I keep hearing everyone say that the back seat of the Hyundai Veloster is usable and that may be true, but it isn't exactly inviting. I drove the Veloster on a weekend during which my husband and I were going to a Red Wings game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (about a 45-minute trip). We were attending the game with another couple and had offered to drive, but when they arrived at our house we opted to take their Toyota RAV4 instead of the Veloster -- the hassle in getting two adults (one of whom is about 6'2") into and out of the back seat wasn't at all appealing.
As for the styling of the Veloster -- which, lets face it, is really what it's all about - I find it pretty attractive. It looks different enough that it stands out in traffic, but it doesn't look like an oddball, plus its hatchback body style gives it added versatility for carrying larger items. However, the stylish body style promises performance that the Veloster doesn't deliver. Although the chassis, steering, and brakes all work well, the 138-hp engine just feels slow. One would hope that Hyundai will eventually offer this car with a second engine choice that will give the Veloster the performance to match its looks.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Hyundai has done well with the Sonata, Elantra, and Accent, but until the Veloster came along there wasn't a car in the lineup that I would have wanted in my garage. Credit the Veloster's styling, the packaging, and the positioning. While I'm not a fan of the front fascia detailing, I absolutely love the reverse-wedge roofline, the squat stance, and the bulging rear fenders.
Like Amy, though, I was a bit let down by the Veloster's performance. I wasn't expecting something fast, but I was expecting some form of fun. The Veloster is an affordable, practical buy for the image conscious. Not so much for the discerning driver. It's not nearly as good to drive as the new Ford Focus or the Volkswagen Golf. To achieve that level of driver engagement, the Veloster needs more than a power boost. It needs a better-sorted suspension (the rear-end skitters across broken pavement) and improved steering. I have no doubt that, as it is, the Veloster can be a popular and successful car for Hyunda. I just hope that doesn't lull the company into complacency with this particular car since it has so much potential. Some continuous improvement much like Ford has done with the Mustang could turn this car into something really special.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I drove the Veloster both on the road and at GingerMan Raceway. On the track, it felt kind of sloppy at first, but then it seemed to find its groove. Or, I suppose, I found a groove in it. Body control is pretty good. Brake pedal feel is okay. Gear shifter is good. Grip is actually not bad. Lots of understeer, of course, but ultimately I was able to corral the thing and get around the track quite quickly. The biggest problem was that I had just driven the Ford Focus, which is a much tighter and sportier and more rewarding car.
But the Veloster in its current guise isn't really a track car (the rumored turbo version presumably will be). The next day, I had a surprisingly great drive on the flat roads through the blueberry fields near GingerMan, and then on some nearby roads with dips and curves. I was having a hard time reconciling the fun I was having with the fact that this is just a rebodied Accent. The Veloster felt really composed and fluid and fast and fun.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
What most impresses me about the Veloster is that Hyundai managed to build an interesting car that's still front-wheel drive and in the all-important 40-mpg club [with the manual transmission]. It's the right car at the right time for a company that has really changed its image in the last two years.
I've never driven the dual-clutch Veloster, but I've spent some time behind the wheel of a six-speed manual car on the track at GingerMan and walked away very impressed. I drove several cars that were much more powerful the same day I drove the Veloster and only one of them was as much fun as this little hatchback. The one car that was significantly more fun was mid-engine and about triple the price of the Veloster. I was amazed by how well the Veloster would rotate when I did my part, and it certainly rewards steady inputs with respectable grip and just enough power. Anyone who doesn't have fun behind the wheel of this car is either spoiled by the glut of high-hp cars that are on the market now or doesn't really like to drive in the first place. Hyundai could still improve the steering feel and suspension tuning, but neither is so bad it would make me pass on the Veloster.
While the execution of the Veloster is not perfect (I'd love to see enough headroom in the back seat for a six-footer to be comfortable for an hour or two) it does represent a serious turning point for Hyundai. This brand is no longer playing it safe and only building boring cars that will sell well. There's absolutely nothing logical or safe about this car in terms of its design or packaging. To be clear, there's tons of standard safety equipment and it'll keep you safe in the event of a crash, but this isn't "safe" in the sense that it's a guaranteed sales success.
Pundits have been kicking around the idea that Hyundai is the new Honda and the Veloster is a modern incarnation of the famed CRX. I predict people will look back to the Veloster in a decade or two and realize this is where Hyundai turned a corner and went from a competent car company to a company that could build cars for people who like to drive.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Man, I just do not get the love showered on this thing. It's an Accent/Elantra with funky bodywork, right? And what's with that name, which is probably the weirdest one I've heard since the hard-to-top Daewoo Nubira?
I mean, I kind of liked this little car. The exterior styling was, ah, interesting. Dramatic, even. Certainly different. And that's a good thing. I don't understand the asymmetrical door arrangement, but I don't understand body piercings either. Although I wasn't crazy about the interior, the seats were spectacularly comfortable, and I was digging on the aluminum pedal inserts.
I enjoyed thrashing around in the Veloster. And "thrashing" is, I believe, the correct verb. The engine seemed unrefined when pushed, and the suspension wasn't happy when the roads got rough. The gearbox was stupendously easy to shift, but not in the way that a Miata or an old-school formula car click effortlessly into gear. It was more like a video game joystick. The lever moved so easily that it was hard to believe there were any gears at all inside the 'box.
Preston Lerner, Contributing Writer
Interesting, sporty shape and a very cool interior promise a lot, but ultimately the Veloster is more fun to look at and fun to sit in that it is fun to drive. The powertrain is sized and geared not for performance, but for fuel economy -- and mileage is impressive. The steering is lifeless and the suspension crashes over bumps. However, the manual gearbox (the one I drove was a stick shift) is light and pleasant, and the driver interface is very good. The Veloster is more of a sporty-looking economy car than it is a pint-sized sporty car, but that's perhaps not surprising given its price and the fact that it's derived from the Accent.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor