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Car reviews - Hyundai - Veloster - + Coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Offbeat styling, interior presentation, value for money, handling, steering, manual gearshift, warranty
Room for improvement
1.6’s performance does not live up to looks or name, no rear wiper, some awkward styling angles, very little else

Hyundai logo22 Jun 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

WHAT A BLESSED relief!

In the 1990s you could buy any number of sporty coupes with names like Paseo, Integra, and NX.

All provided inexpensive yet stylish alternatives to humdrum hatchbacks and snoozy small sedans.

Then the Toyota RAV4 happened and car-makers stopped caring about coupes and started creating compact SUVs instead. And after that the folding hardtop craze occurred – curse you Peugeot 206 CC – and eventually even the stalwart Prelude and Celica succumbed.

But the thing is, there are still customers out there seeking a cheap and swoopy coupe.

Sure, Kia has offered the handsome Cerato Koup since 2009, but that’s really just a two-door sedan, while Hyundai’s capable Tiburon that stuck around until 2010 hardly changed in almost a decade.

Clearly, something fresh and exciting was needed… and the new Hyundai Veloster may just be it.

Looking like the lovechild of a Mini Clubman and Renault Megane RS 250, the Korean coupe is currently the head turner du jour (though the Toyota 86 might change things), lapping up attention all round with a glitzy stare, menacing stance, and odd rear haunches.

Not exactly pretty then, it is perhaps closest aligned in concept to the Japanese ‘hardtop’ models of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as popularised in Australia by the earlier Mazda 323 Astina. You remember – the one with the impossibly tiny rear doors and pop-up headlights?

Anyway, the obvious novelty here is the Veloster’s asymmetrical sides – twin doors on the passenger/footpath side and a larger, single aperture for the driver.

Except for the odd manufacturing stuff-up (the build quality of Ford’s Cortina was so lackadaisical that one allegedly left the factory with odd-numbered doors), and the oddball Mini Clubman, the Hyundai is unique in having this feature.

Is it all a gimmick though? Let’s begin from the inside out.

Fussy/stylish is the modern Veloster vernacular (you choose), the cabin is a strong suit, with pleasing details such as the muted silver trim, Audi TT-like lower-console bracing bars, and stylised door cards featuring a smart pair of grab handles.

Yet everything functions as well as it looks.

Take the driving position – augmented not just by a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, but also an electric driver’s seat complete with lumbar support. It’s also bolstered and attractive in a suitably saucy manner.

Clearer analogue instruments probably don’t exist. Neon-like white backlit markings, on a black background with electric blue and bright red highlights, make for a striking set of dials. The only thing missing is an auxiliary digital readout.

Hyundai’s really been improving its audio/media interface lately, and the latest iteration featuring Bluetooth telephony and music streaming is insanely easy to connect and use.

Set within a stylised and symmetrical V-shaped centre console, only a moment is required to familiarise the various climate control switches and buttons that abound. The overall effect is upmarket – much more so than the $28K pricing that the Veloster+ commands.

Note, however, there is no rear wiper – a very annoying omission seeing how grubby that rear glass can get.

But much of the above is almost besides the point of this Hyundai with three doors and a hatch. It’s the backstory that’s most compelling.

On the plus side the kerbside back door is a boon for people with kids, pets or larger parcels destined for the rear seat. The aperture itself is sufficiently hidden to fool onlookers that the Veloster is purely a coupe yet the door opens wide enough for it to be truly useful.

A minus point is that entering via the (elongated) driver’s door is tricky since there is no easy fold and slide mechanism, and nor does the backrest eventually return to its original position – and that’s a pain if people use the back seat regularly.

Even though the headroom-robbing electric sunroof (with an effective sliding sun block) will dissuade a six-footer from entering the cabin altogether, a 178cm (five-foot ten inch) person should find enough space back there – once he or she clears the very low sloping roofline. Just watch that a closing hatch door doesn’t hit your head!

The Veloster’s side-view asymmetry is most noticeable sitting in the rear seat, since the door that opens has a much larger (and retracting) window than the other side’s shallow – to the point of almost being claustrophobic – item.

Both armrests provide a small recess for phones and the like, while the centre spot contains a pair of cup-holder recesses and a shallow tray. There are no overhead grab-handles or seat-back map pockets at all in this car.

Beyond that Hyundai fits a couple of floor-mounted child-seat strap hooks immediately behind the rear-seat base, mitigating luggage-area interference. Young families needing a runabout second car are likely to be a big buyer base, after all.

The luggage area itself benefits from a large opening cavity and the floor area is both deeper and wider than one might imagine, but the folding rear seatback does not sit flush for a flat load space. Below that lives a space-saver spare wheel.

So far, so good then but we were somewhat disappointed with what happened when we fired the four-cylinder engine up front.

The naturally aspirated direct-injection 1.6-litre petrol unit produces a relatively low 103kW of power at 6300rpm and 166Nm of torque at 4850rpm, and subsequently fails to live up to the Veloster’s looks, let alone its name.

Yes, it is a smooth, sharp and fiery little number with a willingness to rev right up past the red line (beyond 7000rpm) without complaint, but it simply and utterly lacks the low-down oomph you’d expect.

Be prepared to perpetually pummel that accelerator pedal because the 1230kg coupe needs every one of those kilowatts to wake it from a lethargic slumber.

It’s a good thing the six-speed manual gearbox is a sweet, short-shifting delight – and probably the best we’ve sampled from the Koreans – because you’ll need to execute plenty of these.

Admittedly, once on the move, the Hyundai feels sufficiently swift in everyday commuting conditions, and is smooth and refined in operation. Load it up or meet a hill, however, and you’ll be back to rowing those gears endlessly to keep things moving along.

Obviously such vigorous revving works up quite a thirst, with our Veloster averaging a disappointing 9.0L/100km overall. 6.4L/100km is the official combined average. That’s no surprise.

We were impressed, however, with just how well sorted the Hyundai’s dynamics are, thanks to a planted chassis that’s very hard to unstick and eager steering that follows the driver’s instructions to a tee.

Throwing the Hyundai into a series of tight dry bends might have had the traction control light flashing furiously, but the car remained calm and composed throughout, and exhibited far less electronic intrusion than we’ve experienced in other recent and related models. Backed up by a great set of brakes, we really savoured its flat and unflappable attitude.

If you like cars that feel underpowered not necessarily because of a horsepower shortfall but because of a terrifically competent chassis, then this is one of them.

For all its strengths, though, the Veloster falls short of being a true hot hatch in the Golf GTI mould because of its engine.

At the end of the day, possessing responsive handling and exceptional grip is just part of that particular recipe.

On the other hand, even riding on the attractive 18-inch alloy, the ride quality isn’t boy-racer punishing, though the low nose is susceptible to speed humps while there is some road noise intrusion into the cabin from the tyres.

Nevertheless, we really grew to enjoy the likeable and very well equipped Veloster +.

It sits on the fence between sporty and sport and competently straddles the border between playful and practical.

That’s high praise for a model with Accent platform origins, and a galaxy away from the insipid S Coupe of 20 years ago.

More car-makers should dig deeper and be braver like Hyundai. We’re certainly grateful.

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