Hyundai Veloster not your average, boring ride

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by TOM VOELK / Special contributor to KING5.com and NWCN.com

NWCN.com

Posted on September 23, 2011 at 1:26 PM

Some people are passionate about cars, others just want something with four wheels to get them to the daily grind.   For those who like their transportation bland, beige and boring, stop reading now.  Hyundai Veloster is not your ride.

Still with me?  You must color outside the lines.  Veloster looks like another “youth oriented” vehicle that manufactures make to create brand-loyal customers for life, but it isn’t just attitude. There’s substance here.  Veloster is a high schooler with purple hair, multiple piercings and a 4.0 grade point average.

What Veloster Will Be known For

Quite simply, three doors.  That term is often applied to hatchback coupes but not here.  The driver’s side is a true coupe with one door, the passenger side gets two.  Yeah, yeah, it’s been done before- Saturn SC and MINI Clubman- but Veloster’s hidden rear door is remarkable in its conventionality.  It’s a regular front-hinged unit with the exterior door handle discreetly hidden in the rear of the window frame.  It’s on the curb side, making it all the more practical.

Even without the third door, Hyundai has penned a very unique design here, an aggressive interpretation of their “fluidic sculpture” design.  It’s sleek and stealth-fighter-stubby all at once.  The split glass hatch is reminiscent of Honda CR-Z and Insight.  Some will like the design, others won’t get it.  Less polarizing than say Nissan Juke though.  A close look at the tail lamps reveals an almost three-dimensional quality inside them.

Veloster also offers up lots of standard tech.  There’s Bluetooth for phones and audio streaming, a seven-inch touch screen, Pandora internet radio (requiring an iPhone with data plan) and Gracenote, which provides voice command and album art for the tunes in you iPod.  And yes, if you’re wondering, there’s air conditioning.  All of this, along with supportive seats covered in quality cloth, is on my base level tester (no options at all) at the Portland, Oregon launch event.  With destination it retails for $18,060.

Does Veloster Live Up To Its Name?

If you think Veloster is a good idea you’d probably be looking at MINI Cooper, Honda CR-Z, Scion tC, VW Beetle, Nissan Juke or Fiat 500.  In size it slots in between the Honda and Scion. 

Power is provided by Hyundai’s 1.6-liter direct injected four-cylinder that makes 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque @ 4850 rpm.  The exhaust pipe is center mounted.

A first for Hyundai is an available six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission they’ve dubbed EcoShift.  Paddle shifters on the steering wheel?  You bet.  Sadly, I couldn’t drive it (I have a video to shoot you know) so I stuck with the six-speed manual with its light crisp action.  To say it has a Mazda-like feel is a compliment.  Hyundai estimates the row-your-own box will have a 30 percent take rate.

Turn off the traction control and it’s possible to spin the front wheel loudly, fooling the world that Veloster lives up to its powerful name.  Hyundai under estimates 0-60 at 9.8 seconds, the seat of my Levis says it’s closer to 9.0.  For a good time, it’s best to keep the engine in the upper rev range, especially on hills.  Steep grades all but demand a heavy foot.  Every journalist at the event speculates this car will eventually get a turbo.  Hyundai has no comment.

Good news though, fuel economy is rated at 28 city, 40 highway with the manual, 29/38 with EcoShift. 

Lives For the Twisties

So you won’t be drag racing Porsche 911s, at least Veloster handles well in the curves.  It’s where this car shines.  Built with loads of high strength steel the chassis is rock solid.  Hyundai targeted VW’s Scirocco as a benchmark easily besting the German’s torsional body rigidity (23.1 Hz vs. 32.8 Hz for the Korean).  Chuck Veloster into a corner and the tight structure channels the old Honda CR-X with a modern dynamic.  The front suspension uses an independent MacPherson strut design, the rear gets a unique “v-beam” setup that has an integrated 23mm stabilizer bar running through it.   

The engine sounds smooth and road noise is largely kept at bay in the cabin.  In fact, Veloster seems quieter than the Elantra I’m currently driving.  Some enthusiasts would probably like to hear more engine noise, I prefer to talk to my friends without shouting.  Another plus, the firm ride quality remains comfortable so Veloster won’t beat you up on long trips.

A system called ActiveECO modifies the engine and transmission control to smooth out throttle response and increase real-world fuel economy.  An Eco Coach graphic on the LCD screen helps you wring out the best fuel economy.  Going a step further is Blue Max, which is kind a video game based in the real world.  Drive efficiently to accumulate points which get posted to the web.  No real prizes though, just bragging rights.

Internal Affairs

An 18K base price might suggest Veloster has a spartan interior.  Nope.  Inspired by sport bikes, the instrument panel might be hard plastic but it feels substantial and gets a nice texture.  Silver painted grab handles for the doors are huge, releases feel good.  The standard audio system sounds decent and gets an XM tuner.  There are video inputs if you want to playback movies on that seven-inch touch screen when it’s in park.

Higher trim levels get some synthetic leather bolsters.  Full leather is not available though not really expected in this class.  Seat heaters would be nice, sadly they’re not available. 

Order a completely loaded Veloster for $23,310 and there’s a panoramic glass roof and keyless ignition.  The sound system gets a substantial upgrade and a 115v household outlet is added for, as Hyundai says, hooking up a gaming console to the LCD screen.  Hmmm, can’t think of a faster way to get an X-Box stolen…

Blue Link

Hyundai’s new telematics system is called BlueLink and most would compare it to OnStar.  Like GM’s service it doesn’t require your cell phone for service.  Blue Link adds features like voice text messaging plus a “geo fence” sends you a text if the person you’ve loaned your car to has driven it somewhere you’ve flagged as off limits.  Cue up the daughter/shopping mall jokes. 

Blue Link comes with a free trial period.  After that, service starts at $79 a year climbing to $279 if you want to request directions to your destination. 

About That Back Door

Remember, it’s only on the passenger side and with cupholders molded into the center position Veloster is a four-seater.  Legroom is fine in the rear even with someone sitting up front and there’s just enough headroom for my average size frame.  The hatch’s glass extends over the passenger’s head so they’re looking at the lip where the window joins the headliner.  Considering the glass offers no padding, tall folks in back won’t want the driver to hit any big bumps.  There’s one seat pocket and no 12v power port.  

Sorry folks, no TP trunk test this week since I’m at a press event.  Eyeballing it I’d say it’s a five-pack space, the useful hatchback design has more room than you’d expect in a smaller vehicle.  In size Veloster sort of slots in between the 2-passenger Honda CR-Z hybrid and the Scion tC.  A gripe?  No spare tire, only a repair kit.  This seems to be the future folks. 

Easy To Buy

Appealing to the Scion demographic, Hyundai is not trying to emulate that buying experience.  There are only 6 ways to buy Veloster, meaning three different packages and the two transmissions.  Then choose from nine colors.  That’s pretty much it.  Limiting build combinations helps to keep the costs down.

Veloster might not be fast and certainly not for the Camry crowd but it is loaded with tech, innovation and personality.  For years enthusiasts on a budget have pined away for a new Honda CR-X.  Here it is gang, it just has a back seat and a Hyundai badge.  Is the third door a gimmick?  If it is it’s well done.  Veloster opens the doors to fun and frugal driving.
 

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