TestDrive: Hyundai Veloster

I was in for an oil change yesterday, and with forty minutes or so to kill, I wandered up to the showroom. Now, I did actually have a mission. One of my friends got punted into a barrier on the highway by an errant SUV, and her 2009 Toyota Corolla is a write-off. While she doesn’t know how much she’s getting for it from the SUV’s insurance, she is shopping around, and knows what she’s looking for.

Knowing what you’re looking for is always half the battle.

In her case, she’s got two teen kids, and still needs room to get them around. She’s got a long-ish commute to work, and is leaning, for the first time, away from a manual transmission. She likes to drive, so wants there to be driving dynamic in there, too.

Now, I knew all this, and I knew what I was looking to do with that time. I’d already talked with her, and suggested a few vehicles. The commute means she needs fuel economy; the kids means needing some space, and she’s got some issues which may make a manual transmission difficult in the future.

To that effect, I’d already suggested:

  • Hyundai Accent
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Ford Focus
  • Kia Forte
  • Toyota Matrix/Corolla
  • Hyundai Veloster

    Obviously, she already knows the Matrix/Corolla. The Elantra, Accent, Forte, and Focus are pretty ubiquious these days: the Elantra and Forte share a platform. All four have been redesigned dramatically in the last eighteen months.

    The interesting one is the Veloster.

    The Veloster is a new machine. It shares a basic platform/chassis and drivetrain with the Accent, so, as you can imagine, it’s fairly small (sub-compact class, in fact). However, it’s super stylish. Now, I have a thing about car style: as with any stylistic endeavour, automotive styling should make you love it or hate it. You should never see a car and say… “meh. Whatever.” Style should polarize, and make you react.

    The Veloster does this. It’s an odd design: a coupe/hatchback on the driver’s side, a sedan/hatch on the passenger side. Yup. It’s asymetrical. But it really works. Unlike the Nissan Cube, which is, arguably, the worst looking vehicle since the Pontiac Aztek.

    It’s got aggressive styling, but still maintains the new family face: in fact, it does the family face far better than some other models (2013 Genesis Coupe, I’m looking at you). I quite like it. Despite the boy-racer vents on the hood, it’s a good looking little car, with aggressive, but not over-the-top lines. However.

    When you sit down in it for the first time, you notice that the design has created some compromises from the drivers seat. Specifically, the C-pillar is huge. Monsterous. And while shoulder checks are still possible, you will learn to use the oversize mirrors properly for lane changes, because you’ll have to. In addition is the visibility out of the back glass/hatchback. It’s not terrible, thanks to a squared back, and a lowered second window. But it’s a small viewing area.

    And that would make things really difficult: not on the road, but parking. Except. Except the Veloster comes with, as part of the huge 7″ center stack touch screen (with the base model, no less) a backup camera. And after using it, I gotta say, I like it. I had to try to break old habits (watching my mirrors left and right, and watching over my shoulder constantly) but the backup camera is superbly effective. It activates and takes over the screen as soon as you put the car in reverse, and gives you green/yellow/red areas on-screen for distances. My brief experience with it says that it works very well.

    (not my video by the way, but a great demo)

    Once you get used to it, you don’t have to move an awful lot to get yourself parked, which is nice. I can see how this kind of feature gets addictive really quickly.

    While we’re in the driver’s seat, here’s the only issue with the actual space, as far as I’m concerned. the seats are great: definitely not the equal of my Genesis Coupe, but for the bracket and type of vehicle, excellent: good support, a long enough seat to support your thighs, and good lower back support. I was only in the car for half an hour, but I didn’t have any issues iwth my notoriously bad back, or stiffening in the shoulders, or uncomfortable leg positions: the pedals are right, the steering is adjustable, and the dead pedal is spot on.

    However, those of slightly-more-than-average height (I’m 6′ even), beware. I drove a base model, with no power sunroof. WIth the seat adjusted to its lowest position, I had about an inch of clearance between my head and the headliner. I’ve sat in the “tech pacakge” with the sunroof. I was touching the headliner with my noggin. Not brushing it, but actually TOUCHING it. If I assumed a gangster slouch, I was fine, but I can’t drive like that.

    Which is as good a time to mention my other issue. The touch screen interface is absolutely brilliant: the base has the 7″ touch screen, and it’ll do everything you can think of: GraceNote is included: Hyundai’s smartphone interface, as is XM radio, ipod support, either cabled or over bluetooth, and more features and options than you can shake a stick at, as well as the back-up camera.

    Despite that, you can’t get the Navigation system on it without buying the “tech package”, which includes, among other things, the sunroof, and 18″ wheels, and upgraded stereo. COME ON, HYUNDAI. You’re supposed to be better than this now: this is a blatant screw-job on the customer, making them buy a package they don’t want just so they can get navigation on that beautiful screen. You need to fix this immediately. It should be an option you can just add in for a couple hundred bucks. In my case, my height precludes me from having a navigation system, which is absolutely ludicrous. Also, $3500 to get navigation is … well, I’ve used most of the adjectives that denote “insane”. You get the idea.

    All of this is before I even pulled out into traffic. So, here we go. Now, you’ve seen I’m torn on the car so far: it does a lot of things well. How does it drive, though?

    It drives well. You’re well isolated from road noise, which I hadn’t expected in what is, essentially, an econobox. The suspension is stiff enough to encourage some spirited, fun driving, and provide road feel, but it doesn’t have the choppy, performance-oriented stiffness that my own Genesis Coupe has. It’s compliant, but you will feel potholes, in a way that you won’t in, say, a Civic or Corolla. That said, those aren’t the competition for it. The steering is communcative, bordering on heavy: something I didn’t expect in a car this small. I like it, but I can imagine that some won’t. Credit where credit is due, it also never felt over-boosted.

    Basically, it’s fun to drive. The DCT Dual Clutch Transmission does its job admirably. Personally, I’d still go for a true, three-pedal manual transmission, but the DCT is a great piece of kit. Shifts were snappy at high revs, and smooth as silk if you short shift. It’s equally good in “D” mode: if you’re flooring it, it didn’t appear to short shift me, and in general traffic, I barely noticed the shifts. The only issue I had with it is the same as I have with every flappy paddle gearbox: if you’re in the middle of a turn (especially a left across traffic) you’re ‘stuck’ in gear, because the paddles rotate with the wheel. Can we please, all manufacturers, put the paddles on the column and leave them there, and not have them rotate around as you turn the wheel? Thanks!

    Then engine itself is a 1.6L GDI engine: the identical model that is in the 2012 Accent. And again, it’s a good little powerplant. It’s not fast, but this isn’t designed to be a fast car. with 138hp and 124lb.ft of torque, it’s a good thing the car is a relative lightweight. It’s fast enough for merging, but you’re not going to win any stoplight drag races in it. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll want to wait for the rumoured 200hp turbo 1.6L supposedly in the pipeline.

    Rather, what this engine is good at is getting you around competently, and with an eye to fuel economy. I didn’t get chance to really go for broke, and see what the fuel economy is like, but I think, with a cautious foot, the suggested 4.9L/100km highway, and 7.2L/100km city are achievable on a regular basis.

    And you’ll be getting around with four people and not likely more. Again, there’s the wierdly attractive door configuration. The backseat is emminently useable: you have to find the correct spot to sit or you’ll be knocking your head off the glass or headliner, and if you’re over 6’1, the back seat will not be a friendly place: but the seats are comfortable, and there’s a ton of legroom. Far, far more legroom than I’d expected. Anyone under 5’10 will be comfortable over the long haul in this backseat though. The trunk should be good for a good chunk of luggage: a couple of suitcases for sure, gym and school bags, definitely, or a major grocery run. For golf bags, you’re going to want the back seat folded flat, however. (this is from my uneducated eyeball: I’d recommend taking you clubs with you if you’re a golfer and looking at this lil’ runaround). There’s also storage areas and cubby’s everywhere: a good, rubber-padded spot for phones and ipods in the center stack, next to dual 12v plug ins and USB/ipod plug in. The armrest houses two seperate compartments, and the glove box is as spacious as you’d expect. My cup holder happily head an Extra-Large Timmies while I was shifting for myself.

    That pretty much sums my experience with about an hour with the car. I like it, I gotta say. From a styling front, it’s not going to be for everyone: it’s a quirky design. But I think those who do like it will love it, and it’ll develop its own following for that. It’s got great fuel economy, and good, if not great, space, and when that turbo shows up, it’ll be a performer that really surprises. The only thing I really, really have to say irks me is the requirement for buying the tech package just to get the navigation system. I know they want to call it a tech package, but they’d do better just to include it in the base car, with that awesome screen, and make the stereo, sunroof, and wheels a luxury package upgrade: I for one, couldn’t care less about those options: sunroof I don’t fit, stereo I don’t care, and wheels, well, if I want upgraded wheels, I’ll go buy the ones I really like, aftermarket. Just put the navigation system in the base touch screen set up, PLEASE, ok, Hyundai?


    -great looking
    -fantastic 7″ touch screen ICE system
    -DCT transmission done right
    -fuel economy
    -great handling for an economy car
    -tons of space for an economy car


    -rearward visibility
    -Navigation system only available on tech package
    -sunroof encroaching on seating for average+ size drivers
    -slightly underpowered
    -paddles that don’t stay still.

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