The Hyundai Veloster is back for a second generation, hoping to remind buyers small, sporty hatches are still an alternative to crossovers. It also seeks to make amends for the first-gen model it is replacing, one that was sitting on a shelf a little too long.
The 2012 original served up brash, tuner-style looks right out of the box and an asymmetric layout — two doors on the right side for passengers, and a longer door on the left for the driver. Innovative for its time, the first Veloster nevertheless debuted at the tail end of a very different era for Hyundai, still saddled with a 1990s-era image of cars too cheap for their own good. Hyundai is a different station in life today, in part thanks to the Genesis brand, but mainly because of a string of highly rated vehicles like the Santa Fe, Tucson and the new Kona finally erasing bad memories.
The all-new 2019 Veloster keeps the three-door layout and sticks to small engines — no Hellcat version yet — and it's keeping the extroverted design that guarantees that the Veloster will get a stern look from The Man if optioned in a loud exterior color.
But underneath the skin, it's a whole different car. And that's a good thing.
Two engines are on the menu, including a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four good for 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque, which represents gains of 15 hp and 12 lb-ft of torque over the outgoing version, paired with a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The second engine is a turbocharged 1.6-liter serving up 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, paired with a choice of a six-speed manual, six-speed conventional automatic or a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddles. This turbo 1.6 GDI engine has been working its way into the Hyundai and Kia lineup lately and turning things up a few notches in the process. It is also the engine to go for if you want to turn things up a few notches in your daily and weekend drives, as we've discovered yet again. But more on that in a moment.
A naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter and a turbocharged 1.6-liter are on the menu this time around.
Outside, the 2019 Veloster grows by only fractions of an inch and keeps its 104.3 inch wheelbase. The same goes for interior dimensions, and it underscores just how much Hyundai designers and engineers got right the first time around. In-car technology has evolved significantly since then, and the fruits of this progress are evident in the way that Hyundai has filled the new Veloster with standard features that include a 7-inch infotainment screen, LED daytime driving lights, a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity and three driving modes. Still, it makes sense to spring for some of the options like the excellent Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, wireless device charging, heads-up display, 18-inch wheels and leather seating surfaces, and none of these send the price through the roof. Safety features like forward collision avoidance assist are already on board at the bottom of the price range, and blind-spot collision warning with rear cross-traffic collision warning is standard on the second trim level up.
Hyundai has positioned the five trim levels (the top three paired with the 1.6-liter engine) very close together — they have about a $10,000 range in list price. The 2.0 and 2.0 premium were designed to be the volume models, but the fun starts with the first sport-oriented Turbo R-Spec model just about $5,000 north of the starting price. The Turbo and the Turbo Ultimate fill out the top of the range, with the latter model checking all the equipment boxes.
This all sounds good on paper, but does the new Veloster have the chops to steal Team Japan's lunch?
I went to the hills just outside of Austin, Texas to find out, and sampled the flavor that enthusiasts will go for first. The Turbo R-Spec sits squarely in the middle of the price range, and it pairs all the goodies hot hatch fans will want with a price that left me impressed.
The R-Spec teams up the 201-hp 1.6-liter GDI engine with a six-speed B&M Racing short-shift manual, 18-inch wheels wearing 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires, alloy pedals, LED headlights and Infinity premium audio along with other goodies. The 1.6-liter fires right up, and off I went with one of the smoothest and most user-friendly clutches I've experienced in a sporty car. There is plenty of vroom right away as I carved up the winding desert roads in the hills above the city, with the Veloster offering amazingly flat cornering and easy to predict handling right away, along with a quick and nicely-tuned steering feel that soaks up harsh impacts while offering just the right amount of feedback.
The rest of the car delivers too; road and wind noise is on the mild side, while interior plastics are on the better side where it counts. Most importantly, the driver's space entertains the eye with plenty of easy-to-use controls and a visually-varied layout, lending the interior an expensive feel. Ergonomic seats with generous bolsters easily keep everything together in the corners, and great front and side visibility also helps. But really, it's the smooth shifter and clutch combo that makes the R-Spec not only the enthusiast's pick in the lineup, but also a serious competitor to sporty cars $10,000 or even $15,000 north of the price of this version. And that's pretty much where one has to go to find this level of engagement, refinement and driving fun.
I sampled the range-topping Turbo Ultimate model as well, and while it serves up even more interior goodies (but not power seats), this is clearly the comfort-oriented model that trades the edge of the R-Spec for more premium equipment. It also lives $5,000 north of the price point of the R-Spec, which is not insignificant money in this segment. Leather seating, a bigger infotainment screen and other goodies like a wireless charging pad and smart cruise control are the main draws here for those who want more equipment, but the whole point of the Veloster is more vroom and more versatility for less money; there are Hyundai sedans and SUVs with leather and gizmos if it's the premium features you want.
An ergonomic cabin makes the Veloster a fun hatch paired with any transmission choice; the Turbo Ultimate has the seven-speed dual-clutch.
The 2019 Veloster feels a full decade ahead of the model it is replacing. The five-trim lineup has a little something for every hatch buyer (with the exception of those who want at least 300 hp) but the sweet spot represented by the modestly-priced R-Spec easily upstages much more expensive choices.
The R-Spec wisely leaves room for the upcoming Veloster N, which will dial up the performance and handling even further by serving up 275 hp, so it's best to think of these five trims as the more domesticated and wallet-friendly versions that don't stray into tuner or track territory.
On Sale: June 2018
Base Price: $19,385
As Tested Price: $23,785
Powertrain: 2.0-liter DOHC I4, six-speed manual transmission, FWD
Output: 147 hp @ 6200 rpm, 132 lb-ft @ 4500 (2.0): 201 hp @ 6000 rpm, 195 @ 1500 rpm (1.6 turbo)
Curb Weight: 2,701 lb (2.0), 2,833 lb (1.6 turbo)
Fuel Economy: 25/33/28 (2.0), 26/33/29 (R-Spec)(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Observed Fuel Economy: 28 mpg
Pros: Excellent handling, versatility, ease of use, affordable trim ladder, ergonomics
Cons: Power seats unavailable, narrow trunk area