Four months ago we at "Drive...He Said" first sampled the all new for 2012 Veloster, Hyundai's sporty 2+2 compact coupe. With the traction control defeat switch staring straight at us on the lower right side of the driver's center stack we felt tempted by Hyundai engineers to liven things up. Warm temps (in the 80s F) and warmed up performance all-season tires, defeating the traction control translated into one very entertaining episode of drifting.
Fast forward to the winter of 2011-2012. We get our sapphire blue with white swoosh stripe 2012 Veloster for a fairly cold week. We knew off the bat that the Kumho Solus tires would never get warmed up enough for our earlier antics. And with a modest 138 hp coming on at high enough revs, we didn't expect to take on muscle cars or true sports cars whether on freeways or at traffic lights.
Which doesn't mean that Hyundai has missed the boat with the Veloster. With Veloster, Hyundai is emphatically stating you can be youthful and edgy, yet responsible. Much of the hardware in the Veloster is donated by the Hyundai Accent, along with some refinement. With prodding from the right foot, the super-short drive ratio permits the 1.6 liter direct injection 4-banger to jump above 3500 rpm, where more of the 128 lb-ft of engine twist comes to life. As in other applications of the Hyundai Gamma engine, the character of the motor is more a cacophony than a symphony. Acceleration times from 0-60 mph require a casual 9.5 seconds. 5th and 6th gears, which are pure overdrive, are intended to deliver an EPA claimed 40 mpg highway. As a result, passing at freeway speeds mandates movement of the shifter down to 4th gear or even to 3rd! Fortunately the shift action is far more crisp and positive without slop or hanging-up found in corporate cousins such as the Elantra. Clutch action is a good cohort; engaging/ disengaging with light pedal pressure and devoid of throw-out bearing noises.
The attractive steering wheel in the Veloster, with ventral finger indents, actually does something other than look good as is the case in the Elantra. Power boost, for an electric set-up, comes on evenly, and for a front-heavy front-driver, you can actually feel what the low profile 215/ 40 series M+S rated Kumho Solus gumballs are doing. In a money saving effort Veloster gets a torsion beam semi-independent rear suspension. Body roll is minimal as are brake drive, and the tail can be wagged with some control. Fitted with seeming higher spring rates and less compliant bushings, uneven pavement can produce bump steer and the jolts from freeway expansion gaps reverberate through the chassis. The standard 17" wheels with taller tire sidewalls might improve ride compliance. But then you couldn't get the Panoramic Sunroof.
Brakes, discs at all 4 corners, have good initial cold bite, but are not that linear in pedal feel. In our cold weather we never got the four wheel disc system with ABS hot enough to detect fade.
Unquestionably, the Veloster has it's own, rather emotional, design. From the high curving front fenders and deep front fascia to the steeply swept back headlights, we see the silhouette of some pricier Asian sports coupes e.g. Nissan's Z-car. Those huge buttress-like rear C pillars and the spoiler, which splits the hatch backlight, form a nice derriere, even if visibility is hampered. Fortunately the view out the windshield is good thanks to a taller driving position than in many sports coupes. And how about those stunning multi-spoke 18" wheels.
For the segment the interior is decidedly upscale. The huge standard 7" "infotainment" and settings display, the soft touch dash pad, with its woven texture, the well bolstered - if narrow - front seats and the leatherette trim, which mimicked animal hides, are a cut above what is normally found in entry compact sporty coupes. Switchgear and dials appear elegant and are intuitive to use. The Veloster also gets its own signature elements such as the "purse handle" style door pulls and center console "hand rails." However, we were confounded by a sticky recessed glove box release button, which could have used some WD-40. And then our I-Pod Nano, featuring the latest firmware, was detected and read but stubbornly refused to play. Too bad the 560 watts Dimension premium sound was underwhelming. Our hunch is most of that sound was leaking out of the cabin much in the same way a lot of wind noise and tire noise crept in.
For our money, Hyundai has always been synonymous with value. That still holds true. For $17, 300 the base 2012 Veloster 6-speed manual offers as standard features tilt and telescoping steering wheel, I-Pod connectivity, and a Hard Drive Music Box. Then Hyundai tosses in all the "Blue" features: there is Bluetooth connectivity with streaming audio and smart phone audible texting available and Blue Link, an satellite based driver assistance service similar to On-Star, is included for a 90 day trial. For gamers there is a Blue Max, where you score points for hyper-miling.
Speaking of fuel economy, all the downshifting incurred during frequent freeway passing returned 28 mpg returned in mixed suburban/urban driving. Storage space is abound and the deep cargo area under the hatch is expanded by a 60/40 rear seat split. An extra $2000, in the name of the Style Package, brings to the game a panoramic sunroof, the 18" alloys shod with W speed rated all-season tires and subwoofer-ed stereo upgrade, plus some cosmetics. Try and content the Veloster's nearest competitor, the Scion TC, to the same level and you will need to pony up at least another $3000. Where the Scion TC gives Veloster fits is in the power department, with 180 hp, in improved ride compliance and in better headroom and legroom, especially in the rear. Long-lost twin, the $2000 dearer Honda CR-Z, boasts gas-electric hybrid propulsion, yet seats only two.
What makes the Hyundai Veloster unique to segment is the third door at the rear right side. True the sloping roof cuts down on rear headroom, and the lower sill is somewhat tall when stepping into the back. Still a couple backseat guests can get in and out without the contortions necessitated by strictly two door coupes. And for the Urban Millennials intent on transporting Fido to the doggy park or making the laundry and left-overs run to the P's in the suburbs, or carpooling to the local sports bar, that might be the clincher.