Utility is certainly not the raison d'etre for any of these attention seekers, and if you value practicality above individuality, you're better off with the Accent, the Cooper hatchback, the Golf, or a dozen other compacts. At the same time, no one's buying a Veloster or a Mini Coupe or a Beetle as a fair-weather weekend car, so compromises need to be reasonable.
The Hyundai's third door gives access to the most spacious-feeling rear seats of this group, with good legroom and just enough headroom. Sliding across the back bench is easy enough, but the Veloster is missing a single lever to tilt and slide the driver's seat forward for rear-seat access. The narrow side windows make the rear a bit dark and claustrophobic, but the hatch's upper glass panel stretches forward to allow more light in. The hatch also includes a sticker advising that you consider your passengers' skulls before slamming it. The cargo hold is quite deep, and the rear seats fold for larger cargo.
Like the Veloster, the Beetle has room for four, but its rear seats offer less legroom than the Hyundai. The upside to the Beetle's rear quarters is that they're far brighter and airier thanks to the taller glass on all four sides. All those windows also give the Beetle better visibility than the Hyundai or the Mini. The trunk has grown quite a lot compared with that of the previous car, making it roughly the same size as the Veloster's roomy cargo hold.
The two-seat Mini is substantially smaller than the other two cars both inside and out, so we measured it by a different yardstick. Its smaller trunk is actually surprisingly large thanks to the removal of the rear seats and the use of a long hatch rather than a traditional trunk lid. There is additional storage room for a couple small bags between the seats and the bulkhead, and a small pass-through can accommodate longer items. In terms of cargo hauling, the only complaints we have are an uneven load floor and unfinished tie-downs. In motion, though, the Coupe is crippled by seriously compromised visibility. The short windshield forces you to lean forward to see traffic lights, and the tiny rear window is nearly useless when the deck-lid spoiler automatically rises at 50 mph.
THE PRICE OF PERSONALITY
Image comes at a cost, but the Veloster, the Coupe, and the Beetle deliver fashion at a price that's still attainable for small-car shoppers. The S Coupe starts at a reasonable $25,300, and then Porsche-like personalization tacked $8100 worth of options onto the window sticker of our tester, netting a list price of $33,400. The hotted-up Mini sets itself apart in style and with a few extra luxury touches, while the cheaper Volkswagen and Hyundai deliver the same essential convenience features: navigation, iPod integration, and Bluetooth. Even if you strip it of extras, you can't call the Mini Cooper Coupe a value. It earns high marks for its fun factor, though, and in many ways is just as engaging as cars costing significantly more. Then again, the equivalent Mini Cooper S hardtop offers better utility and improved visibility and drives just as well for $1500 less.
Although the Beetle is closer to the target at $25,965, it's not clear how this car is worth an additional $2400 over the Veloster. The penalty for its more powerful engine and quicker transmission is an unimpressive fuel economy rating of 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The crisp Fender stereo has a leg up on the other two premium audio systems. Too bad the tiny navigation screen with low-quality graphics is far behind what Mini and Hyundai offer.
That leads us to declare the $23,310 Veloster the best value. Pricing for the Veloster starts at $18,060 with a generous amount of standard equipment, and Hyundai keeps the decisions to a minimum with $2000 style and technology packages. Those two options add a panoramic sunroof, foglights, eighteen-inch wheels, a navigation system, parking sensors, a rearview camera, keyless ignition, a 115-volt outlet, and more. As it has been doing for the past decade, Hyundai delivers the most features for the least amount of money. And like it has done for the past year and a half, it does that while building increasingly great cars.
DIFFERENT ROUTES TO THE SAME DESTINATION
While each of these cars accomplishes the goal of adding personality and style to the bland small-car segment, the Hyundai Veloster, the Mini Cooper Coupe, and the Volkswagen Beetle each go about it in their own ways. The Mini is the driver's car, with an energetic personality and athletic moves that demand compromises in ride quality and utility. The Volkswagen Beetle sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. Its gentle ride and relaxed demeanor, combined with the expansive visibility from its cabin, make it feel like a larger, more refined car. In the middle, the Hyundai Veloster delivers daily-driver comfort with flatter handling. Its powertrain has room for improvement -- it will be interesting to drive the forthcoming turbo model. It is also the most frugal choice, with the best fuel economy and the most affordable price. So if you're in the market for a small car with style, take a look at this intriguing trio, but choose carefully. There isn't a winner in the group, just different cars for different people.