The NMA Foundation presents Eric Peter’s Car Review, a weekly Saturday feature on the NMA blog.
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Coupes have the right lines, but it can be awkward to take more than one person along for the ride.
Even if the car has four seats.
Getting to them — and out of them — can be a chore, even if you’re young and nimble.
And if you’re not . . . .
Hyundai decided to split the difference by adding a third door to create the Veloster — which looks like a coupe from the driver’s side (just the one door) but has two doors on the other side.
This concept isn’t original. Saturn (RIP) gave it a go and also Mazda (RX8, also RIP) but neither of them went whole hog with a proper full-sized rear door.
Only the Veloster has that.
But is that enough?
WHAT IT IS
The Veloster is a compact, three-door (and four seat) sporty hatchback.
It is similar in size and general layout to cars like the Mini Cooper hatchback and the VW Beetle but offers much better access to the back seats — on one side, anyhow.
It also looks like nothing else on the road . . . for better or worse.
Prices start at $18,100 for a base Veloster with 1.6 liter engine and six-speed manual transmission; opting for the six-speed automatic (an automated/dual-clutch manual) bumps the MSRP up to $19,200.
Turbo Velosters — same 1.6 engine, but goosed in output — start at $21,600; $23,800 with a performance-calibrated seven-speed automated manual transmission.
The obvious cross-shop is the Mini Cooper hatchback.
If you are open to more than two (or three) doors, you might also cross-shop the Mazda3 and the Ford Fiesta, which are sold in both sedan and five-door hatchback versions.
Hyundai is offering all the Turbo’s looks — and many of its features, including the sportier-riding suspension — but without the turbocharged engined — for $21,350.
It’s the only coupe you can buy with three full-size doors.
Looks like nothing else on the road.
Almost 40 MPG-capable with the standard engine.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Back seat is easy to get to — but still cramped to be in.
Big Acceleration Gap between the base-engined Veloster and the Turbo Veloster.
Sashimi styling. You either really like it — or you really don’t.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Veloster comes with a 1.6 liter four, either turbocharged (twin scroll) or not.
Not-turbocharged, the engine makes 132 hp; with the turbo, it makes 201 hp.
The 132 hp engine comes paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or (optionally) a six-speed automated manual.
The turbo’d 201 hp version of the 1.6 liter engine is also served with either a six-speed manual or an optional automated manual but this time with seven gears — giving the Hyundai one more gear (and one more thing) than others in its class.
Acceleration is an interesting study in contrasts — and a strong argument in favor of turbo boost in small-engined small cars.
The base Veloster’s not-turbocharged 1.6 liter engine is bigger than the Mini Cooper’s 1.5 liter three cylinder engine — and horsepower is about the same: 132 for the Hyundai and 134 for the Mini.
So is the curb weight: 2,625 for the Mini vs. 2,679 for the Veloster.
But the Mini gets to 60 in just 7.4 seconds — a very quick time for an economy-minded compact — vs. mid nines for the base-engined Veloster.
Which isn’t much velocity.
What explains the nearly two second gap between these cars — given how much the two cars haven common horsepower-wise and curb weight-wise?
The Mini’s three is turbo’d while the base Veloster’s four isn’t.
Which is why the Mini’s engine makes a much stouter 162 ft.-lbs. of torque at a much lower 1,250 RPM vs. a skimpy 123 ft.-lbs. at a much higher 4,850 RPM for the Hyundai.
And it’s also why the Hyundai is even less quick (well over 10 seconds to 60) when ordered with the optional (six-speed) automated manual.
Even though the car is light, it’s too heavy for the torque-deficient 1.6 liter four to get it going quickly when paired with an automatic, especially.
With a turbo, though, things change dramatically.
Now the 1.6 liter engine’s torque output is up to 195 ft.-lbs. — and it’s available at 1,750 RPM — a fast idle, basically.
Which is why the turbo Veloster R-Spec scoots to 60 so much sooner: About 7 seconds flat with the manual (it takes a tenth or so longer with the optional seven-speed automated manual).
It’s a massive difference in performance, due to the massive difference in torque between the base Veloster’s not-turbocharged 1.6 liter four and the turbo-boosted version of the same basic engine.
Gas mileage for the base Veloster is very good — almost as good as the base-engined Mini Cooper’s: 27 city, 35 highway with the manual six-speed; 28 city, 36 with the optional automatic — vs. 28 city, 39 highway for the manual Mini.
The Turbo Veloster does about as well as the Mini S: 25 city, 33 highway with the manual and 27 city, 33 highway with the automated manual vs. 23 city, 33 highway for the Mini S with the automatic (23 city, 33 highway with the manual).
Here’s a plus: Both of the Veloster’s available engines — including the turbo’d one — are designed to burn regular unleaded — which will save you about 20 cents per gallon at each fill-up vs. the Mini, which requires premium unleaded.
ON THE ROAD
The Turbo Veloster lives up to the promise of those twin bazooka tailpipes. Fourth will give you about 110 at redline. Just hypothetically, of course.
Two more to go.
The torque spread is wide and the manual six-speed’s shifter has tight action and it’s no problem to bark the tires and leave a nice little pair of patches of rubber on the road, going hard from first to second.
Of course, the Mini S can do that, too.
But then, it doesn’t have the third door.
I haven’t had a chance yet to drive the new automated seven-speed manual but the same car last year with the six-speed automated manual was a runner, too.
I’d still rather have the manual — especially with the base (not-turbo’d) four. The car is noticeably more responsive with the manual and you save $1,100 up front.
Hyundai did an excellent job with the clutch action; it’s not grabby or abrupt and you get a very good sense of how much you’ve engaged it as you’re easing your left foot off the pedal — which makes the car very pleasant to drive in stop-and-go traffic.
Some others aren’t. They have clutch engagement that feels either In or Out — with not much in-between. Those cars are hard to drive smoothly in stop-and-go traffic.
Cornering the thing hard, I found it’s got less understeer dialed in than is typical of most sporty FWD cars. It’s fairly hard to go tail-out. The Veloster’s Torque Vectoring Control gets the credit. It automatically applies braking pressure to the inside wheels to maintain directional control during high-speed cornering.
Get on the turbo mid-corner and keep the pedal down and it may swing wide — but the whole car instead of just the rear end.
The traction/stability control lets you have fun, too. You can set the tires spinning coming out of a curve as the turbo wicks up and hits you with all the engine’s torque, plus a good-sized helping of horsepower.
The turbo Rally package ups the ante, handling-wise, with firmer suspension calibrations plus the lightweight Rays alloy wheel/tire package.
Be advised, though: This one’s a roughrider. Be sure you can live with it for more than 30 minutes at a time. You also get better brakes with this package.
The non-turbo’d, base-engined Veloster is a little on the Slow Pokey side. But on the upside, it is capable of outstanding gas mileage and for that reason justifies itself as a very practical commuter car that can be lots of fun in the curves — especially if you buy the suspension/handling upgrades.
It’s nice that Hyundai gives you the option to buy these without having to buy the more expensive (and thirsty) turbocharged engine.
AT THE CURB
Here’s where it gets weird.
Not the car’s angry Cicada looks, I mean.
Having a full-sized third door for passenger access to the rear seats – great idea. Hyundai fully committed. Unlike Saturn and Mazda, which tried the idea before, but only kinda-sorta . . . with a functionally compromised mini-me third door.
The Veloster’s got a real third door, just like you’d get if you bought a four-door sedan. Except the driver rarely sees it, giving him the sexier visuals of a coupe on his side of the car.
Good so far.
But they went to all that trouble — and then sloped the Veloster’s roof so sharply that you have to spelunk to get in there. And once you’re in there, you’ll have to figure out a place to put your head and legs.
The Veloster has just 35.3 inches of headroom in the second row — which is several inches less headroom than in a similar-sized compact sedan like the Mazda3 (37.6 inches).
Also, the Veloster sits two-plus inches lower to the ground than the Mazda3 (55.1 inches vs. 57.3) and three inches lower to the ground than the also-similar-in-size Ford Fiesta (58.1 inches tall). Even the micro-sized Mini is taller (55.7 inches) and has noticeably more headroom (36.9 inches) because it has a mostly level roofline such that sitting in the back seat isn’t so medieval.
The Veloster’s 31.7 inches is slightly better than the Mini hatchback’s hopeless for humans 30.8 inches — but falls very short of the Mazda3’s almost mid-sized sedan back seats, which have 35.8 inches of legroom.
It’s hard to grok.
If the point of this exercise was to make the Veloster more practical than the usual two-door, why stop with access to the backseats? Why not add a couple inches of leg and headroom, too?
Well, the answer to that question is simple:
Because it looks cool.
Un-slope the roof and you’re just another hatchback/sedan. So it’s not the most practical thing on the road. But then, neither is a purple Kawasaki two-stroke triple.
If you want something different, well . . . here it is.
Additional sashimi-style differences include the floating door pulls and reptile-skin textured door panels.
There’s no turbo boost gauge, though — which is strange.
Why would you not want to emphasize the turbo’s presence?
But you do get an Active Sound Design exhaust tone enhancer (turbo versions) that makes the engine sound tougher. Plus a single-slot CD port — these are disappearing as music goes digital — and all trims have Bluetooth connectivity as well as physical USB ports for hooking up your device that way.
Cargo capacity maxes out at 34.7 cubic feet — which is more than the Mazda3 has behind its back seats (20.2 cubic feet) but significantly less than the Mazda has with its back seats folded flat (47.1 cubic feet).
This is the inevitable result of splitting the difference. The three-door Veloster is a bit more practical than a two-door coupe, but it’s still compromised vs. a five-door hatchback of about the same overall size.
This may be your last chance to buy a new Veloster.
Hyundai will continue to sell the 2017 model into calendar year 2018 — “due to a long 2017 model year.” Which probably means lots of new 2017s waiting to be sold that will still be waiting to be sold after the end of this year.
That is bad news for the Veloster — but good news for you, if you want a new Veloster. The closer we get to fall — and 2018 — the more eager Hyundai dealerships will be to sell you one.
Once the calendar turns to 2018, the deals should be smoking.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This isn’t a car for everyone — but it might be a car for you.
Better hurry, if that’s the case.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos