New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N

From the Nurburgring to the autobahn in Hyundai’s first hot hatch

NÜRBURG, Germany — Soon, U.S. buyers will be privy to the 2019 Veloster N, giving us our first stab at Hyundai’s go-fast sub-brand. Though with-or-without the U.S., this is quite the landmark car for Hyundai. Forget the charming but clumsily marketed Genesis Coupe (you should) and the effortlessly lame Tiburon (you really should)—this, along with the fraternal i30 N, is the first real-deal performance effort from Seoul. More accurately, it’s the first performance offering from the Namyang R & D center, the namesake of the fresh sub-brand. In a pinch, N also stands for Nürburgring, that hellacious, graffiti-covered circuit you’ve read about a couple trillion times. It was here on this inimitable vehicular whetstone where we sampled the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N for the first time, knocking off two semi-clumsy laps before hitting the autobahn.

Thanks to overexposure in the early 00s and the inherent proletariat nature of the ‘Ring, hosting a launch there is almost prosaic. Everyone who is anyone tests at the ‘Ring, including Rolls-Royce–and those ships handle like a platter of foie gras. However, in in this case, hosting it at any other venue would feel insincere. Thanks to calculated corporate sniping, we reckon there’s as much German DNA in N products as there is Korean, starting with N mastermind Albert Biermann.

Poached from his longtime post at BMW’s M division, Beirmann worked on the brand’s big-bore weapons. Word on the street (and from some Koreans in attendance) is that Biermann is given almost free reign over N with fellow BMW expatriates, including Thomas Shemera, former U.S. head of BMW M, and Fayez Rahman, BMW’s former development chief for 7 Series, X family, and M cars.

The handsome i30 N was the first fruit from this strange Germanic-Korean hybrid. The Veloster N is more or less mechanically identical, featuring the same powertrain, transmission, and performance hardware. In keeping with the hot hatch formula, power comes from a pumped-up 2.0-liter turbo four-banger, originally sourced from the milquetoast Sonata. In base N-spec, power is 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, but keen buyers can make the jump to the optional performance package, boosting output to 275 hp.

All of this oomph is routed to the front wheels and managed primarily by a snappy six-speed manual transmission. For the moment, full technical specs aren’t available, but considering the Veloster Turbo R-Spec spins the needle to 2,833 pounds, we estimate the N weighs just over 3,000 pounds thanks to all that additional speed hardware.

There are other goodies under that sharp three-door skin. Four distinct drive modes interact with an electronically adjustable suspension and the throttle mapping, depending on mood (or hurry). Starting from Eco and ending at the mighty “N” setting, drivers can pick settings a-la-carte for the requisite N Custom mode. Instead of relying on a supplier like Brembo or Wilwood, the N’s brakes are pulled from the larger K5—known to us Yanks as the Kia Optima. Ignore the optional extras and the car arrives wearing 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sports.

You’re smarter than that, however. You listened to us, and saved enough cash for the optional performance pack, adding the aforementioned power bump to 275 hp. Additionally, wheels are upsized to 19-inches, get shod with flytrap-like Pirelli P Zeros developed special for the N cars, and hide a set of slightly larger brakes. An active exhaust provides delicious crackles on the overrun, and the suspension and steering are tweaked for sharpness. Crucially, this pack slots an electronically controlled differential between the front two wheels, replacing the open diff of the base car.

Equipped as so, performance is impressive. Hyundai says 0-62 mph takes just over 6.0 seconds on its way to a 155 mph, but we’re sure those figures are very, very conservative. Just take it from my co-driver, who hit an indicated 164 mph on an unrestricted portion of the Autobahn (I saw only a piddling 158 mph).

To help manage all this speed, the Veloster N is augmented with a suite of trick electronic gizmos and widgets. There’s standard launch control to show-up any stoplight challengers, while a shift light indicator sits at the top of the gauge cluster to make sure you don’t bounce off the redline. Rev-match downshifting is included as well, and it’s one of the best implementations we’ve used thus far, toggled by a button on the right side of the steering wheel.

On the ‘Ring, it’s even more impressive. Our two-lap sessions were governed by a trained driver who led in an i30 N, ensuring our paint (and skin) remained unmarred, but we shouldn’t have worried. As it turns out, the Veloster N is exceedingly neutral and very user friendly. Both laps were executed in no-nonsense N mode, with suspension set to its stiffest and the exhaust wedged open. Some complained the top-spec suspension mode was entirely too stiff, but this might be venue-specific, as the N setting may be best suited to a glassy smooth circuit.

Out amongst the Ring’s roughly 170 corners, the Veloster N was as unflappable as a front-wheel-drive car can be. It cornered flat with a reassuring lack of understeer. The optional e-diff plays a large part in this—just point toward the corner exit, mash the throttle, and instead of nasty scrub, you’ll scramble out of the curve. The steering is light and slightly artificial, but Biermann worked hard to optimize the electric-boosted rack, relocating the motor from the column to the rack, improving feedback.

One of the defining portions of the Nürburgring is the moment you slingshot out of ­Galgenkopf and find yourself pointed down the Döttinger Höhe straight, where the most powerful in attendance crack the 200 mph barrier. In the Veloster, our guide kept us right around 140 mph, but we weren’t complaining. Entering Hoehenrain at the end of the straight, the brakes were still going strong. Firmness and stopping power is excellent, with minimal feedback during haul-downs from high speed.

Out on the uncannily smooth roads of Germany, the N shined even brighter. This time, Sport was the setting of choice, balancing better ride quality and road composure with still impressive cornering stiffness. It sounds the part too, with staccato crackles on the overrun if you stick the exhaust open in the settings or simply set it in N mode.

164 mph in the 2019 Veloster N is an alarmingly poised affair, mostly free of lane wander and unwanted steering movement. Being a passenger also gave me time to visually explore the N-exclusive features of the cockpit, including the all-new steering wheel. The sport wheel wears two large Performance Blue buttons on either side, one for selecting drive modes and the other dedicated to toggling N mode. Along with a new shifter, there’s exclusive “performance” gauges and Performance Blue accents spread throughout the cabin. The snug cloth seats are N-specific too, offering comfortable support without reducing daily usability.

Pricing has yet to be announced, so we’re not entirely sure where the Veloster N sits against competitors. Still, its power, performance, and hardware automatically elevates it above the Civic Si, Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf GTI, and even the all-wheel-drive WRX. Dynamically, it’s not quite a sharp as the indomitable Honda Civic Type R or Subaru WRX STI, but feels faster and more agile than the porkier Focus RS and luxe Golf R. If pricing sits near the predicted $30,000 mark, the Veloster N occupies an in-betweener segment of its own design.

Job well done, then. Under the wizened gaze of Germans, the team in Namyang created Korea’s first full-bodied performance offering, free of any traces of simulacra or compromise. The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N a testament to the marque’s unrelenting march toward toppling the status quo and bodes well for its future.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N Specifications

ON SALE Fall 2018
PRICE $30,000 (base)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/250-275 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 1,450 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 3-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 167.9 x 71.3 x 55.1 in
WHEELBASE 104.3 in
WEIGHT 3,063 lb
0-62 MPH 6.1 sec
TOP SPEED 155 mph

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2019 Hyundai Veloster

MSRP $18,500 2.0 (Manual) Hatchback