By on May 21, 2018

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec

Some car companies seem to listen to the gripes of us underpaid yet overfed journalist types more closely than others. Hyundai and corporate sibling Kia are particularly good at that – if there’s a consensus among cranky critics about a particular car’s failings, the next generation will almost certainly address the criticisms and improve upon them.

Hyundai’s Veloster has taken a lot of crap from us keyboard knights for being a sporty hatch that lacked in power, had a crashy suspension, and offered so-so handling. Oddly, the unusual three-door body style never seemed to be the biggest complaint (surely, some even like it).

Enter generation two. Hyundai’s made a lot of changes, and every one of them goes towards making the Veloster a better car. Most succeed in that endeavor.

Full disclosure: Hyundai flew me out to Austin, Texas to drive the Veloster. They fed me excellent meals while I was there, and put me in a nice hotel. The company gave out a tchotchke bag (lip balm, corkscrew, playing cards, and a coaster), headphones I’ll never use, and left a beer and chips in the room. Both were good. They also gave me the minibar key, and I made sure to ignore it.

The Veloster skipped the 2018 model year, thanks to a longer than usual 2017 MY. That car offered two 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines, one with a turbo and one without. That’s not the case now. The 2019 Hyundai Veloster lets you pick between a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque and a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Astute readers will note that the specs of the latter engine match that of the previous gens’ turbo four.

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec

And yet, the R-Spec trim I drove with the 1.6 felt quicker. More on that later, now back to your regularly schedule specs and changes lead-in.

During the press briefing, Hyundai said that it could’ve made the Veloster a two- or four-door model without incurring any additional cost. Yet it stuck with the three-door format. Presumably there’s enough of an audience willing to keep Veloster weird.

Styling isn’t a major departure, as the basic shape stays the same. The biggest change is the front grille, which boasts a new design. LED lighting is available front and rear, and another big chance is a lowered roofline. Hyundai also pushed the A-pillar rearward and gave the car functional air curtains. The rear diffuser is styled to be more aggressive than before, and center tips remain for the exhaust – one for the base motor, two for the turbo. You can also darken the roof if that’s your thing.

The car stays about the same size, and while the new duds are noticeable, keeping the overall shape the same means you know you’re looking at a Veloster right away. It’s a slightly smoother and more aggressive look than before, but not a drastic difference. One cool bit is the hatch release, which is hidden under the rear wiper to give a cleaner look.

When I say the car stayed about the same size, I mean it. Wheelbase and height remain unchanged, while the gain in width is just 0.4 inches. Length climbs by 0.8 inches.

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec

Predictably, that means interior dimensions don’t change much. You gain 0.6 inches of rear headroom and 0.1 inch of front legroom, so you can buy those thicker shoes if you like. You do lose 0.2 inches of rear legroom, though. Cargo volume is 19.9 cubic feet.

The interior is standard Hyundai fare, price-point appropriate with a logical control layout and the loathed (at least by me) tacked-on center stack. Leg and headroom are adequate up front, and my tall frame was OK in the rear, as long as the front seat wasn’t situated all the way back. The exhaust note can be “enhanced” via either setting or by switching drive modes.

“Save the manuals” folks, pay attention: The Veloster is available with a six-speed stick with either motor. Prefer to leave your left foot limp, and you get a six-speed automatic with the base engine, or a seven-speed dual-clutch auto with the turbo. Most importantly, you can get a loaded Turbo trim with all the bells and whistles without having to sacrifice the stick. However, you cannot get a mid-trim manual trans Turbo.

Trims play out like this – you can get a 2.0 or 2.0 Premium, which forces you to drive an automatic. There’s three Turbo trims – R-Spec, Turbo, and Turbo Ultimate.

Ah, the R-Spec. That’s what I spent all day driving. Priced at $22,900 before D and D, the R-Spec is the value performance model. It has a short-throw shifter and 18-inch summer tires are the standard rubber. It gets alloy wheels, Hyundai’s Blue Link connected-car tech, uplevel audio, keyless entry and starting, LED headlights and taillights, a 4.2-inch TFT instrument panel display, alloy pedals, and keyless entry and starting.

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec

So yeah – a stick-shift hatch with performance intent for under $25K. On paper, that’s a shot across the bow at Volkswagen and the Ford ST twins (they’re not dead yet). On paper doesn’t mean bupkiss, though. The road is what matters.

On that road, the R-Spec comes closer to the competition than it ever has. It’s not quite a bargain-priced GTI killer – the upcoming N is probably more suited to slugging it out with that car – but it’s close to being as good as a stick-shift non-GTI Golf when it comes to on-road dynamics. Turn-in is sharp and smooth, and mid-corner adjustments are no issue. The steering is well-weighted and accurate, although it loses some sharpness in mid-corner.

Flicking the stick is a joy, and the clutch is pleasant to use both around town and out in the boonies. Hyundai made a major suspension swap out back, replacing the torsion beam setup with a multilink system that has an aluminum rear carrier. The difference is noticeable – the car still rides stiffly, but the suspension no longer crashes over stuff.

Despite being a little heavier than the previous car and having gained no power, the R-Spec feels faster. Maybe my butt and a stopwatch wouldn’t agree, but I felt that the R-Spec had enough guts for bombing out of a corner. It does need to be in a lower gear, though – you’ll have to downshift to pass.

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec

The R-Spec did annoy in some ways. Engine/wind/tire noise – all invasive. The ride got too stiff at times, and while the Sport drive mode firms things up, it doesn’t offer enough of a difference from the already sporty Normal mode. I rode in the back for a bit, and there are no rear A/C vents back there – which left me struggling a bit with the Texas heat.

My drive partner bemoaned the lack of a few key features available on the other Turbo trims that you can’t get with the R-Spec. For example, you have to move up the line to get a sunroof, or head-up display, or wireless cell-phone charging, or factory nav. At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the board (that means you don’t need nav, if you’re looking to save a buck).

I suspect that some of these features are dropped from the R-Spec in an effort to save weight, which is laudable, but it’s going to cause a dilemma for some buyers, especially with no manual available unless you move up to the Ultimate. Others, of course, will happily sacrifice frills and frippery to save weight – and perhaps have a cheap track car.

I did get about five minutes of wheel time in a loaded Ultimate with the DCT – it was unremarkable around town. A “Smart” drive mode on the automatic transmissions learns your habits over time.

Hyundai is offering the usual available tech, in terms of both comfort/convenience and driver assistance. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, forward-collision avoidance assistance, and lane-keep assist are standard. Available driver aids include driver-attention warning, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning, and high beam assist.

Available comfort/convenience tech includes Blue Link, head-up display, wireless cell-phone charging, smart cruise control, and more run-of-the-mill stuff like Bluetooth and USB.

2019 Hyundai Veloster

The trim walk is too detailed to completely list here – I do have a word count to stick to, after all – but some of the same stuff you can get on a mid-grade Turbo is also available on the 2.0 Premium, so cheapskates can still snag some goodies.

Pricing starts at $18,500 for the base 2.0, and the slushbox adds a grand. Go for the auto-only Premium and you’re paying $22,750.

The R-Spec commands just $150 more over that, with the mid-grade Turbo setting you back $25,400. A manual-trans Ultimate is $26,650 and it’s $28,150 for the loaded car with auto. D and D is $885.

I’d be curious to spend some time in the Ultimate manual, but the performance-oriented R-Spec has a lot going for it, if you can live without sunroof, heated seats, BSM, factory nav, and wireless phone charging. It’s also much cheaper than a GTI and a tick under the base price of a Golf SE. The Ultimate starts just above the base GTI, but the GTI gets pricy quick as trims and options are ladled on.

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec

The Veloster presents two dilemmas – it’s good enough to compete with the Golf SE and to be a value alternative to the GTI, but the GTI remains the king of the hot hatch. So the choice is value and unusual body style (Veloster) or ponying up an amount of up to $35K (base price for the Autobahn trim) for what’s probably the best daily-drivable performance hatch. Remember, if a base GTI is enough for you, you can get it for about the same price as an Ultimate manual.

If you choose door number one, you then have another choice – almost $4K more for all the features, with likely a slight sacrifice in performance, or sacrifice some comfort for a little more fun and a smaller car payment?

The thing is, the Veloster once wasn’t even really a consideration when one thought of the hot hatch. Didn’t feel quick enough, didn’t handle as well as the others. Was a fine hatch for commuting, though.

Now, the Veloster is at least in the conversation. Maybe most GTI buyers will still sneer at it, but they shouldn’t. And the upcoming Veloster N isn’t even on the road yet.

The GTI and the Ford ST twins (which are both within price range of the Veloster Turbo) are still better performance cars than the Veloster R-Spec, but the gap is much smaller. Factor in the pricing, and the Veloster is now a part of the mix, and not just the quirky oddball sipping drinks quietly in the corner.

[Images: © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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52 Comments on “2019 Hyundai Veloster First Drive – Improvement Is an Understatement...”


  • avatar
    statikboy

    What brand and flavour of chips were they? This is very important.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This suffers from the same issue as the CTS Coupe. 3/4ths of it is fine, but then you get to the rear and its WTF.

    Also, how big is the hatch door? The bumper appears to be about 50% of the whole rear end and the door not quite 1/4th. Is the hatch door more for decorative purposes?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Reviews of Turbo Performance Hyundai/Kia always sound like they’re about 50 hp short of greatness.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    The old one was based on the Accent, isn’t this one on a different platform? Elantra, maybe? It’s so similar in appearance to the last one that if I saw this on the street, my first guess would be that it’s a refreshed 1st-gen model.

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      It’s mostly based on the Elantra hatch/i30, and shares the same powertrains, and will be our only N car since they’re not selling the i30 N here.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    From what I remember with the last one, the rear seat was completely useless. A shame as the N looks strong. Hoping for an Elantra Sedan with the N treatment, or at least the 2.0T to replace the 1.6T in the Sport when the poor selling Sonata gets canned.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The Sonata should sell better w/ the next gen (which will be getting the new 2.5L Theta III engine and possibly even AWD), esp. if it gets that new sleek sheetmetal.

      Even now, combined Sonata and Optima sales are right back to where they used to be, solidly in 3rd place behind the Accord.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Glad to know they are fixing this car. To me it’s a modern day Civic hatch now that Honda just offers an ugly 5 door. The rear seats aren’t something you access very often so having just one passenger side door for that purpose seems like a good solution.

    Styling wise I just wish the rear didn’t slope down so much with an oval rear window, it needs to be a bit more upright and square for better visibility. They could have easily moved the tail lights down to the bottom of the hatch which would have increased the glass by a third.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I thought of it as a modern-day CRX. It has some of the same visual charm as the CRX that I wanted in high school.

      But, then I drove one. Rental-spec.

      The DSG combined the worst aspects of the manual and automation transmissions I’d driven up to that point, and the asymmetric doors pissed me off.

      I hope the new generation is better! I look forward to renting the new one to see how it drives!

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Why even bother with the rear window? Slap some DLO-fail plastic on it and get it over with already.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I have always WANTED to like the Veloster, but that third door just escapes me.

    Kind of reminds me of the auto equivalent of a mullet – sport coupe on one side, everyday sedan on the other.

    I just can’t buy off on the concept. No deal, unfortunately.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Falcon wing doors, and a Honda 4-banger+CVT FTW!

      Seriously, I also really wanted to like the Velostar. It reminds me of the CRX, which was a fun little car (and unattainable to me in the 1990s, but its modern cousin would easily within reach now, if it was existed).

      We currently own a Civic EX as a long-distance commuter, and it’s a wonderful car. The drivetrain is smooth and modern, and would fix everything that was wrong with the Velostar (except for that assymetric door). Hopefully Hyundai’s new drivetrains are just as good.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        I actually am one of those people who likes the three door concept.

        I have to admit though, and this is so inane, but I often wear a blazer and don’t like driving in one, so I use the rear passenger door behind the driver to hang my jacket in the 30 seconds it takes for the initial revs to go down. So I guess this would not work for me.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Sounds like Hyundai made some nice changes to this car. Yet I don’t understand the trend to Center exhaust pipes. This pretty much deletes any option for a hitch. This would mainly be for a bike rack.

    • 0 avatar
      NG5

      I agree, it seems foolish on hatchbacks because of their practicality otherwise. One of the only recurring practical challenges is that it seems the smallest ones have trouble fitting bikes inside. Yet the Ford Focus ST and Civic Si both ALSO have center exhaust pipes.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        The first time my best friend said “the Boxter has an anus” similarly ruined it for me. Can’t unsee. My next car will certainly have a hitch.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Hyundai’s made impressive progress on chassis tuning. Now it needs to work on engines.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The 2.5L Theta III will replace the current 2.0 and supposedly is a good bit more thermally efficient.

      Need a better transmission to go with it other than the current 6 spd AT; it’s fine, but neither sporty nor particularly efficient.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Main problem with the Hyundai engines I’ve sampled – and this includes the Elantra Sport – is lack of refinement. There’s plenty of punch, and plenty of noise. From this review, looks like that’s the case with this car as well.

        Tim compares the Veloster to a base Golf, and in that battle, I’d say the VW wins – it’s notably refined.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    “Flicking the stick is a joy”. Yes, but how’s the manual transmission?

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    Wow!

    It used to be so ugly!

    Now it looks ugly AND cheap!

  • avatar
    RealWorld

    Hi Tim,, can you comment on the torque vectoring. How does it work? Did you feel it at all pulling out of a corner.

    Torque vectoring is arguably one of the most useful engineering technologies to come out in recent times. Any comments would help. Thanks.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    The world would be a far, far worse place without motoring journalists on junkets, eager to tell the manufacturers where their cars need improvement. Glad to hear it was the scribes of motordom who persuaded Hyundai to improve the Veloster. Left to themselves or customers who never complain, needed tweaks would never be spotted.

  • avatar
    SnarkyRichard

    It still looks like a stinkbug on wheels with poor rearward visibility .

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    This may not be my cup of tea but I’m looking forward to the N version. If nothing else it will be a good test to see if Hyundai can put all the ingredients together and make a GTI killer.

    I know they don’t get much respect but between the Elantra Sport, GT Sport, this and future N versions, Hyundai is putting out some interesting inexpensive cars. We can’t all have V8 pony cars or M3’s for our daily drivers. It’s nice someone is still trying to make sporty little cars

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      A slew of Australian auto publications have pitted the i30N and GTI and thus far, the i30N has come out on top.

      Even if the Veloster-N has the same mechanicals and driving dynamics of the i30N, can’t get past its awkward looks (plus, due to its sloping roofline, it doesn’t have the utility of the i30N and that’s a major point in having a hot hatch).

      Going forward, hope Hyundai does away with the Veloster (even if it means a “sporty” small CUV replaces it) and just brings the entire i30n lineup here.

      • 0 avatar
        "scarey"

        Why would Hyundai get rid of the Velostar if they are coming out with this new model now ? The ranks of the competition is growing thinner If Ford axes the Fiesta and Focus soon, Not to mention the fact that this seems to be a good starting place, if Hyundai continues it’s product improvement program. It sounds like the CUV market will be overcrowded as well. Not a fan of that bright red color, though.

        • 0 avatar
          bd2

          There’s really no need for 2 models that essentially compete in the same segment and the i30 looks better (esp. the i30N) and has more utility to boot.

          Many have stated that they wished Hyundai would offer the i30N here instead of being restricted to the Veloster-N.

          There’s a reason why VW got rid of the Scirocco (really no need when VW has the Golf).

    • 0 avatar
      NG5

      I agree wholeheartedly and I might actually shop the N if I get tired of the Ford interior and beam rear suspension of my Fiesta. Very glad someone is still developing cars in the segment.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      GTI killer? Performance-wise, perhaps. But the GTI’s killer app isn’t performance – it’s versatility and refinement, and these are two areas Hyundai has a lot of ground to make up.

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    As someone who owned a first-gen Veloster, I have questions about my pet peeves.

    1. Has the rear camera been re-positioned so that it no longer fogs up on cold winter days, due to it being directly above the damned exhaust pipes? Seeing out the back of the thing without a camera is useless.

    2. Does the infotainment screen actually work when it’s below -20C? Mine didn’t.

    3. Without the panoramic sunroof, will my children be afraid of the giant glowing ball in the sky when they emerge from the cave that is the back seat?

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Why can’t they make a center stack with the multimedia screen built in instead of looking like an afterthought?

    What if I wanted to use my own nav unit like a Garmin or Tom Tom. OK not a Tom Tom but still.

    Many manufacturers get it right, why cant the Korea twins?

    Tell me, does this pump the engine sound in the cabin as the trendy cars do these days? That would be a deal breaker and the screen sitting there waiting for Also sprach Zarathustra to start playing would make living inside that much worse.

  • avatar
    NG5

    How heavy is the car? These turbo trim power figures are similar to a Fiesta ST but the last version of the Veloster seems to weigh about 200 pounds more than the FiST. Since there’s even more car this time, I’m curious about that figure, especially because I’m interested in the N. Seems like none of the first impressions have mentioned it.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’m going to test drive this. I’ve all but given up on finding an old school B13 SE-R so I’m stuck looking for a sort of modern equivalent (I am firmly in the “slow car fast” club). I anticipate the Fiesta St will be the one though.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Is this today’s CR-X

  • avatar

    There is a lesson here for Ford. If you spend the time and resources you can produce a competitive car at a decent price. However, cancelling entire car lines and concentrating on mediocre trucks and SUVs is not the way to go.

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