Let’s not bother dwelling on the third door, a styling affectation that is mostly a conversation piece, not a valuable, functional and innovative design element. The 2012 Hyundai Veloster has a third door and so what?
You might not even notice it. This three-door hatchback as a whole is that stylish, that playful in its design. It turns heads and attracts more attention than most cars in this price range ($18,999-$23,899).
Consider the design details: the blacked-out roof, the bulging fender flares, the scalloped taillight sections and the details in the head- and taillights. Too bad about the fake, capped-off hood scoops.
As for the front-hinged third door, it makes climbing in back easier, but does nothing about the small rear seats. But necessary? Not really, though others have tried three doors, including the now-defunct Saturn, the discontinued Mazda RX-8 and the current Mini Cooper Clubman.
Looks aside, the most important practical pieces fit well. Combined fuel economy comes in at 6.1 litres/100 km and the highway number is a spectacular 4.9 litres/100 km. The Veloster’s combined fuel economy whips the Scion tC (7.7) and the Kia Forte Koup (7.2), but not the Honda CR-Z hybrid (6.0) or the tiny Fiat 500C (6.0).
Buy a Veloster and the likelihood is you’ll be driving a safe and sporty coupe, too. The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn’t crash tested this Hyundai yet, though the Hyundai Elantra is a Top Safety Pick and both cars share the same mechanical bits and pieces – the platform.
Safe and fuel efficient, okay? That’s the rational stuff.
But quick? Not so much. The 138-horsepoewr four-banger, while it does sip gas, is not a powerhouse. You’ll get a 0-100 km/h time just north of 10 seconds. Just okay. If you’re driving one with a six-speed manual gearbox, such as in my tester, you’ll need to work the gears pretty aggressively to keep the engine revs up. If you don’t, you’ll be a drag on rush-hour traffic.
The Veloster at heart is a pretty and economical runabout. It just looks fast with that brash styling, right down to the dual-outlet central exhaust at the hind end.
To be fair, the smooth 1.6-litre four-banger is a modern powerplant, right down to its direct injection, double-overhead cams and variable valve timing. Nonetheless, 138 horsepower is just 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque is weak. And the optional six-speed paddle-shift dual-clutch transmission (DCT) doesn’t change that.
Just to compare, the CR-Z manual does the 0-100 km sprint in about 9 seconds. If you want a road-burner at this price, take the Scion tC. It has a 180-hp, 2.5-litre four: 0-100 km/h in about 7.5 seconds.
You driving enthusiasts won’t be wild over the Veloster's suspension, either: MacPherson struts up front and a twist-beam axle at the rear.
Hyundai’s engineers tuned this setup on the stiff side and the body is rigid. This means the handling responses are decent-to-good in slalom manoeuvres. The electric-assist rack-and-pinion power steering has a fairly light effort, too. The latter says a lot about the buyers likely to end up seated in a Veloster. At the risk of sounding sexist, can you say “chick” car?
Whatever your sex, the cabin is first rate. A centre stack incorporates the push-button starter and a seven-inch multifunction touch-screen and it all works nicely. The door pulls are huge and handy. The front buckets are nicely padded and fit snugly, suggesting sportiness.
If you are taller, you might find headroom is tight, however – especially if the car is equipped with the panoramic sunroof. All the hard-touch trim pieces look terrific, not cheap. There is nothing low-grade about the cabin.
This little Veloster, then, looks like a sporty coupe but sips fuel like an economy car. The rear hatch opens up to a pretty big cargo hold, though you shouldn’t confuse the Veloster with a moving van. And the dual glass hatch looks sharp from the outside, but limits outward visibility to the rear.
Keep in mind that if you want a truly racy Veloster, wait for the turbocharged version that’s coming. In fairness, the handling is solid, with nice, flat transitions in the corners and a solid highway ride. Good but not overly sporty.
If you’re getting the impression that the Veloster defies a simple definition, you’d be right. For instance, the parts inside, the ones you touch and live with – the well-bolstered seats, the functional, asymmetrical dash and all the gadgets – make for a novel and appealing space. Really, Hyundai has done a fine job of packaging a roster of ideas – sporty-looking economy car with a conversation piece of a third door.
Add everything up and you have a novel take on the traditional sporty car, the affordable kind. It takes guts and confidence to try something new and Hyundai has done it.
2012 Hyundai Veloster with Tech Package
Type: Sporty compact coupe/hatchback
Price: $22,499 (freight $1,495)
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 138 hp/123 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.2 city/4.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Scion tC, Kia Forte Koup, Honda CR-Z, Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Golf