Not many will recall the Hyundai Scoupe coupe of the early 1990s but its spiritual successor, the even more oddly named and triple-doored Veloster, appears destined to make a bigger impact. In fact, it already has, named the Best New Sports/Performance Car under $50,000 for 2012 by the Automobile Journalists of Canada.
The little two-door Scoupe – a name created from sporty and coupe – of 1991 was a first tentative attempt by a then still new-to-the-world-stage Hyundai to add a dash of excitement to a lineup that excelled only in its degree of mediocrity. But even in later turbocharged form with “Lotus-tuned” suspension, the Scoupe didn’t scoop many sales and was killed in 1995.
The Veloster has been created by a Hyundai whose confidence level has soared (along with its sales) in recent years to the point it’s willing to take another chance on a quirky/sporty vehicle to generate a buzz at the lower end of its lineup. As of the end of November, its Elantra was the second-best-selling passenger car in the country and the Accent the eighth, but fostering a sporty image and adding some incremental sales is never a bad thing.
And that’s just what the Veloster should do.
Based on a much-modified version of the Elantra platform, it is a triple threat, with interesting and appealing coupe styling, three-quarter-level access convenience with its third curb-side door and hatchback utility.
It’s not cheap, with a starting price of $18,999 in manual gearbox form, but for that money you get an extra helping of standard features, including a full complement of safety stuff, a touch screen multimedia system, trip computer, rear-view camera, Bluetooth, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, air conditioning, power windows and locks. A Tech Package adds navigation, 18-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, premium audio, black trim, leatherette bolstered seats and some other items for $22,499.
Inside, the Veloster isn’t overcrowded with two-up up front, where a pair of well-shaped seats bracket a centre console with neat silver flying-buttress rails. Large D-handle door pulls are a novel feature, too. Both could serve as grab handles should the driver become maniacal.
The centre stack is in a Vee-form with the engine start button below, and the speedo and tach are sunk into deep round recesses. There’s minimal room in the rear where, after squeezing through the third-door, passengers sit with their heads under the backlight glass. Behind them under the hatch is a deep pit with 440 litres of cargo space, which expands when the seatbacks are folded.
Driving the front wheels is Hyundai’s new 1.6-litre Gamma four-cylinder, a twin-cam unit with direct injection and dual continuously variable valve timing making an over-achieving 138 hp along with 123 lb-ft of torque. This little gem of a motor revs willingly up to almost 7,000 rpm through the quick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed dual clutch “automatic” is optional) and you have to make use of all those revs and gears to extract performance.
It produces peak torque at a high 4,850 rpm, but starts to produce reasonable pulling power by about 3,000 rpm, and gets stronger as the revs rise. Getting to 100 km/h takes 9.7 seconds, and you can accelerate from 80 km/h to 120 km/h in seven seconds. The shifter’s nice tight pattern helps, but lowering the ratios on the first four gears would speed things up. The six-speed double clutch box may make it a smidgen faster.
But if it’s not super quick, it is super-efficient, with fuel economy ratings of 7.2 litres/100 km city and 4.9 highway, the latter number as Hyundai points out, better than Honda’s hybrid CR-Z.
There’s enough rubber under it – the standard tires are P215/45HR17, upgraded to P215/40VR18’s on wider rims with the tech package – to make the front end responsive to steering input and give it decent cornering and braking grip.
A chance to thrash it around the AJAC TestFest’s coned handling course revealed it to be capable of rapid transitional manoeuvres, handy if you have to change lanes to avoid tire tread shed by a transport. And the 100 km-to-zero braking distance of 42 metres was a little better than category rivals the Civic Si coupe, VW GLI and even the Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe.
The handling and ride have a bit of an econo-car rather than sporty-car feel. Over rougher pavement, the firmly sprung suspension that helps make it responsive on smoother pavement feels a bit clattery and under-damped. A hard launch will generate front-axle hop. A little more refinement in the suspension wouldn’t go amiss.
The Veloster’s performance numbers are competitive in the class if not particularly quick, although it actually feels livelier to drive than they’d suggest – provided you’re willing to wind up like a blender.
But that Hyundai would bolt on a turbocharger, as it did with its ancestor the Scoup, was pretty much a given, and so it’s no surprise the company announced the Veloster Turbo at the recent Detroit auto show. It will arrive this summer with 201 hp and upgraded steering, suspension and brakes that should turn it into a serious street fighter.
2012 Hyundai Veloster
Type: Compact hatchback
Base Price: $$18,999; as tested, $22,499
Engine: 1.6-litre, DOHC, inline-four
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: Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, Honda CR-Z, Mazda2, Mini Cooper, Nissan Juke, Scion tC