On the Road Review: Hyundai Veloster R-Spec Turbo

The sporty car ranks have thinned of late, with several automakers opting out of this enthusiast-oriented driving segment. In the small car class, buyers can choose affordable front- or rear-drive coupe models from VW, Mini, Subaru and Toyota that vary in starting price from $19,000 to $26,000. Next up are the traditional pony cars from Ford, Chevy and Dodge, with prices ranging from entry level $25,900 Camaros up to $85,000 Dodge Challenger Demons, while the Corvette, 370Z, F-Type, Boxer and 911 sports car class generally starts in the mid-$50s, with the Nissan the outlier beginning at only $30,000.

However, Hyundai is all in for sporting driving with its second-generation 2019 Veloster on sale now. Featuring multiple trim levels and three distinct engine packages, the Veloster retains its unique three-door body while shifting to a larger, more compliant Elantra fully-independent chassis. And, as expected, pricing begins at only $18,500 for base models with a 2.0-liter 149-hp engine, topping out at only $26,500 for the current Ultimate trim with the 1.6-liter Turbo-four making 201 hp. Coming this fall: Veloster N, the brand’s new performance designation featuring a 275-hp version of the 2.0-liter engine.

Moving from the smaller Ascent design gives the Veloster engineers more latitude with their decided emphasis toward German-style chassis dynamics, which makes perfect sense since much of Hyundai’s chassis team is now being shaped by recruits from BMW and Audi. After a week of leaning on the Veloster R-Spec’s 1.6-liter turbo-engine, this latest coupe “feels” and performs more like a VW GTI, while not eschewing the balance and character often found in the Civic Si.

Lithe and agile, the front-drive Veloster feels stable when pushed — like a GTI. The turbo-engine produces hearty torque and ample thrust running through a slick short-throw six-speed manual. While the motor compares favorably to the GTI, the shifter stacks up nicely versus the Civic Si — top benchmarks each. Viscerally, the turbo-motor’s appeal leaves out the ruckus that the Subaru/Toyota BRZ/86 rear drive coupes generate, while feeling much quicker. The shifter is refined, quick and makes every gear change a snap.

Almost exactly the same size as the GTI, the Veloster R-Spec’s three-door layout affords decent rear seat space for real people — unlike the Subbie/Toyota twins — plus the rear hatchback creates countless cargo-carrying options, again like the VW, and very dissimilar from the smaller trunks affixed to the Subbie/Toyota tandem.

Reflecting its German emphasis again is the Veloster’s interior. Strategic yellow stitching, seat panels and dash accents create a welcome offset to mono-black themes all too often utilized and are deftly rendered in the R-Spec to create the expected sporty impressions that buyers are looking for. The chromed shifter ball, the lightweight pedals, a thick leather-clad steering wheel plus the nicely supported manual seat complete the necessary sporting items. R-Spec also features an 8-inch center-dash info/entertainment touchscreen, upgraded audio with Apple/Android compatibility as well as push-button ignition. Standard safety gear includes Hill-start assist for the manual transmission, LED lighting, forward collision avoidance warning, lane-keeping assist with driver attention warning plus rear-view camera.

Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, giving the chassis the grip needed when you exercise the 201-horsepower. Weighing less than the similarly sized Elantra GT, the Veloster R-Spec feels faster and better able to accept the quick steering inputs that drivers might require. Quieter than most rivals — by a long shot over the two rear-drive coupes mentioned here — the Veloster could, however, use more precise on-center steering feel, as certain pavement surfaces induced a slow bob-and-weave sensation that forces the driver to pay close attention to his heading. And strangely, the recent Ioniq hybrid featured a sporty flat-bottom steering wheel, while the R-Spec lacks this trendy piece.

For those keeping score at home, the Veloster’s three-door layout is passenger-friendly, the new fully independent chassis is much improved over the first-generation version, the cabin is nicely arrayed and content-rich, while R-Spec trim brings vim, vigor and visual excitement to a car that certainly has a unique stance.

R-Spec pricing begins at $22,900; as shown with destination fee our sample was $23,785 — thousands less than the Toyota/Subaru twins, the GTI or Mazda’s Miata. The R-Spec is also $1,200 less than a similar Civic Si.

The Veloster R-Spec proved to be a fun, sporty car. Along with price, feature and performance virtues that exceed several rivals, it’s hard to ignore the Veloster’s place on the sporty car charts.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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