Chances are, the people in charge at Hyundai may not be thrilled with their latest effort being called a “cheap thrill,” but the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N is an invigorating performance car that justifies a higher price tag, so the moniker fits like a driving glove.
The first N model to land in Canada, this hot-blooded hatch shares a platform with the new-for-2019 Veloster and Veloster Turbo, but it’s a different beast altogether. A quick look at the horsepower numbers for the three variants in ascending order – 147, 201 and 275 – reveals the difference between a run-of-the-mill economy car and an out-of-the-ordinary performer.
The man in charge of bringing this ferocity into sharp focus is Albert Biermann, president and head of performance development at Hyundai, formerly a key player with the BMW M division. In the past year alone, Biermann has overseen the release of performance vehicles from all three divisions of the South Korean carmaker: the Kia Stinger GT, the Genesis G70 and, now, the Hyundai Veloster N.
“It’s more challenging to build a performance car on a budget, but it’s possible,” the amiable engineer says. “But it’s more stressful.”
The man from N describes in great detail how the high-performance version of the Veloster was developed. One point in particular stands out, a common trait of front-wheel drive cars that most engineers look to eliminate. “I want some torque steer, it’s a good thing,” Biermann explains. “Too much is not good, but some is good – it communicates what’s going on down there [at the front wheels].”
Open communication is a great thing; torque steer is typically not great at all. And there was a time, about 15 years ago, when sending even 200 horsepower through the front wheels alone was a challenge. The Veloster N makes all of this seem like a gas-lit memory. A full afternoon spent blasting around Thunderhill Raceway Park proves that Biermann has lost none of his perspective since moving over to Hyundai.
Pressing the N button on the steering wheel triggers the most aggressive settings for the car, preparing it for track duty. In this mode, the high-flow exhaust system takes on a more resonant tone, the first sign that you’re in for something special. The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, which develops peak torque from 1450 to 4700 rpm, pulls strongly off the line. (There’s a launch control system, too.)
The close-ratio six-speed manual transmission has been reinforced in the pursuit of performance; it’s precise, delivering positive feedback through the shifter. To keep the driving as clean as possible, shift lights on the steering wheel signal when to upshift and automatic throttle blipping helps with downshifts. For the most hardcore of enthusiasts, this feature can be fully disabled; so, too, can the stability control system.
The way in which the Veloster N encourages on-track hooliganism for lap after lap is wildly impressive. It’s reminiscent of the best that BMW and Porsche have offered over the years: performance cars that you could drive to the track, race around the track all day long and then drive back home. By the end of the afternoon, yours truly is testing the outer limits of the track without ever feeling that the Hyundai was out of its depth. “A high-performance car, it speaks for itself,” Biermann says. “You drive it and it either works or it doesn’t.” The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N works.
The design of the Hyundai Veloster has always been polarizing at best. The looks of the new generation are sharper and the N version adds some dynamite cues, like an aggressive front grille, racy rocker panels and exclusive rear spoiler. Still, the Veloster N remains a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. And that’s totally cool.
The N doesn’t attempt to dazzle anyone with amenities, but that’s beside the point. The end goal is ergonomics and facilitating an appropriately sporting mood. Mission accomplished: The steering wheel, manual shifter and three pedals are extremely well positioned. The N accents, shift indicator lights and centrally mounted touchscreen for adjusting vehicle settings represent the icing on an already tasty cake.
The Veloster N is no slouch in a straight line—but the corners are where the car shines. Revealing only the slightest hint of understeer when pressed, the Hyundai benefits from taut steering, electronic suspension and a “corner-carving” electronic limited slip differential. The result: a degree of tenacity that’s surprising for a front-wheel drive vehicle.
The Veloster comes equipped with all the connectivity one would expect in a car targeted at a younger demographic. But what sets the N apart is, again, the ability to adjust the car settings according to personal tastes. In “N Custom” mode, drivers can alter the engine response, suspension firmness, steering response, exhaust system volume and automatic throttle blipping on downshifts. (This is a level of customization normally only found on vehicles costing twice as much or more.)
The verdict: 9.0
It’s the real deal.