If you had told any of us five years ago that arguably the best value in the hot hatch segment would not just come from Hyundai, but it’d be a hotted-up version of the Veloster, we’d have been on the phone with your loved ones and your physician to stage an intervention. But here we are today, living in a world where the Hyundai Veloster N is unquestionably the real deal. And it’s a car that Team Jalopnik seems universally in love with.
The Veloster N took part in our big track day test last week (and it served as a last-minute substitute—we were supposed to get a Toyota Supra, but someone who wasn’t us crashed it ahead of time and put it out of commission) and it ended up being the surprise hit of the bunch. After all, it’s easy to make a great $70,000-car like the Mustang Shelby GT350, or a great $160,000-car like the Acura NSX.
(Full disclosure: Jalopnik wanted to do a staff track day, so it asked Monticello Motor Club for access to its track, which it generously granted us. Then we asked Hyundai if we could take its Veloster N to the track at the very last minute. Hyundai said yes.)
But a really remarkable $29,000 performance car? Much tougher to do, but Hyundai did it. Here’s our team’s take.
I didn’t do the track day—I have far more fun things to do, like chasing down freelancer invoices—but I did get to tool around New York City in the Veloster N for about a week beforehand. And I really came to enjoy using it as a daily driver.
Our tester was pretty base, about $29,000 with cloth seats (which had really nice bolstering without being too aggressive, I’ll add) and no navigation, though it did have the $2,100 Performance Package for a bump to 275 HP and 260 lb-ft of torque, upgraded brakes front and rear, electronically controlled LSD and multi-mode exhaust.
The car’s pretty nice inside even in its more stripped-down specs. It’s got a clean, modern layout with just the right amount of buttons and some quality materials throughout. It never felt cheap. Of particular note was the N’s steering wheel, which came with these pastel blue (same as the seat belts!) paddles for toggling the performance settings.
There’s a few things it gets really right. The first is the 2.0-liter turbo four, which has a ton of grunt for highway passing and gives you some delightfully aggressive sounds along the way, along with that exhaust.
The second was the rev matching feature on the six-speed manual gearbox. I remember when that was the stuff of Cadillacs, Corvettes and M cars; now it’s trickled down to affordable Hyundai hatchbacks. I kept it on most of the time in ordinary driving and it proved a great partner there. You can turn it fully on or off, too, with a “Rev” button on the steering wheel—super easy. That’s something you can’t always even say about BMW’s cars.
I love the size of it, too. It’s got a practical back seat thanks to that third door and a not-bad hatch area (though that’s not as good as, say, a Volkswagen Golf) but remains small enough that it’s extremely tossable in the corners and super easy to park in the city. It was great to have a fun, performance-oriented car that I could actually use with such ease in NYC.
For years, as Hyundai’s cars became better and better, it seems like the one thing the Korean company couldn’t quite nail was performance. Remember the Genesis Coupe? I actually almost bought one, once. But it was such an “almost, but not quite” car compared to competitors.
With the Veloster N—a car developed after Hyundai poached folks from BMW’s M division—they’ve finally done it. You may not yet equate Hyundai with performance, but don’t let that fool you. This hatch is extremely legit.
Unlike Patrick, I scored zero road time in the Veloster N and only used it on the track. Getting into it, I can tell you immediately that I loved the red exterior trim, the electric blue seat belts and the fact that it only has three doors. The interior was a little plasticky, but that doesn’t affect how a car drives. If anything, it should make the car lighter.
Typically, I find a four-cylinder drone nasally and unpleasant to listen to, but the Veloster N’s exhaust has been tuned to sound raspy and buzzy, like a true hot hatch ought to sound.
The clutch was light to work, the shift throws came quickly and the whole package was just so damn chuck-able. It delighted in being tossed into corners, braked hard and then slapped back into flat-out mode on the straights. Monticello Motor Club is definitely a power circuit, but the little Veloster N never felt like its legs were too short.
In the sweeping corners, the steering fed information to my fingers beautifully. I learned to shift alright almost immediately, since the gates are spaced intuitively apart and it’s almost impossible to mis-shift.
The Veloster N is a delightful yet forgiving car that I have no problem imagining someone buying as their first manual sports car. It gate-keeps nobody; the clutch is easy to figure out and it rewards spirited driving generously. In terms of the dwindling, entry-level fun cars, this one is a standout.
I, a notorious front-wheel-drive hater, was excited yet skeptical of the Veloster N. It’s decent looking, powerful, quirky, and checks all of the boy-racer boxes that I generally require for personal approval, being a young, Subaru WRX STI driver and whatnot. But, with all of its power being sent to the front wheels, I was unsure if it was actually capable of earning my love.
Quickly after hopping into the driver’s seat, my concerns were put to ease.
I drove the car on the two-hour, early morning drive, from Brooklyn to upstate New York, that Justin Westbrook and I took to get to the track last week. It was 6 a.m., and I am by no means a morning person, but I had no issue feeling wide awake behind the wheel of the Veloster N.
After just a few miles of city driving the hatch, I was impressed by how its torquey engine just pulls and pulls, seemingly without having the steering wheel try to jump and torque steer away from me at launches. And it wasn’t just the lack of torque steer that impressed me.
The brakes felt strong and the pedal firm, the steering was nimble yet appropriately heavy on center depending on the chosen drive mode, and I even found its ride to be acceptable on New York City highways while in Sport mode. Oh, and those damn exhaust pops. Ugh, I’m such a child, but I love it.
Here, listen for yourself:
The only things I didn’t immediately like with the Veloster N were its shift feel, which felt a bit plasticky at first, but I got used to it quickly. And the interior isn’t my favorite—I’d prefer, of course, the German interior in a Volkswagen GTI or possibly even the interior of one of the fallen Ford hatchbacks over this—but it wasn’t explicitly bad. The infotainment system was fine, and I appreciated the ability to see more information about the car’s drive modes through it.
Anyways, after my time in the Veloster N, I’m confident that it’s one of the best front-wheel-drive, performance hatchbacks on the market, and a superb deal of a performance car for around $30,000 with the Performance Package. I’d probably even choose it over a Honda Civic Type R.
Aaron drove us out, and I drove us the reverse route back from Monticello that evening—and let me tell you folks, I had a great time.
I can’t begin to calculate how big of a compliment it is to the Veloster N to get into it after a full day of driving a Mazda 3 (which I have a soft spot for), GT350, and a damn NSX, and still feel like I was driving a performance car I would hesitate to give up. But that’s exactly what the little N is.
Ask anyone in the office and they’ll tell you I was beaming about how much pull this car keeps in sixth gear. It shouldn’t be possible! It doesn’t make sense! You can downshift, there’s another gear right there! But those crazy bastards at Hyundai, or from wherever Hyundai got them, found a way to make even sixth gear dangerous to drive in on the highway. It just pulls and pulls, and you can legitimately pass people—in top gear!
This thing is super fun in the city, even a little eye catching in the fantastic Performance Blue paint job. It’s super fun pulling on the highway. And I’m told it’s a hoot on the track. That’s a big bingo, my friends.
Sure, I hate the three-door setup. I hate that the rear seat is engineered so that you can only get in on one side and have to scooch across, but instead of a three-seat bench, it’s two seats separated by a plastic divider you have to drag your ass across. What is that about? And if there’s beverages in the cup holders? Forget about it! I also hate that there’s no left-passenger window to roll down, or even crack! The buffeting! The third door is a gimmick and it’d be a better car with four.
But the Ford STs are dead, and all of you little scamps better run out and buy the Veloster N now because it’s one of the few genuinely great deals new right now, and it’s going to be even better used. Do us all a favor.
I also only got track time in the Veloster N, and even that was short, but I was in love with the car as soon as I saw it. I’ve always liked the Veloster’s looks and thought it had the potential to be a hot hatch that looks just hot enough to be desired, but not like it’s trying too hard—something that can divide the masses, like the reaction to the Civic Type R.
That’s partly because, I think, I’ve enjoyed a lot of Hyundai’s styling choices—and offerings of manual transmissions in its cheaper cars—over the years, and have wanted to see what it could do with a modern hot hatch. I just never knew if I’d get to, until the Veloster N came around.
But here we are, in 2019, with the Veloster N, and it meets every expectation I could’ve had when it comes to looking the part of a hot hatch without being too over the top. I gawked over it before I got the chance to even drive it, and when I was asked what I wanted to take on track first, it was the N. No question.
The baby-blue accents all throughout the interior were one of the first things I noticed, and reminded me of the baby-blue N Hyundai’s put on all of its ads and posters. The color was quirky, like the Veloster N’s third door, and the interior was comfortable. When I hopped into the back seat for a demo of Monticello Motor Club at our track day last week, it didn’t feel cramped at all.
The N was a blast to drive. Its clutch was light, like Kristen mentioned above, and it was crisp through the shifts. The car took a curb we were told to hop at Monticello like it was born to do that, and the progressive shift lights between the two gauges to indicate when to upshift while driving hard, as opposed to a casual up arrow when the time comes like many cars have, made it feel that much more like a track-oriented car. Torque steer, a common plague to front-wheel-drive performance cars, wasn’t noticeable for me, but that might have just been the food poisoning dulling my senses.
We all liked the Veloster N so much that when the track day was over, Jalopnik’s deputy editor, Mike Ballaban, asked if he could take it home. He was scheduled to drive the Mustang GT350 back, and ended up taking it for logistical reasons. I could see the disappointment in his eyes.
Although we didn’t have much time together, I feel like the Veloster N is my son—my beautiful, fast, three-door son whom I am very proud of, and would like to see succeed in life, because he’s done so well thus far. Don’t overlook him.