2012 Hyundai Veloster Review
If this latest Hyundai is any indication, the Koreans are getting serious about the dog-eat-dog entry-level segment.
- Tech’d out and tricked out for price
- Fun, frugal, well-sorted drivetrain
- Savvy third-door access ups versatility
- Rear-seat headroom
- Cramped rear cargo hatch limits access
- Design a bit quirky, looks too similar to CR-Z
Hyundai has been a bright spot in the automotive industry. During a time when it's hard to sell cars, Hyundai is one of a handful of automakers selling them like hot cakes. In fact, the Korean automaker currently is selling cars faster than it makes them. The reasons? Chalk it up to Hyundai's inspired designs, quality mechanicals and refined interior treatments.
Hyundai's latest offering, the Veloster, is placed between the bargain-basement Accent and the midlevel Elantra. It is a 3-door hatchback with rear access provided by a door on the passenger side.
A design philosophy that combines fuel efficiency and fun in the same package is the driving force behind the Veloster. It is positioned as a techno-centric offering aimed squarely at beginning buyers with an affinity for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Facebook.
The question is not whether the Veloster has the winning formula — it does — but how big a success it will be up against some very, very tough competition.
While there is only one dedicated model, six variations of the Veloster can be ordered. You can choose between a manual transmission and a dual-clutch automatic, two option packages, interior trim and exterior color. The lineup starts with a $17,300 base model; adding the dual-clutch automatic transmission bumps the bottom line up $1,250.
A Style Package featuring 18-inch alloys, sunroof, fog lights, upgraded audio, leather-laced interior and some exterior touches can be added for around $2,000. With the Style Package on board the Tech Package can be ordered. It adds more exclusive 18-inch alloy wheels with body color inserts, navigation with a rear back-up camera system and a proximity key with push-button start for another $2,000; that's a lot of car for $21,300.
As sharp-looking as Hyundai's all-new Elantra is, the Veloster's design comes off a little quirky, with a silhouette too similar to the Honda CR-Z's. There also seems to be a lot going on visually along the side of the car, with its two separate contour lines and overstated wheel arches. The rear of the car also looks a bit busy. The Veloster counts the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Honda CR-Z and Scion tC among its first-tier competitors, and the MINI Cooper and Fiat 500 among its secondary competition.
Under the Hood
An all-aluminum 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with Hyundai's high-pressure direct-injection system provides the technological brilliance under the hood. The powerplant features a dual continuously variable valvetrain, electronic throttle control, a variable-induction system and a no-maintenance timing chain. Output is rated at 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque.
A 6-speed manual provides gear selection in stock trim with the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission stepping in when the aforementioned $1,250 premium is paid. The dual-clutch transmission, which is an advanced technology for such a low-cost car, uses dual dry clutches to facilitate shifts with one clutch pack overseeing first, third and fifth gears, and the other clutch operating second, fourth, sixth and reverse. The dual-clutch transmission provides direct transfer of power between engine and transmission via the clutches, whereas a traditional automatic uses hydraulics in the form of a torque converter to transfer power. So to change gears the dual-clutch system in effect changes clutches. When in first gear the first clutch pack is engaged and the other pack is ready to engage second. When in second the first pack is ready for third and so on. The system transitions into gears much faster than a manual or conventional automatic transmission.
With the manual transmission the Veloster reaches that pinnacle of mileage performance: 28 mpg city/40 mpg highway. Opting for the dual-clutch transmission drops that a bit, netting 29/38 mpg.
The tech attack really gets into high gear in the cabin, where we are impressed with the Hyundai's standard 7-inch touch-screen media center. In base format, Hyundai's Blue Link system has a slideshow function that displays an image of the car upon start-up. The image can be changed to whatever the owner wants via a USB port. The included Gracenotes feature allows the owner to use voice commands to control iPod access while displaying cover art on the touch screen. Pandora, an iPhone application that broadcasts Internet radio on the road, is also standard fare. Of course the setup has the usual iPod USB auxiliary input jacks, and thanks to an RCA cable the Veloster's media center can accommodate a game console or video playback on the display. It's pretty trick.
All Velosters are equipped with extensive steering-wheel controls and Bluetooth technology for hands-free smartphone operation. The Bluetooth downloads phone contacts and stores them on the media system hard drive making access a snap.
The Veloster is delivered with trial subscriptions of many popular Blue Link features, including XM Sports, XM Weather and XM Stocks. The system can also be configured for voice text messaging, and it has a location feature that shows where you are on your Facebook account.
Looking past the Veloster's techno blitz, the cabin is quiet and comfortable. The general layout of gauges and controls is very pleasing, and the cruise control, audio system and Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel give the Hyundai a decidedly upscale feel. The fit and finish of the interior, supportive bucket seats and the optional audio system are impressive.
We applaud the idea of the hidden third door and appreciate that it opens like a conventional door — not a suicide door. Our concerns begin once we get in said door. Passengers in the five-foot, 10-inch to 6-foot range will have major headroom problems.
On the Road
Behind the wheel is definitely the place to be. The Veloster is not an "appliance" by any stretch of the definition, and you can get some driving giggles when you put in the effort. The dual-clutch transmission is not F1-fast in its shifting, but it does make solid transitions. It just doesn't hold a downshift long enough before up-shifting on its own and taking us out of the zone in a curvy section of pavement. Bottom line, if you plan to squeeze all you can from your commute the 6-speed manual is a real wake-up call, adding vibrancy and a touch of adrenalin to the drive.
The Veloster's suspension makes good use of the standard low-profile tires, providing very predictable behavior when in apex-carving mode and offering a compliant ride in cruise mode.
Hyundai engineered the Veloster to be a featherweight, and at 2,584 pounds it's a whopping 470-plus pounds lighter than the sporty Scion tC and more than 50 pounds lighter than the miserly Honda CR-Z hybrid. You can feel this in the car's agility and ample on-ramp acceleration.
Right for You?
More and more, designers of cars costing under $20,000 have seen the light and realize that today's savvy, entry-level buyers want to stay connected and that a car's technical prowess carries a lot of weight, in some cases as much as fuel efficiency and base price. Highly technical, lowly priced, and fun to throttle, the Veloster is a definite test-drive candidate in the highly competitive entry-level ranks. The hidden third door gives the Hyundai an innovative advantage in versatility, the standard touch screen appeals to the technoids out there, and the car does an admirable job of combining frugality and fun as the miles roll by. There are a lot of quality cars in this price range and the capable Veloster makes the purchase decision all the more difficult.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Hyundai provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.