Tiny Funky Turbos: 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo, 2012 Nissan Juke, and 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo

Andrew Trahan

Allow us to stop you before you even begin. We're well aware there are many other turbocharged compact cars on the market that can out-gun the 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo, and the 2012 Nissan Juke SL and cost about the same amount of money. We've praised the now-arriving Ford Focus ST, tussled with the hairy Mazdaspeed 3, and named the Volkswagen GTI our Automobile of the Year twice in the past five years. Why look elsewhere for forced-induction fun?

With apologies to Lloyd Price, the answer lies with personality. This trio offers it in spades, thanks to oddball styling and quirky features both inside and out. Regardless of the tack, each car packs about 200 horsepower, offers a six-speed manual for row-it-yourself entertainment, and is priced between $23,000 and $25,000, making any one a surprisingly affordable proposition.

Which one best suits our personalities? We criss-crossed southeastern Michigan in all three to find out for ourselves.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

If the first cut is the deepest, the second might just be the most entertaining - or so the Veloster Turbo would have you believe. Our first experience with the basic Veloster had us flummoxed: we enjoyed its boy-racer looks and dash of practicality, but its meager output - only 138 hp - along with relaxed handling had us wishing its attitude matched its cosmetic pretenses.

Thankfully, the Veloster Turbo feels as if it's finally trying to live up to its looks. A revised steering rack feels heavier, as does the clutch, which grabs surprisingly early. Brakes offer quick bite, and there's little travel or sponginess to the pedal itself. Acceleration is certainly spritely compared to the base Veloster, thanks to a dual-scroll turbocharger bolted onto the direct-injection 1.6-liter I-4. From a horsepower perspective, its 201 ponies edges out both the Beetle Turbo and the Juke, though its 195 lb-ft places it mid-pack in terms of torque. Power junkies may not care, but there's another number that's important: 38. As in 38 mpg, which is what the EPA rates the Veloster Turbo at on the highway test cycle. It's far better than either the Beetle or Juke, which return 30 and 31 mpg, respectively.

The Veloster Turbo's true secret weapon isn't underhood. Spend an extra $1200 - roughly the same you'd pay for this matte grey paint - and Hyundai slaps super-sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber on all four rims. The change in tire compound completely alters the character of the car, and for the better. As we noted during our very first drive of the Turbo, the steering still feels somewhat dead on center, but on our PSS-equipped car, it somehow grows more responsive the more you dial in steering. You'll be able to dive quite deep, as Hyundai says these tires alone increase lateral grip from .82 to .94 g.

Ride quality, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. Although it's more compliant than previous Hyundai sports cars - notably the Genesis Coupe - the Veloster Turbo grows perturbed over rough road surfaces, especially when encountered in the middle of a bend. "All that grip doesn't inspire much confidence if there happens to be a bump mid-corner," noted senior web editor Phil Floraday. "Hyundai really needs to figure out how to make a sporty suspension that can soak up the bumps as well as class-leaders, but not allow excess body roll."

The Veloster's scalloped door pulls, polka-dot headliner, V-shaped instrument panel, and center-mounted start/stop button may not be for everyone, but they do go a long way towards livening up a somewhat dark interior. We're more impressed with just how much room there is inside, considering the Veloster boasts a roofline that could double as a ski slope. Front headroom is only four-tenths of an inch away from the group-leading Beetle, but front leg and shoulder room - 43.9 and 55.6 inches, respectively - trounce the other two cars. Rear seat headroom suffers slightly, but passengers squeezed through the third door are treated to 54 inches of shoulder room, along with 31.7 inches of legroom - the latter only a half-inch shy of the best-in-group Juke.

But wait, there's more. In typical Hyundai fashion, the Veloster Turbo comes pretty well equipped right out of the gate. A 450-watt, 8-speaker sound system? Standard. An infotainment system, complete with a 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, and USB inputs? Standard. Leather seating with heated front seats? It's also standard, as are push-button door locks and ignition. There's little else to possibly throw at the car, apart from the aforementioned paint, tires, and a $2500 premium package that adds navigation and a panoramic sunroof.


2012 Nissan Juke SL FWD

Yes, we're pitting the Juke against two small hatchbacks, and we're doing so with a straight face. Nissan's ad copywriters may consider the Juke a crossover (or a "sport cross," as they phrase it), but its physical dimensions suggest it's really a small hatchback, albeit one with substantial ground clearance. Not only is the Juke built atop the same B-car platform as Nissan's Cube, but also its wheelbase, overall length, width, and track all trail both the Beetle and Veloster.

Based in part off the 2009 Qazana concept, the Juke's exterior design is an unusual recipe, concocted of one part Baja buggy, one part hatchback, and a dozen parts peyote. The wedge-shaped turn signals are certainly odd, but they grow even more unusual at night: from behind the wheel, they appear as two tangerine orbs floating in a sea of darkness.

Though different, the Juke's contorted styling - along with its slender footprint - does crimp interior space. Front passengers will likely feel a little pinched: there's only 53.6 inches of shoulder room, and thanks to the scalloped shape of the front door panels, it's nearly impossible to slide a hand or arm between the door and the seat rail to adjust the seat. The Veloster not only trumps the Juke in terms of passenger volume, but also boasts five additional cubic feet of cargo space (15.5 cubic feet vs. 10.5) with the rear seats up. Rear-seat passengers will ultimately be rewarded with a little more head and legroom than in either the Beetle or Veloster, but will be forced to contort through tight, oddly-shaped door openings.

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