The Hyundai Veloster was daring and adventurous when it was introduced four years ago, and still is. It shows a spirit that has changed the way people look at Korean cars. Instead of copying, as the Koreans have done so well, the Veloster has been a styling leader, with others copying its unique coupe-like shape.
Is it a coupe, or is it a hatchback? The hatchback configuration with one rear passenger door on the sidewalk side is fairly electric, functional enough while creating more cargo room inside. On the driver’s side, it has just one door, looking sportier.
The base front-wheel-drive powertrain comes from the subcompact Accent, and its platform from the compact Elantra. The engine is a 1.6-liter four cylinder making 138 horsepower, mated to a manual transmission or 6-speed twin-clutch automatic manual.
New for the 2017 Veloster is HD Radio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto to the standard touchscreen infotainment system.
The base four cylinder is EPA-rated at 27/34/30 mpg City/Highway/Combined. With the dual-clutch automatic it’s one more mpg. We spent six months with an earlier Veloster with this powertrain, and got exactly that.
The Turbo doesn’t suffer much in economy, for its horsepower increase of 45 percent. It’s rated at 25/33/28 mpg with the manual transmission, and 26/32/29 mpg with the 7-speed twin clutch.
The NHTSA gives it five stars overall in safety, with four stars for frontal impact and rollover resistance. The IIHS gives the Veloster its top Good rating in three categories, Acceptable in side-impact protection, and Marginal in the difficult small front-overlap test.
The Veloster has more standard safety features than other hatchbacks, including a rearview camera and driver’s blind-spot mirror.
Standard equipment includes all the basic power features, cruise control, fabric upholstery, AM/FM/XM/CD sound system with Bluetooth audio streaming and USB port, steering-wheel audio controls, and 17-inch wheels. For 2017 the infotainment system adds HD Radio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system is also standard on all Velosters. Like GM’s OnStar, BlueLink uses existing databases to provide directions and information for drivers via voice requests, and also includes safety services like automatic crash notification including emergency assistance, and roadside assistance. Turn-by-turn navigation is available on higher subscription levels. As part of the BlueLink suite of services, the Hyundai Assurance Connected Care service is included for three years regardless of the level of subscription.
Veloster Turbo models get 18-inch wheels; heated sport seats; keyless ignition; a 450-watt audio system; and leather seats.
Veloster Turbo R-Spec loses some features, such as keyless ignition and heated leather seats.
Major options include automatic climate control; parking sensors; navigation system; and a panoramic sunroof.
The Turbo stands out with LED lighting, piano-black grille, and side skirts.
The cabin is stylish, classy and sporty, going easy on the trim. Its innovative layout is enough. Hyundai says it has hints of motorcycle design, and we’ve looked and looked, and we guess so, if you have a big imagination. The center console maybe suggests a motorcycle seat, and the vents maybe look like motorcycle exhaust tips.
The Veloster is narrow like a compact car, but there’s good headroom in front, even with the optional panoramic sunroof. Tall drivers will be fine in the seats.
Back seat passengers might be miserable. It’s a tight fit for even medium-sized people. The single door isn’t very wide, so entry and exit to the rear can be awkward. If there are only two of you, you’ll be likely to keep the rear seat folded, in which case it makes great and easy-to-reach cargo space, from the side or rear, which, however, is relatively high. And there are plenty of bins, cubbies, and nooks for stowing away smaller items.
Parking sensors are available on the base version and standard on the Turbo; they’re a big help, since the low-slung Veloster has huge blind spots rearward, a consequence of its innovative door arrangement.
The 201-horsepower Turbo brings 195 pound-feet of torque, bristling with power with either the 6-speed manual gearbox or 7-speed paddleshifting twin clutch.
The Turbo has stronger brakes and stickier tires, so the handling is sharper, as long as the road is smooth. The cornering is generally flat and crisp, and grows unsettled only if it’s pitched over patchy pavement. But the 18-inch wheels turn the ride brittle, and the electric power steering lacks feedback, and is weighty when it doesn’t need to be.
The R-Spec packaged hatchbacks have an even stiffer suspension, different steering tuning, and a B&M sport shifter. The ride is significantly less comfortable.
We are fans of the Veloster, either the base 138 horsepower or turbo 201 horsepower. You have to be ready to accept the compromises, namely a tight rear seat and ride quality that borders on stiff. But you can get a whole lot of style and quickness for $20,000, a bit more money with the paddle-shifting twin clutch. For just one or two people, it works.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.