Hyundai recently chose the Tampa Bay area as one of the sites to introduce its new Veloster, and we had the opportunity to take a few of the models for an extended drive across the region. The Veloster is a sporty compact aimed at younger drivers. But as we found, the stylish hatchback is also a fun ride no matter what your age.
Appearance: The Veloster is immediately recognizable as a Hyundai, with the automaker's "fluidic sculpture" design philosophy. It looks like it's in motion even when standing still. The front has Hyundai's signature hexagonal blacked-out grille, flanked by LED wraparound headlights for an aggressive look. There are a lot of style elements that set the Veloster apart: a beveled hood with subtle dual scoops, dual-centered chrome-tipped exhaust and available 18-inch wheels with painted inserts to match or complement the body color. There also are some bright color choices and available body graphics. But the most distinctive design element is a hidden forward-hinged third door on the passenger side for rear-seat access.
Performance: We were impressed with the Veloster's handling. Lyra felt it was in a class with the go-cart-like Mini. But we were less impressed with the acceleration of the 1.6-liter, 138-horsepower direct-injection engine. We tested both the 6-speed manual and 6-speed dual-clutch automatic models, and let's call it a split decision. The automatic seemed to deliver the car's power better, but even when you step on it, merging on the interstate is a gradual experience. (It's even worse in eco mode.) Still, for the casual driver, power is adequate. Once up to speed, the car will surprise you; we were cruising along at 85 and didn't realize it. Thank the suspension and its large front and rear stabilizer bars, as well as the sport-tuned steering and aerodynamic design. The enjoyable ride makes up for any power shortcomings. The MPG is good at 28/40 (manual) and 29/38 (automatic). Both 32 combined.
Interior: The Veloster is certainly one of the quietest cars we've driven that's not a luxury model. There's little wind and road noise. The console controls are simple and intuitive. Peter found the headroom slightly compromised with the optional sunroof, but otherwise there is ample space up front. Our one nit: We both felt the seats needed more lumbar support. The headroom in the back is definitely compromised for adults, who will have to be careful to duck when using the third door. The legroom, though, is adequate. The rear glass lies almost flat, much like its competitor, the Honda CR-Z, but we liked that the crossbar in the hatch is arched upward for less obstructed views. The 7-inch multimedia touch screen can be customized with colors, sounds and images. There is a rearview camera that comes in handy in a compact hatchback. Also available with subscription Blue Link service are parental controls, eco-coaching and Gracenote and Pandora.
Our 3 favorites
Bundling: Hyundai keeps the options simple with two packages: Style and Tech.
Price: Even optioned out, the Veloster comes in at less than $23,000.
Joy: It's stylish, fun to drive and feature-laden.
Style: Aggressive look, ready to pounce.
Handling: Look out, Mini, this one's good too.
Plug-in friendly: 110-volt power source, RCA connection for gaming systems, USB for music players.
The bottom line: The Veloster likely will have a broader appeal than the young people it's aiming for. And with prices starting at $17,300, it's a lot of little car for the money. What would make it even better? A turbo version.