Hyundai has recently been enjoying a little bit of a spike in popularity. It’s not entirely about the cars, either, although the products they’ve been churning out as of late, from the redesigned Santa Fe and the Kona to the hydrogen-powered NEXO and the Veloster N you see here, have been doing a mighty fine job of keeping the brand in buyers’ sights.
No, what I’m talking about is a spike in popularity rooted somewhere else entirely: basketball. More specifically, the Toronto Raptors. One of the championship team’s biggest fans not named Drake is Nav Batia, a so-called superfan and a fixture courtside since the Raptors’ inception. Nav Batia is also the president of Mississauga Hyundai in Mississauga, Ontario. During the Raps’ historic playoff run in June, not only was he courtside, he was all over the media.
Batia’s rise to prominence can be seen as an allegory for what Hyundai has been able to do, and especially on how far the Veloster has come to reach N status (“N’ for Namyang, Korea where it was developed and the “N” for the Nurburgring race track, where it was honed). It’s gone from a strange three-door hatch that we weren’t even sure was going to make it to a second generation, to a vehicle that has the chops to really take the fight to the likes of the VW Golf GTI, Honda Civic Si (and maybe even the Type R) and Mini Cooper JCW.
With the Veloster N, it’s kind of hard to say where all that swagger comes from. Is it its looks? The two-tone 19-inch wheels show with Pirelli P Zero tires, the Performance Blue paint, red highlights on the front splitter and rocker panels, red brake calipers, dual exhaust, rear diffuser and carbon-fibre trim on the spoiler all add a ton of presence to the car. You can get it in black and white too (and red, if you’re in the US), but I’ve seen all those colours in the metal and this is how I’d have mine, without a doubt.
Certainly, the Veloster N turned heads everywhere I went. Way more than any Civic Si or Golf GTI have, I can tell you that from experience.
So that’s part of it.
Then there’s the interior with its deep bucket seats, aluminum pedals, powder blue highlights (seatbelts, drive mode select buttons, dash inserts) and hefty steering wheel, all premium touches that point to this particular Veloster as being the model that brings the line almost into halo territory.
That helps, too.
Then of course there’s the powertrain and chassis. It’s a 2.0L turbo unit good for 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, both figures that are up on the Civic Si Coupe and Golf GT, though 31 hp and 35 lb-ft down on the Civic Type R. Your only choice for the transmission is a 6-speed manual with ease-of-use stuff like anti roll back, and ultra-techy stuff like rev matching that you can set to three levels.
Yes, you read that right; the Veloster has settings… for its rev matching system, each setting determining how many revs are carried between shifts. In a world where enthusiasts often bemoan rev matching systems because they’ve spent years honing their heel/toe downshift technique, that’s a pretty gutsy move by Hyundai. Of course, you can always switch it off by simply pressing a button mounted to the wheel – assuming you haven’t selected the “custom” drive mode. That mode allows you to set your own profile for the rev matching, exhaust note, eLSD and throttle response. The main screen is also where you’ll find turbo performance (as well as you infotainment controls and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), while the gauge cluster display shows neat-o stuff like a g-meter.
Either way, it represents a trifecta of features that have brought the Veloster N to heights that it – and any Hyundai hatch before it – have never really been able to attain. It also points to a car that’s meant to be driven.
Personally, I kept it in “custom” for pretty much the duration of my time spent with it, simply because I saw no reason to change things. Except for maybe the exhaust note, which is loud enough to wake the neighbours and is an interesting attempt at replicating the king of exhaust notes in the compact car world, the Fiat 500 Abarth. Which it does an admirable job of doing.
The rest, though, was good – I kept the throttle in Sport+, eLSD in Sport, rev-matching in Sport – and it was the perfect mix of ‘round-town usability and responsiveness for an all-out assault on one of my favorite backroads.
I beat a path there as fast as I could; I’d driven the Veloster N both on the track and a pleasingly twisty road in central California before, but I wanted to see how it would do on a road I was much more familiar with.
Not to mention that this particular road is a great mix of fast sweepers, sharp second- or third-gear corners all coated in a surface that is sometimes smooth, but oftentimes pockmarked and able to upset a car’s chassis.
My run started out just as I’d remembered it: incredibly fast acceleration with just enough wheelspin from start to not bog down the powertrain, then consistent acceleration as you quickly pick up second, then third – not fourth, because here comes a turn, so rev matching time! – and so on. I also kept the steering in Sport+ for this part of my test, as it provides the quick turn-in required when on a road like this. I only really kept the steering when it came time to navigate parkades and the like – it was Sport other than that.
Oh, what a joy the Veloster N is to bring through this kind of environment. The more you push, the more the car shrinks around you and starts to flow with you. It takes very little time to learn just how much steering lock is required for a certain turn, and just how much brake pressure is needed to reduce your speed in time, etc., etc. This is a car that is very good at letting you know what’s going on beneath it – until it doesn’t.
No matter how I sent the dampers, I felt that it always felt just a little too soft on rebound, the car bobbing over undulations that I’d been over so many times before, in similar metal, including some of the Veloster N’s main competitors—that I don’t remember having pogo quite like this little Hyundai was. It’s great for the ride when around town and all the obstacles that brings, but it did make me stand up and take notice.
Never mind. To be honest, that’s a nitpick, and proof that this here is a vehicle honed to the point where a nitpick is really all you have left to come up with. The bottom line is that as I drove towards the end of my road, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that cars this analogue – regardless of all the rev matching, Apple CarPlay and drive-mode selection stuff – aren’t all that long for this world, and opportunities to really cane them are becoming fewer and farther between. I itched for the chance to dance my Chuck Taylors across those great aluminum pedals just one last time.
So I turned around.