Car reviews - Hyundai - Veloster - SR Turbo
Steering feel, punchy turbo engine, level of standard features, boot space, manual gearbox, suspension tune, best satellite navigation in the business
Room for improvement
Road noise, headroom, rear-seat space, paddle shifter transmission overrides driver input, cheap cabin plastics
8 Aug 2012
HYUNDAI has thrown down the gauntlet to the lower-end hot hatch establishment with the launch of the new Veloster SR Turbo, giving its oddball and well-equipped sales dynamo the sort of punch that driving enthusiasts have called for since day one.
Since we are dealing in cliches, the company says that its newest – and sportiest – model will “add some sizzle to the sausage”, and pave the way for more performance versions of existing models to come.
It is a good thing, then, that Hyundai has its first proper foray into the hot hatch mostly right, combining the virtues of the atmo version with better-sorted dynamics and a gutsy and revvy force-inducted 1.6-litre engine.
With outputs of 150kW and 265Nm, the newly-developed powertrain outstrips stated rivals such as the Euro-flavoured Citroen DS3 and Mini Cooper S, and is in the same ballpark as the 155kW/280Nm 2.0-litre Volkswagen Golf GTI that reigns as the front-drive hot hatch benchmark.
After a customary moment of lag off the line, the little twin-scroll unit spools up quickly and has a meaty torque curve – all 265Nm is available between 1750 and 4500rpm – although it loses some puff toward the 7000rpm redline.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a good match for the engine, with a light and positive shift action, small gate and early clutch take-up. Our test car felt a touch notchy, but experience indicates the shifter will free up with a few thousand more clicks on the odometer.
The torque-converter automatic does an acceptable job of extracting the most out of the engine, with ratios well-matched to revs, and none of the low-speed hesitation typically found on dual-clutch units.
The paddle-shifters are slick and quick (although made of cheap plastic), but annoyingly override driver input by changing up a gear the moment the engine approaches redline.
We would like to hear a more charismatic engine note emerging from the distinctive twin exhausts in place of the car’s disappointingly muted drone, too.
To handle the extra urge, Hyundai has made a suite of changes to the steering and suspension geometry, and to top it off, the company’s local engineering team have re-worked the dampers to make them softer under compression and harder under rebound than the atmo Veloster.
The result is something of a revelation, with the SR Turbo the best-handling Hyundai to date. The faster steering rack is quick but never twitchy, with a welcome dose of road feel, while the leather-wrapped wheel communicates exactly where the front wheels are pointed.
The suspension is a bit of a mixed bag. The front MacPherson struts hold onto the road with gusto, soaking up most of what the pockmarked test circuit had to offer, but the cost- and space-saving torsion-beam at the rear felt occasionally skittish and prone to hopping about.
Still, as with the similarly-equipped Honda CR-Z, this adds another layer of fun to the car in the twisty stuff, because a tail-end holding on for dear life is also a cinch to hang out in the corners.
The rubber on the 18-inch wheels carries over from the non-turbo Veloster+, and offered decent levels of grip. The trade-off is the raucous road racket, which is loud even by sports car standards on coarser blacktop.
The front-drive car has a tendency to understeer when pushed, but Hyundai has done a good job of squeezing as much of this out as possible. Torque steer is minimal, and axle-tramp from take-off is kept well under control.
The stability control system is also less intrusive than many, activating only once on our spirited drive loop and doing nothing more than subtly pulling the car into line.
The brakes, 20mm larger and 5mm wider at the front than on the base models, pull the car up sharply, but our brief drive did not afford us the chance to look out for fade after heavy use.
Behind the wheel, the SR Turbo makes for fun driving, with plenty of zip and sharp handling. It may not be as composed and centimetre-perfect as the Golf GTI, but as a value proposition it makes a compelling case.
At $31,990 before on-road costs, the SR is just $3000 more than the identically-specified Veloster+, but offers almost 50 per cent more power and a much more aesthetically appealing and suitably aggressive bodykit, including bonnet vents and sculpted side skirts.
Equipment levels put rivals in the shade, with the company’s excellent and intuitive in-house dashboard media system a highlight. We synced up our phone’s Bluetooth in less than 10 seconds, and found the satellite navigation to be among the most logical we have seen.
You can tell the cabin has been made to a price, with some of the cabin plastics feeling disappointingly cheap and hard to the touch. Everything is well screwed-together and feels hardy, though.
The leather bucket seats in the front both look and feel fantastic, with excellent levels of support and long travel.
The panoramic sunroof is a nice touch aesthetically, but coupled with the low roofline dramatically impinges on headroom. Your correspondent’s 194cm frame stretched the car’s limits in the front seat, and forget about the rear pews if you are above average height.
Hyundai claims the odd ‘2+1’ seating layout – one door on the right and two doors on the left – makes the Veloster both hatch and coupe, but we say it doesn’t really shape up as either.
It may be a subjective thing, but we think the extra door compromises the cool coupe lines. Still, it has undoubted showroom appeal and is roomy enough for a pair of kids.
The boot is better, with a long and acceptably deep cargo area making the SR Turbo more practical than the average coupe, and about on par with most conventional hatchbacks.
In short, the Veloster SR Turbo is a commendable effort for a company just starting to dip its proverbial toes into the performance car water.
It can’t quite match the hot hatch or coupe elite for pace, but the handling is excellent, the styling is eye-catching (if not handsome), and the value proposition is enticing. At the price point, it is well worth a look.
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