“If you want a Veloster Turbo, you can buy one right now – it’s called the Genesis Coupe.”
That’s what Hyundai CEO John Krafcik told us at the launch of the Veloster last year, when asked about the possibility of a performance version of Hyundai’s distinctive-looking hatchback. Less than a year later, we have a boosted Veloster and a Genesis Coupe that’s better than ever.
The original Veloster was heralded as the return of the Honda CRX, but it failed to capture the ethereal magic of the lightweight, two-seat Honda hatchback. The Veloster, meant to be a do-it-all car for the generation that doesn’t like cars, has a rear seat, a strange third-door, oddball styling and an emphasis on gas mileage and green credentials. The CRX put performance first, and its miserly fuel consumption just happened to be a byproduct of its tin-can construction.
The Veloster Turbo, with its 201 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder, is supposed to go up against cars like the Fiat 500 Abarth, Mini Cooper S and Volkswagen GTI, hot hatches with serious pedigree and the dynamic chops to back up their “branding”. The Veloster Turbo isn’t a real competitor for any of these; instead, it’s the car that I wish the Veloster was from the start.
Aside from the new engine, there’s not too many changes versus the base car. The front fascia is more aggressive and mitigates some of the car’s goofy asthetics. The chassis is apparently unchanged, though the steering feels quicker and better weighted. One notable omission is the dual-clutch gearbox, which wasn’t able to handle the added torque of the boosted motor. In its place is a six-speed automatic transmission.
The day began behind the wheel of a two-pedal car, down the undulating, up-and-down roads of a part of California best known for being close to Mexico. The biggest standout here was that the automatic is an exceptionally poor bit of equipment. Everything feels delayed and lethargic, likely due to its bias towards fuel economy. Using the paddle shifters for spirited driving isn’t much of a held either, since they revert back to full-automatic mode and upshift so quickly that the driver must constantly engage them to keep up any sort pace. Then again, the dual clutch in the Veloster isn’t anything special either.
A switch to the manual transmission happened at the earliest possible moment. Deciding on the shift points yourself yields a more positive view of the powertrain. The 6-speed manual isn’t a class leader in terms of shift feel, but it does allow a greater appreciation of the 1.6L engine. For a turbo engine, it feels very linear, with a strong pull through the rev range. It’s less boisterous than say, the Cooper S, but for the target market, it will go down much smoother.
While the ride is much smoother than the Cooper S, the Veloster Turbo doesn’t have the sophistication of the GTI either. Hyundai claims that the chassis settings are the same as the base car, but the overall effect is that the ride and handling emulate what people think “sporty” should be (jittery and stiff) rather than providing a supple, well-controlled ride and engaging handling. Turning up the heat on the Veloster Turbo is rewarding, and it feels easy to drive quickly, but ultimately, this is a more powerful version of the Veloster, rather than a serious hot hatch. It has nothing to do with the lack of an independent rear suspension, or a missing limited slip or any of the other mortal sins in the eyes of auto journalists.
Hyundai knows that the target market for this car will be more concerned with the Pandora integration, the ability to hook up an Xbox and play it using the in-dash screen and the optional matte gray paint, that looks really cool but needs its own care regimen. The Veloster Turbo is a fairly shrewd move on the part of Hyundai; for the target buyer, it will feel “fast”, look cool (or at least distinctive) and deliver on the Veloster’s original mission of being practical, distinctive and efficient.
The Veloster Turbo starts at $21,950 and tops out at $24,450 when equipped with the lone option package that adds a backup camera, rear parking sensors, a panoramic sunroof, navigation, a 115-volt power outlet and automatic headlights. The automatic transmission and matte gray paint each cost another $1,000. At that price point, I’d have to pass in favor of something with more performance, even at the expense of fewer gadgets and more fuel consumption. Something that can be hand in the same showroom as the Veloster Turbo. But for Veloster buyers (who seem to span a broad range of ages, based on marketing data I’ve seen), the Turbo will be an easy upsell over the base car, which starts in the $18,000 range. The biggest issue for me is that Hyundai offers something that is genuinely great to drive, is practical, efficient and doesn’t look like your first new car after graduating from college.