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First drive of the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N: Blowing by Expectations

Sacramento, CA – The folks of Hyundai are calling the new Veloster N the company’s Corner Rascal, which pretty clearly tells you how they want you to perceive the performance version of its little three-door model. The first car to carry the N badge from the manufacturer was made to raise the pulse of its driver, not to break any speed records.

To hear N division head (and former BMW M division boss) Albert Biermann tell it, the Veloster N is an affordable car but it’s also incredibly fun to drive. Countless hours of testing were spent on the Nürburgring track to fine-tune the product so that it could hold its own against the best pocket rockets on the market. I headed to Sacramento, California for the global presentation of Hyundai’s performance car to see if all the effort was worth it.

A car for the road… and the track!
More specifically, I found myself at Thunderhill Raceway, located a 90-minute highway ride from Sacramento, for the initial encounter we would have with the first N creation to hit the North American market. European markets already have the Hyundai i30 N model, which is essentially a spicier version of our Elantra GT (and is fitted with the same powertrain and sits on the same platform).

For this first drive of the Veloster N, the manufacturer planned an itinerary that took us on public roads, on an autocross run and even on the track for some driving at higher speed. In terms of the installations and itineraries we were provided with, and even the choice of roads we took, I salute the event’s organizers. A sporty machine like the Veloster N needs to perform well on the track, but it also has to acquit itself well on the road, in daily-driving situations.

Photo: V.Aubé

To that end, it’s no surprise to find aboard the car a system that adjusts its driving dynamics, via two large powder-blue buttons on the steering wheel. They not only sharpen the powertrain’s responsiveness and make the steering heavier, they make it possible to adapt the suspension to the road surface.

As is usual with this type of functionality, Eco and Normal are the modes you want to ensure a restful ride, while Sport mode adds some rock n roll to the Veloster’s drive. The N mode takes the performance of the model to another level, for starters with a suspension that’s much firmer – so much so in fact that it’s downright unpleasant to drive on a heavily pockmarked road!

The genius move on Hyundai’s part is to include a Custom mode, wherein the driver can adjust each parameter to their liking. Which means you get to enjoy a very sporty configuration without getting all bumped and bruised by a rock-hard suspension.

Also worth noting is a little steering-wheel button with “Rev” on it. It’s designed to allow the driver to imitate the old heel-and-toe manoeuvre without having to do it with their right foot.

Photo: V.Aubé

Only one model for Canada
Unlike our neighbours to the south, who have the option of adding a performance package, Canadian buyers get that package by default. It includes 19-inch alloy wheels, Pirelli tires designed exclusively for the Veloster N, a limited-slip differential with electronic vector control, larger brakes and last but not least, a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine delivering 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque (the base-model American version generates up to 250 hp).

Hyundai Canada is limiting the available colours to a choice of three for the first year on the market: Performance Blue, Chalk White and Phantom Black. The Racing Red-coloured Veloster N can only be bought in the US of A, at least for the moment.

For track fans, the American division is also offering an optional track package, which includes OZ racing wheels on which are mounted Pirelli Trofeo R tires and more-durable brake lining designed for on-circuit driving. At present Hyundai Canada is still looking at whether it will add these options to the catalogue here, but if demand warrants it they may well do so.

Photo: V.Aubé

At the wheel  
So much for the technical stuff. Now it’s on to what really matters, which is how it feels to drive a performance-oriented car like the Veloster N.  Well, Hyundai’s new entrant in the sports car segment feels pretty darn good.

Albert Biermann wanted an affordable and accessible car. In other words, his vision was that any consumer in search of strong driving sensations should have access to the Veloster N. As soon as you engage the clutch pedal, you get pretty quickly that this is not a hard sports car to drive and enjoy. The clutch is light – maybe even a bit too light for my taste – while the manual gearbox is easy to manage even it isn’t super precise, and the steering is light and responsive. The latter, as mentioned, gains considerably in responsiveness and heaviness as you play with the drive settings.

The engine, meanwhile, sounds like no other currently on the market – and that’s great! The active exhaust system expresses itself loudly and proudly when you step off the line, and it gains in decibels when you choose the N mode. The automaker’s engineers did cheat a little by adding to the concert of sounds coming through the audio system’s speakers, but it’s done with the noble goal of adding more adrenaline to the driving experience.

On the road, I found the car to be extremely nimble as it literally stuck to the asphalt when cornering at speed. The absence of all-wheel drive in no way hinders the Veloster N, and the weak torque effect felt on occasion is not unpleasant, in fact it even delivers a welcome dose of honest information on the state of the road surface.

Photo: V.Aubé

I also took part in the autocross part of the itinerary. The small size of the Veloster, along with its light steering and useful Custom mode, meant that the car was able to acquit itself surprisingly well on the course used for the occasion. Moderation was in order, of course, due to the narrow width of the track we drove on.

That left the racetrack, where it’s possible to really push the Veloster N and see what it can do. The Thunderhill Raceway circuit in northern California offers up some challenges that required a small bit of adjusting on our part; a few blind corners and changes in elevation were complicated to get through. But overall, the Veloster N stayed remarkable neutral on its Raceway run.

We should mention that the cars we drove were equipped with the brake linings that are part of the U.S.-only optional package. A Canadian version without those elements might not have resisted quite so long to the abuse laid on them by a horde of automotive journalists.

It’s also clear that the Trofeo R tires would have been our friends on this part of the test drive, but alas we did not have access to them. Still, the Veloster soldiered on for several laps, and I was frankly amazed at the grip the factory-installed tries were able to maintain. The braking, for its part, did start to show signs of fatigue as the exercise progressed. Overall, though, the car performed admirably on the day.

Photo: V.Aubé

Slight disappointment inside, but…
To get to the needed affordable price point – in this case, that was deemed to be $34,999 – Hyundai had to make some concessions. And it’s evidently in the cabin that some of those concessions were made. The abundance of hard plastic on the dashboard and on the doors points back to the modest beginnings of the model, while the upholstery on the seating is of middling quality. I found that the bucket seats didn’t supply enough support for those who might venture onto the track with their Veloster N.

It’s often the case with compact sports cars that the asking price is mainly due to what propels the thing, and not to a refined or high-quality interior, and this makes a lot of sense. In any case, more-supportive sport seats are out there if you really want them, and the quality and quantity of plastic in the cabin has exactly zero influence on the driving capabilities of the car.

The last word
Hyundai, it’s clear, did its homework when creating its first Veloster N edition. Typically for the manufacturer, the sticker price is competitive in the segment, and its performance capabilities are undeniable. There are certainly cars more specifically suited to on-track driving, but the Veloster N is no slouch in that environment. In any case, on the road, the car functions very well, and that’s what really matters. Something tells me that fans of sporty everyday driving will jump on this little Corner Rascal.

Here’s hoping Hyundai Canada changes its current plan to bring in only 200 units per year of the Veloster N for this market…

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2019 Hyundai Veloster N
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2019 Hyundai Veloster N
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Photos:V.Aubé
Photos of the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N