of flaws, but I think for the target audience, it'll be a hit. I can also see it as a desirable and cheap used car in about 10 years, so if anyone's getting one with that matte paint, use that ridiculous fancy cloth they gave you.
Hyundai Veloster Turbo