Hyundai has done it again, created a styling home run, a car that people talk about. This time it’s the diminutive 2012 Hyundai Veloster, a sporty coupe/hatch with a bonus back door on the passenger’s side. Ah, you say, “Didn’t Saturn do that years ago?” Yes, but that car wasn’t nearly as attractive as this one, nor as well built.
Veloster, which sounds like a dinosaur from “Jurassic Park,” is a fun drive. It combines the swoopy appeal of Honda’s CR-Z hybrid coupe, with the light, fun to drive feel of former Toyota Celicas. Youngsters, and maybe a few of us 50-somethings looking for a stylish commuter, will dig this economical coupe/hatch.
Beyond its stellar looks is a solid sporty car, not something you’ll set any speed records in, but one that will cost you little to buy or run and still help you avoid feeling like you’re trapped in a dowdy econo-box.
Start with the economic basics. The car starts at $17,300 (including delivery) with a manual 6-speed transmission. This is the only trim level, but a 6-speed automatic is available for $1,250.
Gas mileage is excellent with a 28 mpg rating city and 40 mpg highway. I got 32.4 mpg in a week’s drive about evenly split between city and highway. The trip computer was only slightly optimistic at 33.4 mpg.
What you get for that amount is a solid, well built 3-door sports coupe with a hatch in back for maximum storage space and maximum fastback styling. There’s 16.0 cubic feet of cargo room in back, before you fold down the split rear seat. This is a deep cargo area.
Veloster, which is a fun name to say out loud to friends, features a 1.6-liter GDI 4-cylinder engine that creates 138 horsepower and 123 lbs.-ft. of torque. That doesn’t make this a rocket ship, just a car that’ll get away from a stop with a little enthusiasm. Since it weighs just 2,584 lbs. the Hyundai is light on its feet and fairly easy to move to highway speeds. But for more power, consider waiting until fall when a turbo version is expected.
The 6-speed manual transmission with EcoShift is easy to shift and fairly fun with moderately short throws. I did find second gear a bit notchy at times, but mostly the Veloster shifts smoothly. EcoShift lights up a gauge to tell you to shift early to save gas, but isn’t needed.
Handling is quick with good road feedback. There’s a light, but substantial feel to the car. With a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel it was fun to slip Veloster through sweeping turns and tight corners. It held the road well with little lean in the turns. Fatter tires might make it even more exciting. On damp streets I managed to spin the front-drive tires at a couple stoplights, but a lighter touch on the clutch solves that easily.
Ride is smooth and controlled on asphalt, but turns a bit choppy on Milwaukee’s crumbling cement streets. Good news though, the car is maneuverable enough to miss most giant craters. Like last week’s Subaru Impreza, this rides on slightly more than a 104-inch wheelbase and 17-inch tires are standard. This one upgraded to 18 inchers and alloy wheels. Braking is fine from four wheel discs and both traction and stability control are standard.
As racy as the exterior looks, Veloster’s interior is a styling and functional tour de force. The silver test car came with a black and gray interior, including a textured rubberized black dash top with matte silver door and dash trim accentuating the tall door pulls. These stick up a bit from the door panels and actually make it easy to grab and pull the large coupe doors shut. Simple, but no other car maker has thought of this yet.
Veloster’s dash is incredibly well laid out with all buttons easy to see and use and even with a navigation screen, all the buttons and knobs were large enough to use, even if wearing gloves. The layout also was logical, something fewer carmakers seem capable of executing. There’s a tilt/telescope steering wheel with Bluetooth hands-free phone system and cruise, radio and phone controls on the hub. Overhead Hyundai also provides solid visors with pull-out extenders, even at this price, along with Blue Link telematics, similar to GM’s OnStar.
Veloster’s seats are gray cloth, but the test car added leatherette trim around the edges, part of the $2,000 Style package. The package also adds the 18-inch alloy wheels and tires mentioned above, plus a panoramic sunroof and power shade, a fancier chrome grille surround with black highlights, fog lights, piano black interior accents and a Dimension premium audio system with 8 speakers, plus external amp and subwoofer. Alloy pedals, a driver auto-up window and the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter also are part of the deal.
I liked the car’s well contoured seats, which have a handle to adjust their height. These are supportive of your hips and lower back for longer trips, although larger drivers might find the butt pocket a little snug. Naturally you can flip the driver’s seat forward, or open the small rear-opening door on the passenger’s side to access the rear seat. The door blends well into the car’s lines so it’s not as obvious as you’d expect.
Rear seat room is limited though and best suited to small children or those in car seats. That’s what you’d expect in a small coupe or hatch though.
Veloster is impressive, but is it perfect? Not quite. The front three-quarter view and rear visibility are limited, the first due to big A pillars and large rearview mirrors just beyond them. The rear view is slightly obscured by the sloping back window and hatch seem.
Note too that the test car also added a Tech Package that included a navigation system with rearview camera, automatic headlights, remote key fob, push button start, backup warning sensors and slightly fancier alloy wheels w/painted inserts. That costs $2,000 like the Style Package, but I’d opt out of the tech deal. With options the test Veloster hit $21,300, a tad pricey. But at less than $20 grand Veloster is quite the bargain.
2012 Hyundai Veloster M/T
Made in: Ulsan, South Korea
Engine: 1.6-liter GDI 4-cyl., 138 hp
Transmission: 6-speed manual w/EcoShift
Weight: 2,584 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.3 in.
Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.
Base Price: $17,300
Dealer’s Price: $16,699
Style Package (panoramic sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome grille surround w/piano black highlights, fog lights, piano black interior accents, Dimension premium audio w/8 speakers & external amp & subwoofer, leatherette bolster seats & door inserts, alloy pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shifter, driver auto-up window), $2,000
Tech Package (navigation system w/rearview camera, automatic headlights, proximity key w/push button start, backup warning sensors, unique 18-inch alloy wheels w/painted inserts, 115V outlet), $2,000
Delivery (included in base price)
Test vehicle: $21,300
Sources: Hyundai, www.autos.yahoo.com
Hits: Cool youthful looks, great gas mileage, quick handling, stylish interior with great layout and controls. Well contoured seats, big door pulls, back door on passenger’s side and value pricing.
Misses: Side and rear visibility limited due to big A pillar/rearview mirrors and sloped back window. Second gear is a little notchy and on cement the car has a choppy small car ride.