Hyundai Veloster is a sporty, three-door compact car with unique looks, fun driving dynamics and good fuel economy. It launched as a 2012 model with a naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter engine that made 138 horsepower and an admirable EPA estimate of 40 mpg Highway with the standard 6-speed manual transmission. The engine used all the right high-tech stuff to get these numbers, such as Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) and Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing (D-CVVT).
Late in 2012, however, Hyundai was compelled to reduce the fuel-economy estimates of several models, including the Veloster, because of testing errors.
For 2013, the Veloster Turbo joined the lineup. The Turbo holds a turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine for a peppy 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, along with bigger brakes and tires.
Like the base Veloster, the Turbo gets a standard 6-speed manual gearbox. A traditional 6-speed automatic with Shiftronic is optional. The naturally aspirated Veloster, meanwhile, has a dual-clutch automatic as the optional transmission. With automatic, engine output dips to 132 horsepower.
The Turbo's increased performance predictably takes a toll on gas mileage, achieving an EPA-estimated 24 mpg City and 31 mpg Highway with the manual gearbox and 24/33 mpg with the dual-clutch automatic. That compares to 27/37 mpg with the base engine and manual shift (26/35 with automatic).
For 2014, all Velosters gain a rearview camera, driver's blind-spot mirror and daytime running lights as standard equipment. Turbo models add standard Torque Vectoring Control, along with Active Sound Design in-cabin powertrain sound enhancement. Automatic temperature control is newly standard in the Turbo.
Starting in February 2014, a new Veloster Turbo R-Spec edition will be available, with unique suspension and steering tuning that promises enhanced agility and feel. The 6-speed close-ratio transmission gets a new shift knob, and the short-throw B&M Racing Sport Shifter is said to yield a tighter, high-precision feel. Red exterior accents will be optional. Inside, the R-Spec's sport seats feature red leatherette bolsters with red/black cloth inserts.
The 2014 Hyundai Veloster Turbo distinguishes itself from the naturally-aspirated Veloster with a huge front grille, a body kit, different front and rear bumpers, a rear spoiler and upgraded standard features such as leather upholstery, heated front seats and pushbutton start. All Turbos ride on larger, 18-inch wheels. The Veloster Turbo is even available in a matte gray paint color, must be taken care of meticulously by hand.
Veloster styling gets a lot of looks on the highway, although we think it's a tad overdone. The third door is on the passenger side, hinged at the front like a real door. With other three-door compacts, the third door can be awkwardly hinged; not so with the Veloster. It's easy to climb in and out of the back seat, and total interior volume is best in the sporty compact class.
Much of the Hyundai Veloster was designed and developed in the U.S., most notably the rear suspension that gives Veloster an excellent all-around ride that's dialed-in but still comfortable. Steering is solid, secure, and gives great feedback; cornering is stable. Veloster is front-wheel drive.
Veloster seats four. Interior details include nice support at the right thigh, good feel with the three-spoke leather steering wheel, pleasing uncluttered gauges, and digital information that's easily accessed. There's a blind spot at the C-pillar over the driver's shoulder, and the horizontal structural support in the fastback glass liftgate restricts visibility, but it still offers better views than most other coupes.
Competitors include the Fiat 500, Honda Civic hatchback, Mini Cooper Clubman, Volkswagen Beetle and Volkswagen Golf. The Veloster Turbo goes up against sportier, more powerful versions of these compacts like the Fiat 500 Abarth, Honda Civic Si, Mini Cooper Clubman S, Volkswagen Beetle Turbo and Volkswagen GTI. The Veloster might not have the cachet enjoyed by some of the competition, but it offers excellent value for the money and superior fuel economy.
Visually, the Veloster sets itself apart from other Hyundai models with a bolder, busier design. Unlike the cleaner lines of Hyundai's sedans, the Veloster's muscular shape is riddled with lumps, scoops and scallops.
But take a couple of steps back, and the Veloster doesn't look so bad. The nose is low, and from a three-quarter rear view, it looks tough on its haunches. The standard Veloster's mouth is as wide as an Audi's, but it's filled in with body-colored plastic, shaped to resemble wings; but to some eyes, they might look more like Superman's shoulders while flying, with a chrome cape and silver H for a face.
The Veloster Turbo gets an even bigger, all-black mouth that looks to be all air intake, as well as different fog lights, LED accents around the headlights, and side mirrors with integrated turn signals. In back, the Turbo sports a rear spoiler, LED tail lights and large dual exhaust tips. All Turbos ride on 18-inch wheels. Inside, pushbutton start, leather upholstery and heated seats come standard, as well as an upgraded audio system.
Offering Matte Gray color for the Veloster Turbo has been a gamble for Hyundai. The special clear coat that provides the matte appearance must be maintained meticulously. Buyers who plunk down the extra $1,000 for this color receive a car-care kit with cleaning products they can use at home, since the matte paint can't go through a traditional brush car wash, and most detailing products are designed to make paint shine. Customers must sign a release form that acknowledges that the paint must be taken care of in a particular way. Hyundai execs admitted they couldn't vouch for long-term longevity and said second owners could prove to be a challenge. This isn't unique to Hyundai, however. Other cars, including expensive luxury cars, with flat paint colors face the same challenges. They look really neat when in good condition, though.
On the passenger side, the Veloster's third door is hidden, except for the seam. Rakish upsweep meets a racy roofline, with a virtually invisible door handle in the window corner. Thankfully, the window trim is black.
The single center exhaust on the standard Veloster is like Siamese twin trapezoids, outlined by chrome, while the Veloster Turbo gets dual, side-by-side exhaust tips in the same spot. Both versions are boxed in by a big black plastic fascia that makes the rear end look almost frog-like. But in a good way.
Veloster seats four. Hyundai says the interior design was inspired by shapes on a sport bike. They say the A-pillars are like a helmet visor, the center stack resembles a fuel tank, the console mirrors a motorcycle seat, and air vents are inspired by tailpipes. Mostly, we noticed overkill on the trapezoidal trim pieces.
On the standard Veloster, we noticed terrific fit and materials of the Style Package seats, nice console support at the right thigh, good feel of the three-spoke leather steering wheel, pleasing uncluttered gauges, and digital information accessed easily. A 7-inch touch-screen is standard, with three interface layouts to choose from. Features include Bluetooth, Pandora internet radio via iPhone, and Gracenote music connectivity. A 196-watt six-speaker audio system is standard, while the 450-watt eight-speaker system comes with the Style package.
The Veloster Turbo adds extra touches including aluminum pedals, pushbutton start and heated front seats. Leather upholstery is standard, but it felt more plastic than plush, and we noticed that stitching around the driver's seat had already begun to buckle in some places.
Rear visibility has a couple of problems. There's a big blind spot at the C-pillar over the driver's shoulder, which is typical for cars with this type of roofline. Although the structural support in the fastback glass liftgate blocks rearview visibility, overall it's still better than some hatchbacks on the market, such as the Toyota Prius and Honda CR-Z.
The backseat is easy to get into, thanks to the Veloster's front-hinged third door. Rear legroom measures 31.7 inches, which is scant for those who regularly carry backseat passengers, but good for the compact segment. Total interior volume is best in its class, beating the Scion tC and pulling far ahead of the Mini Cooper. It even beats the Mini Clubman, by 105.3 to 89.2 cubic feet.
One of our favorite things about the Veloster is its composed feeling on the road. It uses an unusual rear suspension: a V-beam torsion axle with an integrated stabilizer bar, which makes it totally obedient, and there are other good things to make the driving enjoyable. Steering is solid, secure, and gives great feedback.
We drove the Veloster hard through some of our favorite corners and found the car planted and stable. The engine in the naturally-aspirated version is solid and smooth, and is capable in most everyday driving applications. However, those looking for a more performance-oriented sport compact may find it lacking in power.
We weren't crazy about the optional 6-speed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). The DCT shifts aren't as sharp as Volkswagen's DSG; they're almost too smooth, stealing feeling from the car. It feels like an automatic, not a manual transmission with some invisible person making perfect shifts for you. Plus, the paddles feel cheap and aren't designed with care. Considering that the DCT costs another $1,250, we'd stick with the sweet 6-speed manual.
The Veloster Turbo ups the ante considerably with its turbocharged, 201-horsepower engine, complete with bigger brakes and tires. It packed enough punch to get us around twisty turns while climbing up steep terrain, and was torquey enough to let us pass pokey trucks on two-lane straightaways. However, we would have liked to hear a beefier growl from the exhaust, which left us feeling uninspired.
On Turbo models equipped with the 6-speed automatic, drivers can choose a sport mode that changes the shift pattern. While we found it shifted at higher revs and held gears nicely through the corners, we still preferred the manual transmission for more spirited driving. We were also disappointed to learn that the Turbo's sport mode did not modify other elements of the car, such as steering feel or suspension.
Fuel economy is one of the most compelling reasons to buy a Hyundai Veloster. The naturally-aspirated version gets an EPA-estimated 27/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual or 28/37 mpg with the DCT. In a hard couple of hundred miles, including two-lanes, freeway and city, we averaged about 29 mpg, with both the 6-speed manual and the DCT.
The Veloster Turbo, meanwhile, is rated at 24/33 mpg with the manual and 24/31 mpg with the automatic.
The Hyundai Veloster is a fun car that's smooth and efficient, with unique looks and great handling. Enthusiasts will especially welcome the Veloster Turbo's extra oomph.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Veloster in the Pacific Northwest, with Laura Burstein reporting on the Veloster Turbo from San Diego.