2021 Hyundai Veloster Review

Sedans are more practical than coupes. The people riding up front don’t have to get out to let people riding in the back get out or get in the car.

But coupes look sexier than sedans.

How to split the difference?

How about a coupe on the driver’s side and a sedan on the other side?

Plus crossover room for cargo in the backside?

What It Is

The Veloster is a compact, four-seater coupe with three doors—one on the driver’s side and two on the passenger side. It solves the practicality problem that has constantly beset two-door, four-seater cars, which have back seats that are hard to get into and require the driver (or front-seat passenger) to get out before anyone else can get in or back out of the car.

It also has much more room for cargo than a full-sized sedan and is one of just a handful of new cars that’s still available with a manual transmission with all three of its available engines.

You won’t find that in any currently available crossover, which makes the Veloster unique.

Prices start at $18,900, which gets you a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine without a turbo, 147 horsepower, and a six-speed manual transmission. Next up is the turbo, which comes with a 1.6-liter engine making 201 horsepower. You can choose either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

It stickers for $23,450 to start.

At the pinnacle is the high-performance N, which reverts to the 2.0-liter engine, pumped up to 275 horsepower via a twin-scroll turbo. You also get a limited-slip differential, an Active exhaust system with baffles that open up for more performance when activated. Plus an adaptive suspension system, high-performance wheel/tire package, upgraded brakes, and unique lightweight bolstered sport buckets plus exterior and interior trim upgrades, including a carbon fiber-trimmed rear airfoil.

The manual-equipped N lists for $32,250; with the optional automatic, the price tops out at $33,750.

All Velosters are front-wheel-drive.

What’s New

The N used to be manual-only, and the full 275 horsepower used to be optional, which you got when you bought the $2,100 Performance Package.

Now you have the option to select an automatic, and the full 275 horsepower is standard (250 was previously included).

Also included this year and not available last year is Hyundai’s SmartSense suite of driver-assistance tech, including Forward Collision Avoidance, Lane Keep Assist, and Driver Attention Warning.

Also new is the Veloster N’s higher standard price.

Last year, you could get it without the extras that are now standard, and the price was $27,600.

What’s Good

  • Shift for yourself or not as you prefer.
  • A coupe that’s got sedan practicality for passengers and crossover versatility for cargo.
  • N comes standard with more power and features than last year.

What’s Not So Good

  • Backseat passengers have to exit and enter from the passenger side.
  • Backseat headroom is scrunchy tight (35.9 inches).
  • N comes standard with a much higher MSRP than before.

Under The Hood

Hyundai has increased the drivetrain choices offered by the Veloster, which already offered more drivetrain choices than any of its rivals—of which there aren’t any, directly, since no other car offers the three-door configuration.

The base 2.0-liter engine makes 147 horsepower and isn’t turbocharged, which helps keep the base Veloster’s price tag well under $20k and assures the person buying it will never have to spend money on its turbo-related repairs.

This engine relies on larger displacement to make its power rather than the power-adder of a turbocharger, making its power under less pressure.

Turbo-boosted engines experience higher cylinder pressure (the boost) which puts more pressure on pistons, connecting rods, bearings—pretty much the whole works. It also creates more heat. These can be compensated for via heavier-duty materials and parts for the engine and heavier-duty cooling systems to cool it. But in this case, it’s not necessary to compensate for them. There are fewer parts, less pressure, and lower cost, and probably lower repair costs later.

You also have the option to shift for yourself, as a six-speed manual is standard.

This type of transmission is becoming generally unavailable, even in low-cost cars. If you prefer to let the transmission shift for itself, a six-speed automatic is optional.

If you prefer more power, the next-up 1.6-liter turbocharged engine delivers 201 horsepower, and once again, you can shift for yourself. Or not. A six-speed manual is standard, and a performance-calibrated seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is optional. This one includes steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual control of the gear changing, at your pleasure.

The N now comes standard with a 275 horsepower version of the 2.0-liter engine, with a lot of boost (about 20 psi) and an exhaust system designed to allow the exhalation to match the inhalation. This engine (and exhaust) was previously optional, and an automatic transmission was not available.

A new-design eight-speed dual-clutch automatic is now on the options list.

Interestingly, the automatic-equipped N’s rated gas mileage numbers (20 city, 27 highway) are slightly lower than the manual-equipped N’s numbers (22 city, 28 highway). It’s interesting because it is usually the case that an automatic-equipped version of a given car will post higher city/highway numbers. This is the chief reason for the near-ubiquity of automatics and the general disappearance of manuals.

So what’s the reason for the N’s newly available eight-speed automatic, if not mileage? Probably to make the N more enticing to the Millennial demographic, which grew up in a primarily automatic world. Many people in the under 35 crowd never learned to drive a stick, and for that reason, a stick-shift-only car is forbidding.

But there’s also another reason.

The N’s dual-clutch transmission is capable of very quick, very precise shifting, and that’s appealing to people who want consistent performance plus the everyday convenience of not having to shift for themselves.

Regardless, the Veloster N is a speedy little unit capable of getting to 60 in just over five seconds.

On The Road

The base Veloster isn’t as speedy as the Turbo or the even-more-turbo’d N, but it is more fun than other small cars because you can shift for yourself. Shifting yourself makes a car feel speedier than an automatic-only car, and it also gives you more feedback and control. Automatics have their merits, too, of course, including not having to shift for yourself. But it’s nice that Hyundai offers the choice, and not just in the base trim.

The Turbo 1.6-equipped trim offers substantially more speed for not much more money. It feels even speedier because of the 195 ft.-lbs. of torque at just 1,500 RPM, it makes (as opposed to the 132 ft.-lbs. at 4,500 RPM made by the base 2.0 engine, without the turbo boost). There is so much torque on hand, and so soon, it is easy to skitter the tires from a standstill and while rolling, which is also fun.

It is even easier to skitter the tires in the N, especially now that it comes standard with 275 horsepower and 260 ft.-lbs. of torque at just 1,450 RPM, which it does because of the twin-scroll turbo used to boost its output of both horsepower and torque to levels comparable to the output of 5-liter V8s back in the ’90s.

A twin-scroll turbo is snugged close to the engine and feeds off individual exhaust ports rather than a common exhaust stream; the point is to nearly eliminate any lag time between the time you push down on the accelerator pedal and acceleration. Usually, the boost’s build-up depends upon the build-up of exhaust gasses to spin the turbo’s impeller wheel. But it takes a moment for exhaust gas pressure to build and, thus, for the boost to build.

Enter the lag.

Also, a turbo that feeds off the general exhaust stream with all ports feeding into a common exhaust pipe gets fluctuating gas pressure as one port opens and another closes. The snugged-close/twin-scroll design addresses both issues, delivering the feel of a bigger engine rather than a boosted engine.

The N is a more hard-core thing (literally) than the Turbo 1.6 and almost all new cars, including performance cars. Its suspension is set up for agility, razor-sharp steering response, flat cornering, and a hard ride.

Well, a very firm ride.

If you like hard-core performance cars, you will like this. It is part of the experience, and that part is not endeavoring to make a performance car appealing to people who aren’t indeed performance people. Who wants a gun that looks like a Desert Eagle but fires .22s?

This one won’t disappoint.

Unless you can’t quite afford it, which is the only negatory thing about this thing. Last year’s N could be had for just over $27K, and that made it very price competitive with somewhat similar cars like the VW GTI, Mini Cooper S, and Subaru WRX.

250 horses and a six-speed manual for that price is hard to come by—now it is harder to come by.

At The Curb

The Veloster is a tiny thing—just 166.9 inches end to end. That makes it a considerably tinier thing than a compact sedan like the Honda Civic, which is 182.7 inches end to end.

Yet both seat four.

And you don’t have to get out if you’re the driver or the front seat passenger to accommodate your backseat passengers.

Hyundai’s solution to the either-or dilemma presented by the coupe-sedan choice was to add a door to the passenger side of a car that is otherwise a coupe, especially from the driver’s side where there is just one door. This opens up the back seat area without anyone having to get out of their seats upfront.

It’s not a perfect solution, though.

If you have more than one backseat passenger, the other backseat passenger will have to get out to let him out (assuming the one who wants to get out is sitting behind the driver). Or let him clamber over.

And the driver will, of course, have to go around to the passenger side to get at whatever he tossed onto the seat behind him.

Also, there are just two backseats—not the usual (in a sedan) three—so this is a four seater three-door. The headroom in the back is several inches less than in the front (35.9 inches vs. 38.1 inches). You have to be careful not to bump your head getting in because of the very low roofline, which rolls downward farther than is usual, abbreviating the entry space.

That said, there are no other cars this size or just two doors that are as practical as the three-door Veloster, and that goes for more than just passengers.

This tiny car has 19.9 cubic feet of space for cargo behind its back seats, and if you fold them, that opens up to 44.5 cubic feet. That is easily three times as much space as you’d have available for cargo in a full-size sedan and comparable space to what you’d get in a crossover of the same footprint. You can’t get this with three doors or manual transmission.

It’s also much more space for cargo and people than in the BMW Mini Cooper, which is available with two or four doors. But the two-door has less accessibility and much less roomy back seats (just 30.8 inches of legroom back there vs. 34.1 in the Hyundai) and less than half as much space (just 8.7 cubic feet) for cargo behind its back seats. The four-door Mini has 13.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind its back seats and 32.3 inches of backseat legroom. It’s still less than the Veloster’s got, and you can’t get it without getting four doors.

Same as the VW GTI and other snarky, small-sized runabouts like the Soobie WRX. You can have one or the other, but not both in the same.

The Rest

One thing you have to have now (if you buy the N) is Hyundai’s SmartSense suite of driver assistance tech, including Forward Collision Assist, which applies the brakes if the car thinks it’s necessary to avoid a collision. Also, Lane Keep Assist turns the steering wheel if the car thinks you are wandering out of your lane and Driver Attention Warning, which suggests you pay more attention if the car thinks your attention is wandering.

These “assists” are becoming hard to avoid as manual transmission is becoming hard to find.

They are becoming standard chiefly because there’s little cost to the manufacturer to add electronics to existing mechanical systems—many of which are already electronically controlled to one degree or another. So it’s an easy and inexpensive way for a car company to tout “new features.” And there are all kinds of pressure to appear very concerned about “safety.” However, it is arguable that attentive driving is the surest way to avoid an accident, and using technology to crutch the consequences of inattentive driving encourages it.

The Bottom Line

The Veloster is something no other car is—unique. There is nothing else like it, and that alone makes it very appealing.

It is also practical, fun, and, for the most part, affordable.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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