By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Hyundai thinks it has solved the Access Problem that’s always been a problem for sporty coupes.
The 2012 Veloster doesn’t merely have three doors – that’s been done before. It has three different-sized doors.
The functional problem is the third door might be on the wrong side (the passenger side) of the car.
And even though the Veloster’s third door opens wider, the space it opens up to isn’t all that much larger. The Hyundai’s back seat area has about the same real estate as the back seat area of a Mazda RX-8 (another three-door coupe).
Which means, not much.
On the upside, the Veloster’s extremely affordable (the RX-8 ain’t) and it gets great gas mileage (something the RX-8 only does when it’s not running) and it looks like nothing else on the road.
On top of that, Hyundai has a high-performance turbo version on deck for later this year.
So, maybe the recipe’s right – even if the back seats are still a little tight.
WHAT IT IS
The Veloster is a three-door compact-sized FWD hatchback coupe with two doors on the passenger side and one door on the driver’s side.
The only somewhat similar car on the market right now is the Mazda RX-8, but the Mazda’s third door is a much smaller door – and its price tag ($26,795) is much larger than the Veloster’s base price of $17,300.
So, for the moment, the Veloster’s one-of-a-kind.
The Veloster’s a new addition to the Hyundai lineup.
Third door provides much better access to backseat area.
Exceptional fuel economy.
Interesting to look at – and lots of fun to drive.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Third door might be on the wrong side of the car.
Backseat area itself is still cramped and uncomfortable.
UNDER THE HOOD
At the time of this review in very early 2012, the Veloster came issued with a 1.6 liter, 138 hp engine driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission – with a dual-clutch automated manual six speed available optionally.
Though it’s not much engine, the Veloster’s not much car – curb weight-wise (just 2,584 lbs.) so performance and economy are both quite good. With either transmission, the three-door Hyundai gets to 60 in about 7.3 seconds and can give you 40 MPG on the highway, too.
Around town, expect 28 city (with the regular six speed).
Interestingly, the optional dual-clutch manual returns slightly better city mileage (29 MPG) but loses 2 MPG on top (38 MPG) relative to the shift-it-yourself six-speed manual.
In about six months or so, Hyundai will add a turbocharged version of the 1.6 liter engine to to the lineup. Reportedly, it will make 201 hp, which should be enough to cut the 0-60 time down by at least 1 full second.
If it’s priced at around $20k, as the rumors say it will be, the 2013 Turbo Veloster will undercut hot hatch leaders like the Honda Civic Si, VW GTI and Mini Cooper S on both price and performance.
ON THE ROAD
Little engine be damned, the Veloster is capable of very respectable velocity. It will do 115 in fourth at redline (6,800 RPM) and you still have two more gears to go. If anything, the gear spacing could be tightened up to make the car quicker, if a bit less fast. After all, there aren’t many places left where you can run 115 (or faster). But a bit more scoot from light to light would be everyday usable.
As it is, sixth gear is almost superfluous. You can comfortably trundle along at 75 in fifth and not feel the need for an upshift. Sixth is mostly there for fuel economy – which the Veloster gives you plenty of, too. Believe the 40 MPG claims. It’ll do better than that, if you baby it. And if you don’t, it’s hard to get less than low 30s out of it – even running 80 and running fiercely through the gears to get there, too.
All this goes to show what can be done with not much engine and not much power if the weight of the car is kept within reason. Consider, as a study in contrast, the current VW GTI. It has a larger, 2.0 liter engine that makes 200 hp – 62 hp more than the Veloster’s 1.6 liter engine. But the GTI’s performance is no better (0-60 in 7.3 seconds) and its gas mileage is much worse (21 city, 31 highway).
Reason? The GTI has a beer gut. It weighs 3,034 lbs. – or 400 pounds (!) more than the Veloster, which is about the same size overall.
Just imagine what the Turbo Veloster will do to the GTI. And also to the Civic Si – which weighs almost 2,900 lbs. (2,877) and just barely breaks the 7 second barrier and only gives you 22 city/321 highway – for $22,205 to start.
One of the few current-year cars that can match moves – and efficiency – with the Veloster is the 2012 Mazda3 SkyActive. But at $19,300 to start, it’s also $2k more than the Veloster.
AT THE CURB
Here it’s a more mixed bag. You either like the car’s asymmetrical oddity – or, you don’t. I think the view from behind is the best. It’s a bit too busy up front, with lots of pleats and folds and interlocking panels. Personally, I think it’d look a lot cleaner – and much fiercer – if they got rid of that big plastic center section inside the grille.
Anyhow, looks are subjective so I will leave it at that.
The three-door layout is not a new idea but Hyundai’s execution of it is. Instead of having two same-size doors for the driver and front seat passenger, with a mini-door cut in behind one of them for extra access to the back seats – Hyundai put a single big door (about 52 inches wide) on the driver’s side and two medium-sized doors (about 43 inches wide each) on the passenger side. The second door opens forward, too – with its hinges mounted on the B pillar – unlike the typically rear-hinged and “suicide” opening mini-doors heretofore used in coupes like the RX-8.
The concept is commendable, but I’m not so sure about the execution. Arguably, it would make more sense to have the second door on the driver’s side. Not so much because of passengers, but because the driver will be using the backseat area more often – for carrying stuff. The way it’s laid out, the driver has to walk around to the other side of the car.
But that’s a small quibble and it might be a non-issue for you.
On the other hand, there’s a bigger problem. Actually, a smaller problem. The Veloster’s back seat area may have better access, but there’s very little room. Less room, in fact, than in the backseat area of other small coupes, including the RX-8.
Legroom comes in at 31.7 inches – vs. 32.2 for the RX8. Headroom is a decapitating 35.3 inches – vs. 36.8 in the RX-8. (There’s even a “watch your head” warning sticker on the hatchback that cautions against closing it before people in the back seat duck.) For some more perspective, the Hyundai’s backseat leg and headroom numbers are about the same as in the Fiat 500 micro-car. In fact, the Fiat’s back seats have slightly more headroom (35.6) and the Fiat (139.6 inches overall) is more than two feet shorter, nose to tail, than the Veloster (166.1 inches).
The bottom line is the Veloster’s back seats are literally unusable unless you are a bag of groceries. The only way I could sit back there was by sitting across both seats – in the fetal position, with my knees gathered up to my chest. Granted I am six feet three and more than 200 pounds, but even someone a foot shorter than I am and 80 pounds less heavy would find it unpleasant, if not impossible, to endure the Veloster’s back seats.
Now, this is just as true for almost any other two-plus-two coupe on the road. A Camaro’s back seats are just as brutal – just as useless for carrying people. But Chevy doesn’t tease you with a third door. Hyundai went half-way. The extra door idea is ok. But to complete the deal, the car needs another 2-3 inches of wheelbase, so as to give the designers the space to carve out another 2-3 inches of legroom. And maybe figure a way to drop the floorpans an inch or so in order to give the poor penitents in the back a bit more headroom.
On the upside, the cargo area/hatchback layout gives you a lot of space for stuff, if not people. It’s deep and long – nearly four feet long, in fact. Almost a sleeper area. With the back seats upright, you’ve still got almost 16 cubic feet of “trunk” space – a lot for a compact car. Fold the back seats flat and you’ve got maybe three times that much space to work with.
The interior of the Veloster is as spiffy and different as the exterior – including “floating” door pulls and padded knee bolsters on the forward sides of the center console. The dash is falling “v” with the point of the “v” ending at the push-button start button. Elliptical and trapezoidal shapes are used for the gauge surrounds and air outlets. It’s all very techno and modern-looking. Visibility to the sides and front is good but the flat, sloping rear glass will make you grateful for good outside rearview mirrors and the back-up camera system.
Beyond its unusual layout, the Veloster offers some fairly exotic equipment for a car with a $17k base price – including the automated manual transmission. You also get a standard 7-inch LCD touchscreen display with Hyundai’s Pandora Bluetooth-style connectivity. You can order snarky 18-inch wheels with body-colored anodized inserts, a panorama sunroof and dealer-applied graphics packages.
Because of its low entry price point, you can option out a Veloster and still come in under the base price of a new GTI, Civic Si or Mazda3. And get much better gas mileage – and a much better warranty – as part of the deal.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So long as you don’t really plan on using those back seats for carrying people, the Veloster’s got a lot to offer.