2012 Hyundai Veloster: Hatchback with style
There's no automatic sport mode, but there's an Active ECO button on the dashboard that intrigues me more than similar modes from other brands. Rather than change the shift behavior directly, it affects the accelerator pedal ? not making it less sensitive but instead damping out sharp changes in position, smoothing the engine response and improving efficiency, Hyundai says, by up to 7 percent.

What this does is make the regular Drive mode more responsive than some cars' are, because of their manufacturers' pursuit of higher mileage. The transmission also reacts quickly to sharp jabs of the accelerator pedal, kicking down one or more gears for passing power.

The Veloster is no rocket, but thankfully it pays off in EPA-estimated mileage: 28/40 mpg city/highway for the manual and 29/38 mpg for the automatic. Both have a combined rating of 32 mpg.

Some shoppers are sure to conclude that the Veloster's styling makes promises the drive trains don't keep. Perhaps they just need to wait for a more powerful version, perhaps a turbocharged one. The most Hyundai officials will say is there's no technical reason the car couldn't get a turbocharger. Beyond that, industry publications predict a turbo version for the 2013 model year, and unmistakable wide-mouthed-Veloster test mules have been spied on several occasions.

I'd count on it; Hyundai established a risky direction with the midsize Sonata, maximizing efficiency with a platform that supports smaller engines rather than high cylinder counts, relying on charging to eke out more power. The Veloster, which shares elements of the Accent and Elantra platforms, could follow the same approach.

For now, the base Veloster should satisfy many buyers. The transmissions make the best of the available power if you don't mind frequent shifting or the noise that sometimes accompanies it. There's a substantial ratio difference between 2nd and 3rd gears, so when you drop down, especially with the DCT, you hear a lot of engine noise.

Hyundai says it targeted its noise treatments at high-frequency sounds, and here they've done pretty well. Even at high speeds, a front passenger and I were able to converse with without raising our voices. The overwhelming sound was a constant rumble from the tires, which might stem from the exceptionally coarse pavement around Portland, where Hyundai held the Veloster's national introduction. I'm withholding judgment because the tires went silent, if only for a moment, every time we crossed a short patch of smooth blacktop or concrete, and also because a ride in a Lexus LS460 L featured the same soundtrack on Interstate 84.

The low-profile tires provided reasonable ride comfort for a car of this type, even after a full day of driving. Ditto for the Veloster's seats and cabin overall, which features contemporary cloth upholstery and nice enough materials. The Style Package adds a panoramic moonroof, leather on the steering wheel and shift knob, faux leather seat bolsters and door trim, alloy pedals and a one-touch feature for the driver's power window.

The package also includes a stereo upgrade, but the standard Veloster has loads of connectivity: Bluetooth cellular and streaming audio, an auxiliary input, an iPod/USB port and an RCA cable that lets you play video on the dashboard screen when the car is parked.

The Tech Package adds keyless access and pushbutton start, a 115-volt outlet, automatic headlights, sonar backup sensors, a backup camera and a navigation system. Even without the system, turn-by-turn navigation is available through the standard Blue Link, which is similar to OnStar.

Through the third door

Unlike the Mini Cooper Clubman, Saturn ION coupe and a few other recent models, the Veloster's single rear door is forward-hinged, so it can be opened via a handle without first opening the front door. It's executed so nicely, people tend to see it as a big plus ... rather than focus on the fact that the car shorts you one door on the other side. For ease of entry on that side, the driver's seat has a swing-away shoulder-belt guide and an additional lever to tilt the seat forward. Points for going the extra mile, Hyundai.

Once inside, I found the backseat surprisingly workable, at least for a short trip. Legroom comes at the generosity of front occupants, who typically have some to spare. At 6 feet tall, my head just cleared the ceiling ? though it's not the ceiling so much as the rear window, and that's likely to be more of a problem if you run over a bump.


As an all-new model, the Veloster hasn't been crash-tested as of this writing. It includes six airbags: the frontal pair, front-seat side-impact airbags and side curtains that cover all the side windows. As federally mandated of all 2012 models, the Veloster has antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.

Equipped with Blue Link, the Veloster carries a GPS receiver and cellular telephony, which provides additional safety features, including Automatic Crash Notification when an airbag is deployed, along with operator supported one-touch SOS and roadside assistance. Subscription fees apply.

Veloster in the market

When I saw the Veloster introduced last year, I suspected it would serve as a coupe version of the Elantra, which currently comes only as a sedan. However, we now expect a proper Elantra Coupe to debut this November 2011 at the Los Angeles auto show.

So what does that make the Veloster? It's a separate model; a sporty car that can serve as a foundation for more serious performance cars, akin to the Volkswagen GTI, Mazdaspeed3 and other so-called pocket rockets.

While I'd question the move from another automaker, many of which are attempting to consolidate and pare down their product offering, Hyundai has been storming the U.S. market for years, snatching market share and putting the competition on notice.

Economy be damned, as one of the few growing automakers, Hyundai is wise to take advantage of the instability and strike now.