Hyundai's 2021 Veloster Comes in Three Flavors, but North of the Border, It's a Very Different Story
The Hyundai Veloster remains an automotive oddity in a vehicle landscape rapidly shunning nonconformity, and for that, we give Hyundai credit. The car still exists. You author can still recall the first time he ever encountered one in the wild — in historic Vieux-Québec, with the “three-door” hatchback resting quietly under a streetlamp on those cobblestone streets.
A second-generation model landed in the latter part of 2018, with newfound power coming by way of the first N-badged Hyundai. With 250 horses and 260 lb-ft of torque, the Veloster N was a vehicle worthy of the hot hatch banner. And come 2021, it’ll be the only Veloster offered north of the border.
Very few quirky cars remain in today’s homogeneous vehicle landscape, but the Hyundai Veloster can count itself among that offbeat cohort. The Veloster N cranks up the fun quotient considerably, adding 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the oddball three-door package. More power can be drawn from the turbo 2.0-liter via a performance package.
A recent entry to the Hyundai lineup, the Veloster N has thus far been available only with a six-speed manual. No problem there, this writer says, but Hyundai clearly felt otherwise.
I drove the racetrack-ready Hyundai RM19 prototype, and I didn’t crash it.
The day after the Los Angeles Auto Show, while most of the rest of the assembled automotive media was either at home or in an airplane heading that way, I was in a shuttle bus heading north from Westwood/Beverly Hills towards the desert. Awaiting me would be the RM19 high-performance version of the Hyundai Veloster N.
The bus was ferrying me to Hyundai’s Proving Grounds located in/near California City, California. In addition to driving the RM19, I’d autocross a production Veloster N against the clock – something I did on the launch last year, outside of Sacramento – and be offered the chance to ride right-seat with a pro driver on an autocross in a race-prepped Veloster N. I’d also get to off-road a Palisade SUV and take a Nexo fuel-cell crossover around the high-speed track.
I skipped the right-seat ride due to lack of time, and I have little to say about autocross or the off-road. Those were merely repeats of experiences I’ve had before. The story here is the RM19, which Hyundai claims is a preview of future N products.
That exact future isn’t yet clear.
The hot hatch segment is about to lose two stalwarts in the Ford Focus ST and Fiesta ST. Who, oh who, now will compete with the class-leading Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type-R?
Will it be Subaru, bringing back a hatch version of the WRX? Chevy with an actual hopped-up Cruze hatchback? Perhaps Toyota with a performance version of the new Corolla hatch?
No. As you no doubt know by now, the newest player in the hot-hatch game is Hyundai, with the N version of its Veloster three-door entering the fray. Positioned above the sport-trimmed R-Spec Veloster and the top-trim Veloster Turbo (which blends luxury with sport), the N is meant to be an affordable track-ready toy that’s ready to go from the moment it leaves the showroom while still being usable a daily driver.
A peach in the streets and a freak off the streets, as it were.
Someone once uttered several unkind words about the name “Veloster,” claiming it to be one of the most convoluted and forced names to grace a car since the Mitsubishi Mini Active Urban Sandal.
I’m not sure I agree. After all, at least it is an actual name and not something plucked from an upset bowl of Alphagetti. The 2nd-generation Veloster bowed for the 2019 model year and, given Hyundai’s M.O. of high content and low price, we figured it’d be wise to inspect one for this week’s Ace of Base trial.
Hyundai’s Veloster may be the first to wear the N badge and we’ve already explained it won’t be the last. However, the plot has thickened slightly. The new division won’t be limited to peppering existing models with enhanced powertrains and sport-inspired accessories, it’s eventually going to have its own halo car.
Thomas Schemera, who was appointed head of Hyundai’s new high performance and motorsport division earlier this year, is claiming that the Veloster N is only “the first phase of N vehicles.” But he isn’t talking about the future N-Line, which is to be comprised of gently tweaked Hyundai cars. Apparently, the group is developing a halo performance model to show off what the sporting division can really do.
Hyundai’s Veloster has gone from an oddball offering drivers a reasonably good time on a budget to something that can compete with the Volkswagen GTI and Civic Si. It’s no longer the hot hatch you settled on to save money; it’s a legitimate alternative.
Outfitted properly, the updated Hyundai can hold its own in the hot hatch segment. However, it does not appear to shame any of the veteran entrants. The GTI remains the total package while other models offer their own unique advantages. But the Veloster, specifically the R-Spec with the 1.6-liter turbo, remains in the mix with a leaner price tag.
This changes when the Hyundai’s N sub-brand arrives in the U.S. market.
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.
Ahead of next week’s North American International Auto Show, where TTAC will have a full complement of boots on the ground, Hyundai has released a few teaser shots of its next Veloster.
Spy shots have been floating around for a while now, supporting the thesis that the upcoming Hyundai hatch will retain its oddball door configuration. It may even have a performance model, dubbed the N, a letter so chosen by the Korean automaker because all the cool bits of the alphabet were already taken.
Michael Karesh may have been one of the few writers to review the Hyundai Veloster without the expectation of a truly sporting drive, but even he concludes that
Those who insist on go with their show needn’t despair, only patiently wait for the turbo Hyundai’s not yet talking about.
Because Hyundai’s European executives started talking about a turbo version prior to the launch date, and Hyundai Motor America still rolls its eyes at the mere mention of a turbo Veloster, I wasn’t optimistic. But between a recent explosion of US-based spy shots of Veloster Turbo mules (both in Death Valley and near HATCI in Michigan) and a 210 HP ARK Performance-tuned Veloster Turbo heading to SEMA, I’m beginning to share Karesh’s opinion that the Veloster Turbo is an inevitability for the US market. Besides, Hyundai has earned a little fuel-burning frivolity: its year-to-date combined full-fleet fuel economy (CAFE) is 35.9 MPG, just over the 2015 standard of 35.5 MPG.
The author’s expectations play a large but rarely disclosed role in any auto review. Expect a car to be awful, and it turns out to be adequate? Then the review might even seem positive. On the other hand, if reviewers buy into the hype surrounding an upcoming model, and it turns out to be only pretty good, then the reviews can turn ugly. No one wants to be sold a bill of goods. I approached the Hyundai Veloster with different expectations than most of the automotive press.
Recently a video surfaced from the Frankfurt Auto Show, depicting Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn puzzling over the remarkable quality of Hyundai’s latest Golf competitor, the European-market i30. But if Herr Professor Dr. Winterkorn seemed perturbed, and he certainly did, it wasn’t simply because of one car, even one aimed at the heart of his empire. The i30 is simply the latest in a string of strong Hyundai products that are rapidly erasing memories of the brand’s budget-basement roots. In an industry that likes to compare itself to the fashion business, Hyundai is hot. So much so, in fact, that TTAC readers are likely beginning to tire of hearing about it.
And when brands are hot, especially on the strength of their mass-market offerings, the next logical step is to build a halo car that reflects the values that made them so popular. But Hyundai’s unconventional positioning, selling everything from a $15,000 Accent to a $60,000 Equus, and its mandate to reflect “Different Thinking” mean a traditional halo car is out of the question. Enter the Veloster. Or, as Hyundai calls it, the “reverse halo car.”
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- John I had an 87 escort GT that was silver, it was a fun little car and got 35+ mpg average, one time I got 42 average on a turnpike trip.
- Jho65697139 That's going to take a lot of buffing.
- Corey Lewis No need for unique qualifications to care for this thing, it's just a Corolla with a different body on it.
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- Syke Had the exact same car, only difference is that the trim was the JDM bB rather than the American xB. Enjoyed the car immensely, originally bought it because it was excellent for transporting my then-invalid wife and her wheelchair around. Best thing about it? I also owned a Porsche 924S at the same time. I could go from the Porsche to the Scion and not feel disappointed by the difference in the way they drove.