All these years, we were watching people purchase the Verbal Kint-equivalent of cars. Limp machines that no one who cared about cars would give a second look. Now, years later, the buying public is realizing that we’re not dealing with Verbal Kint. In fact, we’re staring Keyser Söze right in the face, and Mr. Söze hails from Korea.
I’m talking, of course, about Hyundai and the fact that the lineup continues to improve at a near meteoric pace. Not everything is an instant hit however, and a case could be made that the Veloster is a bit underwhelming. Sure it’s got style in spades, a unique door layout, and an economical engine. The problem is that the Veloster looks like it’s ready to tear down a canyon road, while it’s actually only ready to politely ramble through traffic on its way to near 40 mile per gallon fuel economy. There’s nothing wrong per se, but if a car looks sporty, we want it to be sporty.
Now though, that car has finally arrived.
The 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo ups the style, power, and driving experience… but does it do all of that enough to make it fall in line with the rest of the usual suspects?
Keep reading to find out…
Regarding the NA Veloster, one area in which I’ve never had issue is the exterior styling. Most econoboxes and miserly hatches tend to lean towards the conservative edge of the design spectrum. The Veloster eschews that school of thought and swings wildly onto the other side. Now, the Veloster Turbo has come along and pushed the envelope a few ticks further. The most obvious change is the Big Mouth Billy Bass front grille. I expect this to be a love-it-or-hate-it feature. Alongside the aggressive headlamps however, it works nicely and sets off an almost angry tone for the skin of the Veloster Turbo. In fact, the entire front fascia is unique to the turbo model, so you’ll have no problems telling the two varieties apart should you line up next to one at a stop light.
Once the light turns green, you might just be staring at a few other upgraded exterior bits specific to the turbo model. Besides the turbo badging, the rear end boasts LED taillights and a pair of center-mounted exhaust tips. Additionally, the Veloster Turbo comes standard with 18-inch wheels, projection headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, and turn signals in the side mirrors. Hyundai isn’t done there though, because the automaker has decided to delve into the “I’m cooler than you” world of matte paint. The Veloster Turbo is available in Matte Gray, and it’s just a $1,000 option, which sounds like a lot but is far less expensive than the matte choices offered up by the luxury outlets. Be warned though, you cannot take this car through car washes that use brushes, and you can’t wax the car. If you do, your matte finish will soon become a glossy one. Hyundai supplies a car care package should you opt for the matte color, and it’s really not that much work if you think about it. Just get out there and wash your damn car by hand, because the color looks excellent in person.
The turbo fun isn’t confined solely to the outside as Hyundai has also differentiated the interior of this go-faster Veloster. Heated front seats are standard kit, and they come wearing a “turbo” script across the seatback. Both front thrones are nicely bolstered yet don’t over do it, so they remain quite comfortable thanks to the ample padding. Two TFT screens are located in the slots for the tachometer and speedometer and provide brilliant illumination of the important bits of info, such as how hard I’m pushing the engine, and how big my speeding ticket will be should an officer of the law want to take a peek at this specific Hyundai.
There are no such issues on this particular drive though, and I’m free to enjoy more of the cabin of the Veloster Turbo. Hyundai crams this four-door (yes, four) with top-notch standard features. Not bad for a car that starts a few ticks over the $20,000 mark. The base car will run you $21,950 while the auto-box unit starts at $22,950. That’s right in line with the pricing of the Civic Si and, while the Mini Cooper starts out lower it requires a ton of pricey options before it can compete interior wise. On the list of standard amenities? How about a seven-inch touchscreen
navigation system (CORRECTION: Touchscreen is standard, but navigation is an optional extra that comes with the Ultimate Package), the ability to connect to Pandora through your smartphone, and a 450-watt Dimension premium audio system.
There are more pleasing aural items to be heard however, and the drive consisted of little sound piping in through the speakers. Instead, I was enjoying listening to the faint woosh of the turbocharged mill motivating the Veloster forward. The non-turbo Veloster makes due with a 138-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which is rated to return 40 miles per gallon on the highway. That’s… great, but I want power and pah(!). The Veloster Turbo adds, as you may have guessed, forced induction into the mix. Now, the better-breathing 1.6-liter engine produces 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, which is available from 1,750 rpm up through 4,500 rpm. Thanks, in no small part, to the twin-scroll turbocharger tech employed here. With this turbo unit under the hood, the Veloster turbo has enough go-energy to produce a better power-to-weight ratio than the Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen GTI, and Mini Cooper S.
Hello hot-hatch sweet spot!
The engine can be paired with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai added torque to this Veloster so the DCT unit found in the standard non-turbo car had to go. I spent my entire day driving the manual-equipped car because… well, because. My driving time included a bit of highway and around-town stuff mixed in with serious back-road hooncapades and some autocrossing. The shifter is a bit notchy, and I would occasionally find myself in third rather than first when pulling away from a stop sign. Additionally, the clutch could be firmed up a hair to round out the air of performance upgrades.
It takes more than an engine and transmission swap to turn a car into an enjoyable performer though, and Hyundai seemingly understands this. The engineers set about tuning the electronic power steering and suspension, and the resulting tiller feel, MacPherson-front and V-torsion-rear suspension are a perfect match for the Veloster Turbo. The ride is generally comfortable yet stiff enough to keep things lively. On the twisty California back roads down near the Mexican border, the Veloster corners quite flatly and remains composed over the various bumps and imperfections that appear far too quickly. Hyundai engineers have dialed in a ride that represents a nice balance between livable and enjoyable.
Thankfully, those same engineers also realize that light is better than heavy. The Veloster Turbo, while not a Mazda Miata or Scion FR-S, tips the scales at 2,800 pounds. That’s good enough to undercut the Civic Si by 77 pounds, and laugh smugly at the 234-pound heavier VW GTI.
All of the changes employed on the Veloster Turbo leave us smiling. Now, thankfully, the Veloster is not simply an economy car wearing a track suit. The Veloster Turbo is an enjoyable hot hatch that features mistake-it-for-no-other styling, loads of great standard features, and a smile-inducing driving experience.
So it seems that Hyundai is currently in the midst of a Keyser Söze-like rise to power in the automotive industry. The first iteration of the Veloster had us wondering why the little guy was walking with a limp, but the Veloster Turbo has us running to the door to see if we can catch it before it blasts off into the sunset.
[Disclosure: Hyundai wanted me to drive the Veloster Turbo, so they invited me to stay at The Lodge at Torrey Pines on their dime. I happily obliged, then wolfed down a bunch of food, swigged a few beers from the mini fridge in my room, and also received a pair of Oakley karting shoes. No golf was played, and Hyundai did not like my idea of trying to use a Veloster as a golf kart for a round.]