By Hyundai's estimation, the Veloster competes with the likes of Honda's CR-Z hybrid and the Scion tC, and might be cross-shopped with the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle.The 2012 Hyundai Veloster is a distinctive, high-mileage sport coupe that hints at the excitement to come in future variants.
I drove the Veloster with both manual and automatic transmissions.
Exterior & stylingSomehow Hyundai has managed to design another car that looks unique and stylish without being overly polarizing or just plain ugly. Available in seven colors, including bold yellow, orange and green, the Veloster stands out as something entirely new.
Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard. The optional Style Package, for $2,000, includes 18-inch wheels, fog lights and a chrome grille surround with piano-black highlights, along with interior feature upgrades. Different 18-inch alloy wheels with body-colored spokes join additional features in the Tech Package, which requires the Style package, adding another $2,000 (for $4,000 total).
The Veloster also introduces Hyundai's first exterior graphics options, which include stripes and other designs. They're available when ordering or at the dealership.
Ride & handlingI've called out handling as an area in which Hyundai needs improvement overall. For example, though the new Elantra is more than capable enough, it doesn't match the athletic Ford Focus or Mazda3, or maybe even the Chevrolet Cruze. I also find the Genesis Coupe too skittish. The Veloster's dynamics and roadholding are among the best Hyundai offers when equipped with the optional 18-inch wheels.
My chief complaint about the Veloster is its steering, which feels numb on-center and tends to wander at low and medium speeds, improving somewhat on the highway. Beyond the steering issue, the Veloster is exceptionally light, starting at 2,584 with a manual transmission ? and it feels that way. As important, it manages its weight well, with admirable balance for a front-wheel-drive car, and minimal body roll.
The optional 18-inch tires showed no evidence of the automaker's quest for fuel efficiency, as some low-rolling-resistance (a.k.a. traction-resistant) tires on small cars do. The Kumho Solus KH25 all-season tires, rated P215/40R18, are well matched to the Veloster.
Note that I didn't drive the standard 17-inch tires, which are Nexen Classe Premiere CP671s rated P215/45R17. Though they're ostensibly all-season tires, these give me pause. The same models proved inferior in the cold and snow earlier this year on a 2011 Kia Optima, on which they were also standard equipment. Pay extra attention to these tires if you test drive the Veloster, even if it's not cold out, and consider the 18-inchers if you have any concerns.
PowerHandling can't be divorced entirely from engine power, because there has to be enough oomph to pull the car out of a corner, and here the Veloster's modest power comes into play. Shared with the Accent is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 123 pounds-feet of torque at 4,850 rpm.
Thanks to direct injection and variable valve timing, the little 4-cylinder offers pretty broad torque delivery across the rev range. The six-speed transmissions make the most of it, launching the Veloster quickly when needed.
Taking on hills and powering out of sharp turns demands lower gears, keeping the driver or the automatic busy. The manual is a competent player with a forgiving clutch and a relatively short shifter equipped with a foolproof button for entering Reverse gear, to the left of 1st. (Why don't more automakers use this design?)
The more impressive choice is the automatic, a six-speed EcoShift DCT, standing for dual-clutch transmission, Hyundai's first. The dual-clutch automated-manual design means little to the average driver but can feel different to the more attuned operator.
While DCTs are usually touted for their fast shifts, the overriding goal is lower weight and greater efficiency, and Hyundai's version takes it a step further by using a dry clutch system rather than a hydraulic design. So far the only dry-clutch DCTs we've experienced come in the Ford Fiesta and 2012 Focus, which have their detractors.
When in Drive mode, the DCT behaves like any other automatic transmission. You can also slide the lever to the right and then shift up and down sequentially, or use the standard shift paddles on the steering wheel.
I'm impressed with the DCT. It performed nicely over a couple of miles of stop-and-go city driving. When I let off the brake at a stop, it would begin to inch forward after minimal delay. I noticed none of the balkiness or vibration we experienced just a week ago with the 2012 Ford Focus SFE.
The transmission shifts up through the gears smoothly and without drama, and it doesn't downshift too conspicuously as you slow to a stop. It also downshifts reasonably quickly when it's time to pass. Hyundai engineers erred on the side of comfort, opting for smoother shifts rather than quick, hard transitions ? a wise decision. They say it shifts faster when in manual mode, but I found the difference to be minimal.