Auto reviews the 2020 Hyundai Veloster N.
Two years almost to the day after my first encounter with Korean automaker Hyundai’s most advanced sports car, I had occasion to take the wheel of the 2020 Hyundai Veloster N on Canadian soil – well, road. Unfortunately, this test drive took place on roads in and around the greater Montreal area and not on a closed circuit, where the little N is at its most comfortable expressing itself to its fullest.
While there’s no arguing that the track is its most flattering environment, the Veloster N was also designed to be driven twelve months a year, winter and summer, even though we all know roads in our country that will make driving most unpleasant when a car is equipped with a concrete-hard suspension like this one’s. The good news is that the Veloster N's electronic adjustments allow for a slightly more tolerable ride. Slightly. I'll come back to this later.
What's certain is that the Veloster N is part of an endangered species. Affordable performance cars are becoming increasingly rare as the calendar flips to 2021. In fact, starting with the 2021 model-year, the Veloster N is the one and only Veloster available on the market - the other two versions are leaving us after 2020. And even this variant's survival could be due mainly to Hyundai not wanting to have all its marketing efforts regarding the newly created N performance division go for naught.
On the road to extinction?
Sadly, we shouldn’t be too be surprised if the Korean giant pulls the plug on this 275-hp Veloster bomb once the other N-branded offerings wash ashore in North America. It could take a few years before the Elantra N, Kona N, and others are all implanted here, but once they are it might be curtains for the Veloster N.
While we wait for the dual-clutch...
The addition of a dual-clutch transmission was inevitable, firstly because Hyundai has already been relying on this technology for a number of years, but also because nowadays such a solution is necessary to appeal to a wider audience. But it didn’t happen this year- the new 8-speed unit will make its debut on the 2021 version of the Veloster N. But until we get this component that will potentially increase the price of the car, the subcompact comes standard with a good old 6-speed manual gearbox... and even an old-fashioned handbrake for controlled skidding!
About that manual gearbox, let's just say that it adds a touch of forced-but-joyful engagement between driver and car. The Veloster N’s handling is relatively precise, while the clutch is not as heavy as in an American muscle car... fortunately!
Is it the best manual transmission in the industry? The answer is a resounding no, but the brand's engineers are to be congratulated for producing this transmission, which I think is the most precise in the brand's history. Hyundai has never been considered one of the best in this regard, so progress is welcome.
Thanks to the electronics
Thanks to the two blue buttons on the spokes of the sport steering wheel, you can quickly change the character of the car. Not surprisingly, the Eco and Normal modes were used very little during my week-long test drive. The Sport mode is ideal for short city jaunts, while you are warned that the N mode is pure madness unless you have access to freshly paved streets. The suspension is simply too stiff, while the sound of the exhaust system is wonderful... for the driver. It may be a little less so for the surrounding neighborhood.
All of that is why the Custom mode is perfect for all conditions; the driver can choose the intensity of the different settings. Thus I was able to continue to terrorize the pedestrians in my neighborhood by multiplying the downshifts (each of which comes with a bang that puts a smile on driver’s face, guaranteed), without suffering from overly firm suspension adjustments. The N-mode should - unless you're a sadomasochist - be reserved for closed-circuit sessions, where the Veloster N can really let its freak flag fly.
An "inexpensive" interior
The Veloster N reminds me of many of our current pocket rockets on the market... and even a few that are no longer available. Recall, for example, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, which was available until 2015 and was a formidable performance machine that sold at a high price, but the cheap plastic dashboard of which betrayed its modest origins. It's much the same thing with the Subaru WRX STI and even the Golf R, although these two are frankly better constructed than the defunct Mitsubishi.
The tie that binds these little 250-hp+ brutes is that everything that justifies the rather hefty price tag is pretty much out of sight, under the hood or even under the body.
The Veloster N is no exception to this unwritten rule even though, I must admit, it does better than some when it comes to interior quality. Still, the sport seats – which are not wrap-around enough in my humble opinion - are covered with generic fabric, and "economy"-grade plastic covers the door panels and centre console. It's easy to see the car's low-budget origins.
The driving position is very close to perfection, which can only be achieved with a power-adjustable driver's seat. As expected, the space reserved for back-seat passengers or even luggage is pretty stingy. That said, it's actually better than in the first Veloster, which was based on the Hyundai Accent's platform (rest assured, that is no longer the case).
Behind the wheel
We're currently experiencing one of the most significant shifts in automotive history, with electric mobility on everyone's lips, even those of Hyundai's big brass. But the simplicity and efficiency of this Veloster N reassure me regarding the passion driving enthusiasts can still manifest, and regarding automakers’ ability to respond to that. Hyundai, by insisting on keeping a car as impractical as the Veloster N in its lineup, is proving that cars can be fun to drive every day.
The Veloster N is a blend of the traditional automobile – by which I mean those that stood out in the 1980s and 90s, those sporty compacts like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Honda Civic Si - and technologically advanced modern cars with their touchscreens, their drive modes and, like in this instance, their limited slip differentials with torque vector control.
The last word
I love this thing that I liken to a stick of dynamite on wheels. Acceleration is electrifying, steering is precise and the handling of the manual gearbox only adds to the fun over time. The sound it produces is A1, though if you feel like driving discreetly, just look at the two powder-blue buttons on the steering wheel. There are some faults with it, but for driving pleasure, the Veloster N is a first-in-class car. Long live this odd little duck, even as I acknowledge the likelihood that its days among us are numbered. Fortunately, the N philosophy will remain!
Its unique design
The astonishing driving pleasure
Its "affordable" price of $35,663 (before preparation fees)
We like less
Just too uncomfortable (in N mode)
The quality of certain materials inside