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

Andrew Trahan

At $24,335, this Juke SL is the least expensive model in our trio, but you can hardly tell by looking at it. Nissan's cabin is full of smooth plastic surfaces, and accented by a contrasting center console inspired by a motorcycle's fuel tank. Top-tier SL models gain a Rockford Fosgate audio system, navigation, leather seating with heated front cushions, and a rear-view camera. The LCD-based HVAC controls, which allow the driver to alter both climate and car settings, isn't a must-have feature, but it does come off as surprisingly high tech - especially for a car in this price range.

It's worth playing with those very controls to try the "sport" powertrain settings. Nissan's turbocharged, direct-injection 1.6-liter I-4 delivers 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, but the sport function alters how it's sent to the front wheels. The throttle pedal becomes a hair trigger, and after suffering what feels like endless turbo lag, the Juke suddenly jolts forward once boost builds. Power comes quickly, and snaps the little Nissan forward in a startling manner. Of the three cars, it's arguably the most visceral when rocketing in a straight-line, despite having less power on tap than either the Volkswagen or the Hyundai.

We enjoyed pitching the Juke into corners and threading it through congested city streets, but ultimately found it a bit dynamically lacking. The Dakar-inspired stance also induces more body roll than the Beetle and Veloster, and the steering - though quick - feels numb and a bit too boosted, even in its heaviest (Sport) setting. "The Juke would likely be a better driver if the center of gravity were lowered," noted Floraday. "I have fun tossing the Juke around, but it's not quite the same amount of fun you have while driving either the Veloster or Beetle."

Opinions in our group were split: some suggested Nissan's suspension tuning is "just right," while associate editor David Zenlea insists it errs on the side of choppy. Ride quality is generally pleasant, though the rear end grows skittish over broken surfaces. Nissan does have a more refined multi-link suspension arrangement than the simplistic torsion beam rear axle found in our tester, but offers it only on all-wheel-drive Jukes.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo

Does a Volkswagen GTI presented in a different wrapper still taste as sweet? After spending some time with the Beetle Turbo, we're inclined to answer that with a resounding "almost."

The Beetle Turbo is perhaps the ultimate expression of Volkswagen's attempt to lend the new New Beetle an air of masculinity it lacked from square one. Inspired in part by the 2005 Ragster concept, the Beetle's new roofline looks lower and less rounded than before, as if it were chopped by hot rodders. Squint, and you just might see some hints of the original Porsche 930 Turbo, including the black rocker molding and two-tone whale tail rear spoiler.

Inside, the Beetle is all - well, Beetle. The bud vase is no more, but retro cues are still abundant. The rectangular dash accent, trimmed in faux carbon fiber on Turbo models, recalls early air-cooled Bug dashboards, down to the secondary glove box. Body colored accents on the door panels amplify the flashback, as do the dangling grab handles mounted on the B-pillars. The squashed windshield and side window openings lend the car a chopped-top feel, but there's still ample head, leg, and shoulder room for front passengers. With a steering column and seats that are nearly infinitely adjustable, it's easy for drivers of all shapes and sizes to find a comfortable driving position.

At 200 hp and 206 lb-ft, the Beetle Turbo's direct injection, 2.0-liter I-4 is about as virile as it is when bolted into a GTI. The strong, linear torque delivery - something we love about the GTI, or virtually any Volkswagen fitted with the 2.0T - remains unchanged. In corners, however, it's obvious the Beetle isn't quite a GTI. Toss the Turbobug into a corner, and its body rolls far more than we'd like. We're also a bit flummoxed by the lack of a traction control switch - this is an enthusiast-oriented model, right? Why must the traction nannies cut throttle during hard acceleration out of lumpy apexes?

On the plus side, the Beetle Turbo does manage to offer the most compliant suspension arrangements in our group. Potholes, frost heaves, expansion joints, and other gaps in tarmac are largely swallowed whole and smoothed with ease. Then again, we said the exact same thing about the GTI. Add in the fact the GTI is less expensive and roomier than the Beetle Turbo, and the Bug's business case starts to vaporize.

"I hate that Volkswagen is trying to slip us a cheapened GTI for essentially the same price as a GTI," says Zenlea, "even though a cheapened GTI is still really darn good."

"The real issue is the amount of equipment you get for the price," writes Floraday. "If we were choosing a winner based on powertrain and ride alone, the Beetle would win by a mile."

Cult of Personality Mixed With Bang for the Buck?

Alas, we're not judging these cars in a vacuum. All three strive to deliver style and performance at an affordable price. All three succeed, but in slightly different ways. Those who grew up with vintage Type 1s and Super Beetles will likely have a soft spot for the Beetle Turbo. Those who prefer the heightened stature and seating position of an SUV will likely prefer the Juke.

Ultimately, we prefer the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. It hails from Korea, but it's something of a Swiss army knife: it's a sports coupe, a practical runabout, and an econobox all in one. It's engaging, entertaining, well equipped, versatile, affordable, and efficient -- and so much so, we kept coming back for more. "The Veloster is a good compromise between design, usability, and quirkiness, " opines Floraday. "In addition to looking good, it offers huge value, and feels almost fully loaded. The only downside is ride quality, but the car drives well enough to satisfy most consumers."

Its funky three-door configuration may not be all that sensible in a two- or four-door world, but as a whole, the Veloster Turbo certainly is.

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