REVIEW: Hyundai Veloster puts the fun in funky

One of my daughters described the Veloster’s three-door layout as “curious.”

The other one decided to name the car Mr. Funny. “Wait,” she said, reflecting, “Actually, his name is Mr. Odd.”

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Certainly Hyundai’s little hatchback is different from mainstream offerings. It’s nominally a coupe, yet has two different-length front doors, and a stubby little vestigial door on the passenger side.

However, it’s also front-wheel-drive, available with one of two peppy-but-efficient engines, nicely styled, and equipped with seating for five and a useful hatch. It’s both kinda weird, and entirely practical.

This is the kind of thinking you used to always get from Japanese companies in their heyday. In fact, if pressed to find an ancestor for the Veloster, I wouldn’t turn to early Korean attempts at econoboxes, but to something like the Honda CRX.

Fun, efficient, cleverly packaged – for a small car, that’s a lot to live up to. Let’s have a look at whether this little Hyundai might actually be Mr. Good.

Design

Korean design has been firing on all cylinders of late. From the Kia Stinger to the new Santa Fe, Hyundai and Kia both put out some pretty handsome designs. However, both can also be a little safe and occasionally derivative.

rear.jpg
With a large rear diffuser, flared wheel arches, and standard 18-inch wheels with a cool design, the Hyundai Veloster is a fierce-looking little car. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

The Veloster is Hyundai letting its hair down. With a big grille, a large rear diffuser, and wheel arches that look more flared than they actually are, this is a fierce-looking little car. The wheel designs look good, and 18-inch wheels are standard.

There are even some decent colour options with bright metallic orange, blue, and red joining the usual black/white/silver/grey you expect. Turbo models get LED headlights, and there’s a bit of subtle red accenting to spice things up. The Veloster looks youthful and fun.

Environment

Happily, because it’s a Hyundai, there’s also a considerable amount of value to be found inside. Even the most basic Veloster gets heated seats and steering wheel, as well as a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

To value, the Veloster adds a lot of practicality. Leaving aside the weird door layout for a bit, it’s got plenty of passenger room, and the 565-litre trunk is even bigger than the previous model.

interior.jpg
The Veloster has a bright and modern touchscreen that is clear and easy to use, while bits of coloured stitching add a sporty vibe to the cabin. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

The materials used are better than in the outgoing Veloster, although there’s still plenty of hard plastic used high up on the doors and elsewhere. On the plus side, this should wear well and clean up easily. It’s not exactly upscale though.

However, the touchscreen is bright, modern, and clear, with sensible controls that are slightly angled towards the driver. A bit of coloured accenting through the interior gives things a sporty vibe. As with the exterior, the Veloster is designed to be more youth-oriented than luxury.

However, for those who are not impoverished college students but are rather just looking to reclaim their youth – i.e. parents – the Veloster’s little back door is genius.

For regular use, you’re going to need a four-door, but for occasional school pickups, it’s perfect for grade-school-sized kids. It’s like their own little Hobbit door.

Performance

So far, we’ve got a sort of bargain-priced oddball that might be a good alternative to a Honda Civic Si. However, one consistent complaint about the old Veloster is that it was funky but perhaps not all that much fun. This new model aims to change all that.

Let’s kick things off with a 1.6L-turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes a healthy 201 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m., and 195 foot-pounds of torque at 1,500 r.p.m. That’s plenty of low-end poke for around town driving, with peak power close to that of a Volkswagen GTI.

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The Veloster comes standard with cool 18-inch wheels. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

That’s certainly quick enough to keep up with traffic, but where the Veloster now shines is in its reworked chassis and handling. The Veloster is light, tossable, and eager. It’s a hoot – and hey, a real handbrake for turn- … um, the kids are watching. Er, for parking safely.

There’s a slight on-centre numbness with the steering, but otherwise feedback is pretty good. The Civic is a tad sharper in both steering and shifting, but the Veloster stays lively the more you drive it.

Cornering grip is plentiful, thanks to optional 225-series Michelin Pilots. Better is the car’s overall feel on the road. Even without the Sport button pressed, it’s a fun-to-drive little car, with just the right amount of power.

Features

As-mentioned, the Veloster comes with a bunch of features for the basic car, which starts at $20,999. Not $21,000, obviously. Much less.

A fully-equipped Turbo Tech (great name, by the way) with the dual-clutch gearbox is almost $10,000 more expensive. My tester came in at around $30,000.

Fuel economy rates are perfectly acceptable for a sporty daily-driver runabout, rating at 9.4 (litres/100 kilometres) in the city, and 7.0 on the highway. As there’s ample torque, upshifting early helps keep economy figures green when you’re commuting.

Green light

Funky layout; fun to drive; practical enough to live with every day.

Stop sign

Fully optioned model isn’t cheap; some low-grade interior plastics; still a bit of a compromise as a family car.

The checkered flag

Interesting to look at, good to drive, and even has a bit of a personality.

Competition

Honda Civic Si Coupe ($29,090): On paper, there’s not much to differentiate the Civic Si Coupe from the Veloster. The power’s about the same (205 h.p. for the Honda), and they’re about the same level of practicality. The Veloster just has 0.5 more doors.

However, everything about the Honda is just that tiniest bit more accurate, from steering to shifting. As a long-established player, Honda has a bit of an edge here, although it’s hard to spot unless you drive the cars back-to-back.

The Veloster’s just as much fun overall, and does a bit better on values and features. The Honda’s got slightly better performance.

mcaleeronwheels@gmail.com

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