The Hyundai Veloster N Is a 2019 Automobile All-Star

A revelation from a last-minute guest.

Aaron GoldwriterAndrew Trahanphotographer

"How much fun can you have for less than $30,000?" asked writer Steven Cole Smith, who then proceeded to answer himself: "This much fun. Overbuilt like an armored car, the Veloster N alone proves Hyundai isn't paying Albert Biermann—the engineer it stole from the BMW M Division—nearly enough."

The Veloster N was a surprise favorite of this year's All-Stars competition. Its inclusion was the subject of much debate among Automobile staffers, and it was only after a lot of lobbying initiated by a couple of the Veloster N's biggest fans on staff that the lion-hearted Hyundai got a shot at the title. And like the protagonist in any good boxing movie, the Hyundai came out swinging.

Many of our editors got their first-ever taste of the N on the Streets of Willow, where the hard-charging hatchback proved to be a hoot. "So controllable with the throttle—you can rotate it on demand, but it never gets out of sorts," senior online editor Erik Johnson said. Contributor Jethro Bovingdon agreed: "On the track the brakes were impressive, and the car feels agile and exhibits strong traction. Fast enough to feel like a serious performance car."

Editor-at-large Arthur St. Antoine wasn't quite as impressed, at least not initially. "More understeer than I expected," he noted, "but on the road, the Veloster fared much better. On our mountain loop, I just left the shifter in third and let the torque blast me out of the corners. Handling is poised, and steering feel is excellent. The Honda Civic Type R is better in almost every way, but at its price, the N pretty much rules."

It was natural the Veloster N should attract comparisons to the Civic Type R, a much-loved member of the All-Stars Class of 2018. Most agreed the Hyundai trailed the Honda but acknowledged the trade-off for the lower price was worth it. News editor Conner Golden echoed the thoughts of several staffers when he said, "It's not quite as good as the Civic Type R, but for roughly $6,000 cheaper, it doesn't have to be."

Indeed, the Veloster N, swimming among sharks like the Ferrari 812 Superfast and McLaren 600LT, reminded us that big thrills don't have to cost big money. Even with the Performance package—which bumps horsepower by 25 (to 275 hp) and adds a limited-slip differential, sticky Pirelli P Zero tires, and a flap that opens the exhaust—the Hyundai was one of the least expensive cars in the competition. Purists among us love that the only transmission choice is an honest-to-goodness six-speed manual, with a switchable rev-matching feature that made fast downshifts as smooth (if not as quick) as a dual-clutch transmission.

"For lack of a more obvious modern car," Detroit editor Lassa said, "the Veloster is the modern-day Honda CRX, which makes the Veloster N the Europe-only Mk II CRX SiR that we never got. Clearly, it's the runaway 'poor' enthusiast's hit."

The Veloster N's range of customizable driving modes was a frequent topic of discussion. Along with the usual Eco, Normal, and Sport programs, the top-end Veloster has an "N" mode, accessible by a separate button on the steering wheel, which opens up the exhaust and tightens up the suspension to a level that most editors thought was too stiff. It bounced like a Superball over the far-from-smooth Streets of Willow, but happily, the Veloster also allows you to pick and choose among the different settings. Bovingdon was one of several drivers who praised the ability to fine-tune the car to their liking. "N mode is too harsh, so I used 'N Custom' with the engine in Sport +, rev-matching off, and suspension knocked back to Sport," he reported. "Worth the effort as it all comes together pretty well." Johnson added, "It's fun to provoke the exhaust into its staccato pops, and easy to dial that back once you tire of them."

Still, with all it had going for it, few editors expected the Veloster N to float to the top—but when we tallied the votes, that's exactly what happened.

"This is far and away the best Hyundai I've ever driven," Mike Floyd said. "Fast. Fun. Well done."

2019 Automobile All-Stars
The Winners | The Contenders | The Venues

2019 Hyundai Veloster N Specifications

PRICE $27,820/$29,920 
(base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4; 275 hp 
@ 6,000 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 1,450-4,700 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 3-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 22/28 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 167.9 x 71.3 x 54.9 in
WHEELBASE 104.3 in
WEIGHT 3,117 lb
0-60 MPH 6.0 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 155 mph
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