The Hyundai Veloster N and 2020 Mazda 3 are both, technically speaking, economy cars with hatchbacks from Asian countries. They’re even priced about the same. But that’s where the similarities end. We happened to have one of each parked next to each other the other day, so we’ve got the opportunity to debate the finer points of both.

(Full Disclosure: Mazda and Hyundai loaned us these vehicles for reviews with full tanks of fuel.)

Both of these cars showed up at our recent Jalopnik Track Day at Monticello Motor Club, and I had to see how they stacked up—at least conceptually, if not in driving impressions. You can read about how we feel on those fronts here and here. (And for those wondering why I’m wearing one fingerless glove, it’s not Michael Jackson cosplay, just covering up some surgical scars.)

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Anyway, a 2019 Mazda 3 hatch, scientific name Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback, lists for about $24,000 in its basic spec and can be dressed up to around $30,000 with all-wheel drive. The top-tier Premium Package adds decorative pieces and luxury features, and if you’re OK with front-wheel drive you can even order it with a manual transmission.

But all Mazda 3 hatches run a 2.5-liter engine rated to a modest 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque.

The Mazda is lithe and sporty, but the $27,400 Veloster N is a bona fide fire-breather by comparison. It packs a claimed 250 HP and 260 lb-ft of torque, no automatic transmission option at all, auto rev-matching, adjustable drive modes, plus an optional limited-slip diff and extra 25 ponies with a Performance Package. All Veloster Ns are front-drive.

The differences you can infer from the spec sheet–that the Hyundai will be hotter but the Mazda will be more refined–are pretty much embodied by the design of both vehicles.

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Mazda has graduated to a new tier of capital-D Design in the last few years and is clearly still leaning into that with a smooth and sleek compact car that looks and feels refined and mature.

Climbing inside the Mazda 3, you feel like you’re in a car that takes itself seriously but it definitely isn’t overwrought. This is a car that will age well, managing to look nice and deliberate without treading so deeply into an avant-garde that it assaults the senses.

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The Veloster N plays it pretty safe too; there aren’t any wacky shapes or patterns that make the car’s cockpit iconoclastic. The materials feel a notch less impressive than the Mazda’s, too. The seats, in particular, are apparently higher-end in the Mazda. Though Hyundai’s buckets are supportive, the covering’s not quite as elegant.

But Hyundai’s designers did a good job sprinkling some fun into the Veloster N interior with a liberal-but-not-egregious application of the powder blue “N” signature color on the seatbelts and switches. You feel like you’re in a fun car as soon as you strap in.

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On the road, the Mazda 3 is plenty adequate in terms of passing power and can get out of its own way easily enough, but no one will fault you for wanting more power here. It’s the car’s biggest weakness.

The Veloster N, however, is a legit hot hatch with a surprising amount of grunt. We consider it one of the more fun performance deals you can score right now. It’s not as nice inside as the Mazda 3 is—that car has near-German levels of luxury within when it’s spec’d right—but it is more fun. If you’re looking at both, and you very well might be, you need to decide where your priorities are.

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Stay tuned for a comparative road test.

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About the author

Andrew P. Collins

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik | 1975 International Scout, 1984 Nissan 300ZX, 1991 Suzuki GSXR, 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, 2005 Acura TL

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