Written by BJ Killeen
Hyundai is on a winning streak. Recently introduced products like Ioniq and Kona show how the company is rolling sevens, producing a great batch of vehicles that are affordable, reliable, and fun to drive. One car Hyundai previously created to appeal to those looking for the “fun to drive” first was the Veloster, a three-door subcompact that was as much fun to toss around the twisties as a sports car costing twice as much. For 2019, the Veloster has been completely redesigned, and now delivers more of everything it had before.
We spent a solid day driving the new Veloster around the Austin, Texas, area, experiencing a combination of highways, curvy roads, and city traffic. As much fun as the previous Veloster was, the second-generation version is now more refined and focused than before, without giving up any of the entertainment value — and monetary value — as well.
The Veloster has grown from the previous four models up to five, and switched up the offerings a bit. The new lineup is easy to follow: There’s a base offering featuring a 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle engine matched with a six- speed manual transmission that starts at $18,500. Add $1,000 if you want the automatic. Then the 2.0 Premium with more features that starts at $22,750. The Turbo R-Spec with a manual tranny is $22,900, then the Turbo model with a 7-speed dual clutch automatic goes for $25,400. The top trim is the Ultimate, priced at $26,650 with the manual transmission, or $28,150 for the DCT. Add $885 destination charges to those prices for the base totals. The two vehicles we drove in Texas were the R-Spec manual trans and the Turbo Ultimate with the automatic transmission. Pricing is on par with the primary competitors to the Veloster, namely the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, Honda Civic Coupe, and rumored soon-to-be-vanquished Volkswagen Beetle, albeit with a lot more standard content.
While sales of smaller cars are diminishing next to the uprising of crossovers and SUVs, according to Hyundai, the compact sporty car segment is somewhat stable. It holds about two percent of the overall automotive market, translating to sales averaging around 118,000 units for 2018. Over the next six years, the drop will be about 10%, but that’s not bad compared to other segments. Young people still want good-looking, sporty, affordable vehicles, and the Veloster delivers on those adjectives easily.
The Veloster is important to Hyundai because it brings buyers into the brand and helps keep them there for the duration of their car-buying life. Some interesting statistics, according to Hyundai: Veloster buyers never considered a Hyundai before their purchase, and 70 percent replaced another vehicle brand with that Hyundai purchase. In addition, almost half of Veloster owners did move up to another Hyundai vehicle. Veloster buyers are younger and have more household income that regular Hyundai buyers, so when it came time for Hyundai to decide what to do with Veloster, the answer was a no-brainer.
For this subcompact sporty category, Fun to drive and styling are the top priorities. Hyundai has been on target when it comes to recent vehicle designs; the Ioniq and Kona look great, and now the new Veloster completes the hat trick. Hyundai designers knew it was important to keep the Veloster looking like a Veloster, but they improved the styling in every way. At the front end, the design is definitely more aggressive, with a deep, inset honeycomb grille, more aerodynamic headlamps, functional air inlets, and a lower sloping hood. The front and rear fenders have been reshaped to look more integrated and athletic rather than boy racer. And the roofline has been lowered for better aerodynamics and a more proportional stance. The styling has grown up and really projects the same maturity as the driving dynamics — in a good way.
What makes the Veloster unique has been retained: the three-door entry. One door on the driver side makes the coupe design stand out, while the other side is all about the party. A hidden rear door provides easy entry and exit for second- row passengers. Since the Veloster is designed to appeal to single buyers, the occasional driver-side rear seat occupant won’t mind climbing in from the passenger side. The asymmetrical design is unique to Hyundai, and has served the Veloster well over its short lifespan.
In back, the Veloster still is instantly recognizable, but more athletic. The dual center exhaust trademark returns, along with a more defined lower diffuser and available LED taillamps. Standard are 17-inch wheels and tires, with 18s standard on the 2.0-liter Premium and above.
Dimensions of the Veloster remain close to the first gen. Overall length is up just shy of an inch; it’s less than a half-inch wider, and height and wheelbase remain unchanged. Interior dimensions are much the same story, with the exception of rear-seat headroom, which gained a half inch. When you think how little the exterior dimensions have changed, this is quite an accomplishment. Hyundai achieved this extra room for your noggin through both repositioning the hinges on the rear hatch, as well as different seat foam for the rear passengers. The new density foam is thinner but without any loss in seat comfort.
Inside, the Veloster definitely caters to the driver. The center console is built up on the passenger side to keep the focus toward the front left seat. On the road, we felt really comfortable behind the wheel. In the R-Spec, the cloth seats are supportive and pleasing, and headroom is abundant. The Veloster feels roomier on the inside than it would appear to be by looking at the exterior. Accent colors inside on the seats, steering wheel, and console are bright and definitely add to the sportiness of the vehicle, but aren’t overdone; another sign that the Veloster will appeal to someone not fresh out of college in addition to target- customer millennials.
There are plenty of features standard even on the entry-level 2.0-liter model, such as a 7-inch touchscreen display, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, cruise control, LED DRLs, automatic on/off headlamps, and forward collision avoidance assist. The 2.0-liter Premium adds 18-inch wheels and tires, blind spot warning with cross traffic warning, pushbutton start with proximity key, a larger center display, Infinity audio system, wireless charge pad, heated front seats, and leather/cloth seating surfaces.
The R-Spec model we drove gets the 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 engine, and adds a B&M Racing sport shifter, alloy pedals, a 4.2-inch color TFT instrument cluster, and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 225/40R18 summer tires. The Turbo model adds a sunroof, power lumbar, and automatic temperature control. Because weight savings is important for the R-Spec model, the seats are cloth, but the combined leather/cloth seating returns in the Turbo model. Ultimate trim adds a two-tone roof, 8-inch display with navigation, full leather seats, and adaptive cruise control with the DCT model only.
What we loved about the interior: in the R-Spec, the instrument cluster was definitely sporty. We liked the easy-to-read layout and the speedo and tach both with the zero sitting at 6 o’clock. Ergonomics were good: all switches and controls were easy to reach and operate. The steering wheel leather was soft, and the thickness was perfect in our hands. The six-speed shifter was positioned naturally. Since we own a Kia, all the steering wheel controls in the Hyundai are similar to those found in our Sedona, which makes using them second nature to us. Material quality and fit and finish were up there, but that’s to be expected with this brand. We also appreciated the eight-speaker Infinity audio system with center channel and subwoofer. While on our drive route we kept the SiriusXM tuned only to mellow jazz, but we know from previous experience that the audio system can pump out great sound quality, especially because it had Clari-Fi (which helps fill in the sound that gets lost when compressing music files), and that Harman Kardon is the parent of Infinity. We’ve seen first-hand how hard the company works to reproduce great sound.
Another feature we tried out was the HUD, or head-up display. We love that it works just like in the Kona, where you can raise and lower it, so if you don’t like it, it doesn’t need to be in your sight line all the time. It’s a large 8-inch screen and displays all kinds of information, including safety, navigation, and audio. You also can see the tach, speedo, and gear when the Veloster is in Sport mode.
What we need to mention that’s less favorable on the interior is minor but worth noting, otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs. First, there’s no shoulder seatbelt height adjuster. It’s a fixed ring that wouldn’t be a problem if the passenger seat could be raised, but it can’t. A manual seat height adjuster is only on the driver’s side. Would love to have one for the passenger since the Veloster sits fairly low. Our driving partner complained about windshield glare off the dash top, but since our shades are Polarized, we never noticed it.
So the Veloster looks like a two-door, seats four, but is also a hatchback, which means there’s enough cargo room to move what you want, at just shy of 20 cubic feet, and that’s behind the second row. Lower the standard 60/40 split-fold second-row seats and there’s even more. The Veloster’s cargo capacity beats not only its direct competitors, but also those larger in size, like the Toyota C-HR, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, and the MINI Clubman. The Fiat 500, at 7.0 cubic feet should be ashamed of itself.
All is well and good for design and features, but what about power? The Veloster has that covered as well. Two engines are available, depending on trim. The 2.0-liter I4 is standard in the base and Premium trims and produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. Both numbers are up slightly over the previous model. The rest of the lineup receives the 1.6-liter GTDI four-cylinder, which makes 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Because it’s turbocharged, you get the majority of the torque at a low 1,500 rpm. Fuel economy numbers are decent as well, with the 2.0- liter seeing EPA estimates of 25/33/28 city/highway/ combined for the manual transmission, and 27/34/30 for the automatic. For the 1.6-liter turbo, its close, at 26/33/29 for the manual, and 28/34/30 for the DCT 7- speed. Having a heavy right foot and an empty road netted us a 29.3-mpg number in the Ultimate model with the 7-speed. Gotta love having some cake and eating it, too.
When you give a journalist power, it’s a sin not to use it, so we spent most of our time in Sport mode. There are three drive modes offered: normal, sport, and smart. Each mode changes throttle response, steering feel and shift logic. Smart mode basically learns your shift logic, so the Veloster caters to your specific driving habits. Both engines get drive modes, but only the automatic transmissions get shift logic.
The Veloster is lightweight (2,700 to 3,000 pounds depending on trim), so the turbocharged engine packed a decent punch. Because we drove mostly in Sport mode, throttle response was quick. In the manual transmission, the turbos spooled quickly and we felt no hesitation. We love a manual transmission and especially liked the B&M shifter in the R-Spec. It reminded us of the shift feel of a Miata, which is among the best in subcompact cars. The throws were short and precise, and our only nitpick was that because the shifts were so close, sometimes we didn’t know what gear we were in by hand feel. I’m sure if we spent more time than just a few hours in it, the problem would be solved once the familiarity quotient rose. For those who don’t know how to drive a manual transmission, driving the Veloster is worth learning the fine art of clutch work. Shifting this transmission brings out all the reasons why a sporty car should always offer one. Paddle shifters are fine, but really living only comes through sliding a gearshift lever. With the automatic, when you floored the throttle, waiting for the kick down was noticeable, but not enough to change your mind about buying the Veloster.
Amping up the fun is the Veloster’s active engine sound feature. It enhances intake and exhaust powertrain sounds inside the cabin to add more pleasure to your cruise. In normal, you get a pleasant exhaust sound coming in the cabin. Click on Sport mode, and that note is throatier with a touch more rumble. You can adjust the sound settings to provide even more enhancement if desired. The system is fun to play with, and fun to listed to while on the road.
While the turbocharged engines get a lot of the credit for the sportiness of the Veloster, they aren’t solely responsible for the Veloster’s driving fun. Kudos also go to the suspension system, which has been changed drastically from the previous generation. The Veloster now comes standard with a multilink rear suspension, replacing the previous torsion beam. Going from a solid axle to an independent setup is like eating Hershey’s chocolate then discovering Godiva. There’s no comparison. The Veloster’s ride now is more compliant, planted, controllable, and responsive than ever before. In addition to the new IRS, front suspension modifications also were made: the Veloster now uses an aluminum front knuckle that saved almost six pounds of weight, and lower control arm geometry was improved. Credit to the engineers for giving the Veloster a strong heart. Where the previous model’s suspension was a little too unforgiving to want to live with it every day, the new setup means you won’t be punished if this is your daily driver. Now you’ll be rewarded with a vehicle that will be pleasant during commutes, but will step up when you want to go out thrashing on the weekends. (Note: responsible racetrack thrashing encouraged.)
Steering inputs also are a win. There is great feedback and the weight is near perfect for our tastes (especially in Sport mode). Steering enhancements for the gen-two model include moving the steering gearbox over an inch closer to the centerline to enhance overall feel and braking stability. Speaking of braking, we truly never gave it a second thought, mostly because the brakes feel strong and linear. They weren’t grabby or over-boosted, and just did their job, which allowed us to do ours: namely, having tons of fun driving.
Other driving impressions from the Veloster: There was some tire noise from the summer tires (expected), and some wind noise at speeds above 80, but nothing that would make you change your mind about a purchase. This is a sporty car after all; there should be some noise that reminds you you’re alive.
When it comes to staying alive, Hyundai has that covered in the Veloster as well, with both standard and available safety and driver-assist features like forward collision- avoidance assist and lane-keep assist, driver attention warning, and the blind spot and cross traffic alerts we mentioned previously.
Connectivity also is big for buyers in the segment, and the Veloster delivers here as it always does, with Apple CarPlay and Android auto, available BlueLink (now with a three-year complimentary service that includes remote care, remote access, guidance by voice), and more. Blue Link also allows owners to remote start their car via Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and smart watches as well.
If reading this is getting you excited to test drive one, you won’t have to wait long; the Veloster should start appearing in showrooms next month. For those looking for a well-equipped subcompact sporty car that pretty much has it all, the Veloster is a solid choice. For those who like the Veloster but are looking for even more, wait until Fall, when the Veloster N makes an appearance. Think of the Veloster on steroids, and you get the picture. We will be sure to fill you in when they let that beast out of its cage. Stay tuned!
About THE DRIVE with Alan Taylor
THE DRIVE with Alan Taylor puts you in the driver’s seat for a unique, fast paced look at today’s automotive industry. This is your pedal-to-the-metal, two-hour thrill ride devoted to the latest car news and test-drive results, how-to tips car maintenance tips, auto show coverage, expert insights and behind-the-scenes race day action. Don’t miss exclusive interviews with top auto executives, athletes, celebrities and prominent newsmakers from around the world.