First Look: 2012 Hyundai Veloster

No, the Hyundai Veloster at the 2011 Detroit auto show is not the second coming of the Saturn SC. Think of it more as a svelte MINI Cooper Clubman, and the intent of the all-new 2012 Veloster becomes clearer. It uses Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture design language that we’ve seen in the new Sonata sedan and is further inspired by runners and sport bikes, with its determined stance that makes it look like it’s ready to pounce. The best execution yet of Hyundai’s trademark trapezoidal grille helps bestow attitude to the sporty Hyundai. We especially like the black inner grille and optional chrome surround, complemented by hood scoops and LED lighting within the bulging, wraparound headlamps. The headlights extend back over the front wheel arches and flow gracefully into a swooping character line that ends where the C-pillar meets the roof panel. On the passenger side, this character line hides the handle for the coupe’s third door.

Third door? Aren’t coupes supposed to have only two doors, and hatchbacks three or five? And yet the Veloster has four. Yep, four. Almost unnoticeable on the passenger side, except for the cut line, is a rear door. Unlike past pseudo-coupes with rear-hinged extra doors, the Veloster has a conventionally opening door back there, so it can be opened independently of the front door. Even with the third door, the Veloster still looks like a fastback. In fact, its long hood and sloping hatchback almost make us think of a Jaguar XKE sitting back on its haunches ready to speed off.

The Veloster is no E-type, even though, like the Jag, it has centered exhaust tips. They’re chrome and attached to a new engine and transmission developed in-house by Hyundai. Combining the efficiencies of a direct-injection four-cylinder and dual continuously variable valve timing (D-CVVT), the new 1.6-liter Gamma yields an impressive hybrid-like estimated 40 mpg and a ULEV (ultra-low-emissions vehicle) rating for the Veloster. At first glance, the Gamma’s estimated 138 hp at 6300 rpm and maximum torque of 123 lb-ft at 4850 rpm might not seem that impressive, but then again the Veloster is a bantamweight 2584 lb.

The new six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), also developed in-house, ought to make the most of the Gamma’s modest output, also. A six-speed manual also will be available, but Velosters equipped with the DCT get an Active Eco mode that modifies engine and transmission controls for a seven percent increase in estimated fuel economy. Active Eco, working in tandem with Eco Coach, is controlled by the standard seven-inch touch-screen display on the center stack. Eco Coach rates the driver’s fuel efficiency and provides an Eco Score for the driver through the Hyundai owner site,

At 104.3 inches, the Veloster’s wheelbase is longer than that of either the MINI Cooper Clubman or the Honda CR-Z. With an overall length of 166.1 inches, it’s marginally longer than both of them, also, and it’s nominally wider as well, at 70.5 inches. The Veloster makes do with a torsion-beam rear suspension, but Hyundai claims that the 24-mm front and 23-mm rear anti-roll bars go a long way toward increasing stiffness and controlling body roll. We shall see.

Like the designers of the Nissan Juke, another wacky new crossover targeted at people who aren’t old enough to be President of the United States, Hyundai’s stylists drew on motorcycles when they penned the Veloster’s cabin. While the Juke’s center console is supposed to evoke a motorcycle’s fuel tank, the Veloster’s console is inspired by a sport bike’s seat. What is it with car designers and motorcycles these days, anyway? Do they all harbor secret ambitions to work for Ducati?

In the Veloster, unlike on a sport bike, you’ll be able to listen to Pandora streaming internet radio and use Gracenote Media VOCS to issue voice commands for navigation and audio. VOCS is calibrated to take into account irregularly spelled artists’ names and nicknames. Yes, that means that the Veloster will play Bruce Springsteen if you ask for “the Boss.” Hyundai’s version of OnStar, Blue Link, will send automatic crash notifications, make SOS calls, connect you with roadside assistance, issue turn-by-turn navigation instructions (although there is an optional touch-screen navigation system), and provide alarm and unlocking activation and notification. Just like Eco Coach, all of Blue Link’s features are accessible and customizable at as well as via a toll-free number and a smart-phone app. Remote-start the Veloster on a cold and snowy morning via a few taps on an iPhone? Sounds good.

Hyundai has yet to announce pricing for the 2012 Veloster, but we’d bet its MSRP will be competitive with the Mini Cooper, Honda CR-Z, and Scion TC. With all the content Hyundai generally packs into its cars, the company’s 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, and that extra door, the Veloster could be a big seller, especially if it drives decently. On that subject, how about a high-performance variant, Hyundai? You’ve got the Sonata’s new turbocharged 2.0T engine….