Every once in a great while a car comes along that winds up defining a segment. For some the term “hot rod” automatically refers to a 1932 Ford Coupe. For others, mention “first car,” and the Volkswagen Beetle comes to mind. For sport compacts, it may be the Honda CRX Si. The 2012 Hyundai Veloster has that kind of potential, too, even if the segment it will come to dominate hasn’t yet been clearly defined.
It’s a car that doesn’t fit well into a particular niche. It’s fuel efficient, but it isn’t boring to drive. It’s compact, yet there’s room in the back for six footers. It’s a coupe, but it really has three doors. It was designed and built for Generation Y, but I’m guessing that it will find favor across a wide range of demographics.
In designing the Veloster, Hyundai listened carefully to what participants in focus groups had to say. They wanted good fuel economy, so the Veloster uses the same 1.6-liter Gamma engine found in the Elantra. Like the Elantra, the Veloster will get nearly 30 mpg around town, and up to 40 mpg on the highway, which is better than the Veloster’s chief rival, the Honda CR-Z.
Potential buyers wanted connectivity, too, so the Veloster becomes the second Hyundai offered with the company’s Blue Link telematics system. Like OnStar, Blue Link is there if you need directions or have an accident, and the system can even send a text alert to concerned parents if the vehicle travels outside a designated range. Blue Link does a lot more than that, too, including providing users with a speech to text mechanism for safe texting while driving.
That’s just the start of the Veloster’s tech-laden features, however. A voice recognizing Gracenote app allows users to call up artists and albums from their MP3 player or the car’s flash drive, and Pandora streaming allows users to like or dislike a song on the infotainment screen instead of on a smart phone. Navigation is available, and Velosters with the nav package also come with a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors.
There’s a available 450-watt Dimension premium audio system, too, ensuring that Veloster buyers won’t have to go to the aftermarket for an acceptable sound system, but even base models come with a 196-watt, AM/FM, satellite radio, CD and MP3 audio system with six speakers. There’s an iPod cable, aux in and USB jack on all models, too.
Like the Elantra, the Veloster is bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. The rear seat will hold two adults and gives a surprising amount of both head and leg room. The third door makes loading an unloading passengers a breeze, although you do need to mind your head climbing in, thanks to the sloping roofline.
The front seats are a huge plus, especially given the car’s price point. Leather isn’t an available option, but the cloth or cloth and leatherette seats are a better choice, at least in my opinion. Unlike leather, good cloth seats are cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and they’re a whole lot easier to maintain, especially if your outdoor activities involve getting wet or muddy on a regular basis. Despite the lack of an adjustable lumbar support, most people will find the Veloster’s seats comfortable even beyond the first full tank of gas.
Hyundai debuts its first dual-clutch automatic gearbox on the Veloster, and I’ll admit to liking this better than the six-speed manual. The Shiftronic automatic, which comes with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, seemed to be quicker than the six speed even though the gear ratios (in lower gears, anyway) are identical. I’d stop short of calling the shifts “crisp,” but they’re quick enough to be entertaining and the transmission will now hold a gear until near-redline. That tells me that Hyundai really has been listening to those of use who complained about earlier Shiftronic transmissions, which shifted well below redline regardless of driver input.
Acceleration is reasonable, but keep in mind that you’ve only got 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque to work with. In corners, the Veloster is remarkable composed and has surprisingly little body roll; Hyundai claims the chassis is stiffer than a VW Scirocco, and I’m inclined to believe them. The electric steering is properly weighted, and offers a nice feel with a reasonable amount of feedback. The Veloster won’t be much fun on a racetrack, but it will be entertaining enough for weekday commuting and weekend runs to the beach or mountains.
What’s missing from the Veloster lineup is a model with sporting intentions. While the handling of even base model Velosters is impressive, the car would definitely benefit from more power. I asked Hyundai for a status report on the Veloster Turbo, but the only reply was, “we don’t comment on future products.” Take that any way you want, but adding a Veloster Turbo to the lineup would definitely boost sales.
Even without a true sport model, I suspect that Hyundai will sell all the Velosters they can import. Pricing starts at just $17,300 for a base model with the manual transmission, and tops out at $22,550 for a loaded model with the dual clutch gearbox. That makes it a bargain compared to rivals like the Honda CR-Z and the Scion tC. If you want one of your own, now is the time to talk to your local Hyundai dealer; like the Elantra, I’m guessing that Velosters will be sold from the inbound inventory pipeline in the coming months.