I’m sick of saying Hyundai is on a roll — you already know the company is putting out its best products ever. But there was a time, back in the '90s, when a halfhearted sports car called the Tiburon was all it had for the enthusiast. A few years later we got the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, what I’d call a three-quarter-hearted attempt. It was good looking, rear-wheel drive and decently powerful, but lacked the dynamics, not to mention the clutch and steering feel, of something truly sporty. That brings us to now, the second generation of the three-door, odd-looking Veloster hatch and the new N brand, which promises sports cars in the mold of Audi’s RS cars or Mercedes-AMG. High hopes for sure, but the company is done messing around.
For starters, it hired BMW M brand boss Albert Biermann to lead the N division. And he is not shy about talking up his new pet project. The 250-hp, 260-lb-ft of torque, six-speed manual-equipped Veloster N stands on three pillars (one for each door?). He says it’s corner hungry. It’s an everyday sports car. It’s racetrack capable. After driving it on the road, road course and autocross course, I can agree on all three counts.
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The key to this car, and keeping this car cheap, is doing stuff in-house. The engine is the company’s 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injected four cylinder. It shares duty in a some of the group’s other products, including the Sonata, current Genesis G70 and some Kias. Its 13-inch front, 11.8-inch rear brakes are from the Optima. The seats and brakes are made in-house. Upgraded brake discs are offered, also from in-house, as are upgraded brake pads, also produced in-house. An electronic limited-slip differential (part of the $2,000 performance package, along with a 25-hp bump) divvies power in the front, and an electronically controlled suspension tightens and loosens up the chassis depending on drive mode. The Veloster N has rev matching too, and comes in at less than $28K base, less than $30K with the recommended (by me) performance pack.
That price undercuts the Honda Civic Type R by about five grand. The Volkswagen Golf GTI, another close competitor, starts at $26K but is down either 30 or 55 hp, and the all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX starts at $27K.
The Veloster is smaller in length than most of its competitors, and it’s shorter and lighter too. It looks aggressive, but not nearly as wild at the Type R or WRX. And don’t laugh at that third door; it would seem to be useful for schlepping a kid or two. The cargo area looks a little small, but the seats do fold down.
Walking up to this hatch at Thunderhill Raceway in California, the first thing I spot is the wing with carbon fiber endcaps. The grille is aggressive too, with winglets and ducting to keep the brakes cool. It also looks very low. Not low to ground, low from the ground to the roof. The Veloster N comes up to my mid-torso, which is short, in car terms. The powder blue, which is Hyundai’s new N color, is the best. Red, black and white are fine too, but blue will be the one to have when selling.
The view from the Veloster cockpit is surprisingly good, as is the headroom. The switchgear looks average, but everything is easy to see and reach. The back seats look a little tight, though in my “driving fast” seat position, an adult human could fit back there.
I hit the autocross course first, and — a rarity for these type of events — it’s timed. I’m instructed to get it into second as fast as possible and just work the chunky steering wheel and upgraded brakes in N (race) mode. This is a 275-hp Performance Package model, so it gets 19-inch wheels shod in Pirelli P-Zero tires. Normal models come with 18s and Michelins, and, AND, as a dealer-installed option, you can get near-slick Pirelli Trofeo Rs. Hyundai’s not messing around with N.
On the 40-second course, I can feel the front electronic limited-slip differential working in the corners. And I’m listening to the tires sing while nearly overdriving it, but there’s no danger here, no walls to hit, no other cars to take out, just cones. The steering heft is about right, though even with the P-Zeros, there isn’t much road feel/feedback. What I do sense is a bit of torque steer, but more often pulling the car straight out of turns, as opposed to pulling it off-course on a straight. That’s the beauty of the front differential.
The clutch is easy to press and catches extremely low in the stroke, like a Miata. The Veloster N has a defeatable rev-matching function, but I leave it on. Biermann reiterated what we already know — “it can do it better, faster than you can.” On an unfamiliar autocross, that’s fine.
The short wheelbase makes it dance a little under hard braking, but if you get the weight transfer right, the front end sticks hard, holding the inside line of short orange cones around a turn. The acceleration is smooth, refined. It doesn’t feel stressed and manic at high rpm like the Civic Type R. Only when the race-car pops start coming from the exhaust on rundown do I remember that this is a serious car, despite its boyish looks.
The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N gets brake ducting in front to keep the discs cool.
On the autocross course and at the east course of Thunderhill, the (perceived) lack of danger makes me go faster, push it a little further as the laps go by. The layout of Thunderhill east isn’t complicated, but the elevation adds a hefty penalty for getting one of its cresting, blind apexes wrong. Turn 5 is called The Cyclone and it feels like a 40-foot drop from apex to the next turn. In the Veloster N, it could be taken flat out. But after trying to cheat it once and ending up on the wrong side of the track pointing into the dirt, I reel in my verve. Regardless of how you go over it, you have to wait until the weight plants before making a move towards the next turn. I rush it, the car pivots, but the traction control kicks in and yanks the back end straight.
All of the cars we drive are equipped with the upgraded track brakes, the most aggressive of the three. They will squeak here and there, but for me the tradeoff is easy. They have a good pedal feel all day, even on my last and best lap.
Actually, my last, last lap was in a separate Veloster N shod with those Trofeo R tires I was talking about. That handful of laps is quieter, cleaner and probably safer than all of the previous. It feels about 25 percent better in every dimension: braking, cornering, accelerating out of corners. But one would really have to have a lot of track days scheduled to get that option, which will probably be an expensive one. They’re about $400 a piece at Tire Rack.
The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N only comes with a six-speed manual.
Later on the road the Veloster turns out to be plenty soft in normal mode for everyday driving and average roads. Like I said, it’s not high strung, which almost fools you into thinking you’re going slower than you actually are. A few times I look up and see 70 mph in fourth, a good 20 mph over the posted limit. In N mode it’s definitely more communicative of the speeds.
As for drawbacks, there really aren’t many. It IS a little smaller than the competition. It looks a little wild, but an adult could surely drive this, as opposed to the Civic Type R, which might be a little too…..Fast and Furious for most.
The interior switchgear is a little plain and plastic, but everything is where it needs to be. The shifter features some cool design touches for a sort of industrial look. The central screen also looks tacked on to the dash. They look way better when integrated. And that’s about it — the Veloster N is a very good enthusiast car.
I don’t know if there’s a car I’d pick over this at less than $30,000. A basic Subaru WRX competes, as does the BRZ and Toyota 86 for the enthusiast. A VW Golf GTI is there too, but the Focus ST will be gone soon as Ford “pivots away” from passenger cars.
This is a hot, hot hatch, in the vein of the old and fantastic Mazdaspeed 3. And this is way better and more refined, and possibly faster than that car. Hyundai has only sold about 9,000 Velosters this year in total, which puts it way, way down the sales list, but it is up more than 50 percent from last year.
This new N brand is coming, so expect to see more Ns soon along with an N-line that will feature some visual upgrades but without the hardcore performance. If Hyundai continues to put its whole heart into it, like it did with this Veloster, we expect big things.
Base Price: $28,000 (est.)
As Tested Price: $30,000 (est.)
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, six-speed manual, FWD
Output: 250 hp @ 6,000 rpm (275 hp with Performance Pack); 260 lb-ft @ 1,450-4,700 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,036 lb
Fuel Economy: 22/28/25 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: The good kind of torque steer
Cons: Smaller than some of the competition