Style and spunk set Veloster apart

Reader Richard Symmes sent an email a few weeks back with a rant about today’s compact SUVs.

An excerpt: “They all look alike. You could line up any 10 and not be able to tell them apart. As with all cars today, the belt lines are way too high and the windows too short from top to bottom. No wonder you need TV cameras to see when backing up.”

He went on at length, kept his email civil, and wound up extending an invitation to a local cruise night if I happened to live in the area. I did and got to see his all original 1960 Chevy.

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Truth be told, he has a legitimate point. Not only the compact SUVs but also the midsized sedans have similar shapes these days.

So here’s a toast to those who dare to be different, a category that definitely includes today’s test car, the Hyundai Veloster.

The Veloster made its debut as a 2012 model, but it’s the spiritual successor to Hyundai’s Tiburon, which was on the market from 1996-2008. The Tiburon—Spanish for shark—was a car that seemed to be the modern interpretation of Volkswagen’s Karmann Ghia, an economy car with a sporty body.

So it is with the Veloster. Its styling says it should be a tuner’s delight, ready to compete (in sales and performance) with the Volkswagen GTI, Mini Cooper S, Mazdaspeed3, Ford Focus ST, and Honda Civic Si.While Veloster comes up a bit short of that opposition on the performance side, it’s no slouch, and it’s long on styling.

The Veloster buyer seemingly would be someone who wants an economy car that makes a styling statement and has some panache and who might consider several other out-of-the-ordinary vehicles such as the Honda CR-Z or Nissan Juke.

Style-wise, the Veloster isn’t your ordinary hatchback. Up front, there’s a huge front grille that looks as though it’s ready to gobble up the competition. In back, a pair of large circular exhaust outlets exit in the center of the bumper, a styling cue mindful of some of my favorite Ducati sport motorcycles.

It’s also a three-door vehicle (not counting the rear hatch). We’ve seen three-door vehicles before, the 1999 Saturn Coupe, for example. However, the Veloster has a different take on the design. Approach the vehicle from the driver’s side and it looks like a two-door hatch.The driver’s door is long and coupe-like. Approach the car from the right, and it looks like a four-door with two normal-sized doors (though the rear door handle is up by the sloping roofline).

Our test car was the higher level turbo with a six-speed manual transmission.The engine is a 1.6-liter that produces 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.

The electroluminescent gauge cluster contains a feature that tells you what gear you should be in for (we assume) the most fuel efficient operation. Most of the time it was telling us we should have been one or two gears higher than we found enjoyable.

The feature, however, reminded me of the time in my childhood when my dad was doing a friend a favor and driving aVW Beetle to some now-forgotten destination. The Beetle had a lighted arrow to indicate upshifts. He also had grown up with “three on the tree”—three-speed manuals on the steering column, so the Beetle’s four-speed on the floor required some adapting. As he worked the relatively long throw, he said,“This is more like rowing than driving.”

The Veloster’s six speed gearbox has a shorter throw, but the 1.6-liter engine spools up swiftly and requires you to be working the shifter constantly for spirited driving because the small engine runs through its power curve quickly in each gear. Even when you’re pushing it a bit, it remains a fairly thrifty ride. We averaged 33.8 miles per gallon with only a little citytype driving. The Veloster is EPA-rated at 26 mpg (city), 38 (highway), and 30 (combined).

The turbo model has a base price of $22,725 (including destination). Our test car had a bottom line price of $25,320 after adding the Ultimate Package ($2,500) and carpeted mats ($95).The ultimate option added a panoramic sunroof, backup sensors, automatic headlights, and navigations with rearview camera.

Inside, the Veloster’s dashboard layout is Hyundai-intuitive. Perhaps the most notable feature is the oversize aluminum-look grab handles for the driver and passenger doors. They’re rather like the safety rails on a youth bed.

On the road, we found the sport-tuned steering (specific to the turbo model) to be precise while the suspension was noisier and not as refined as we’d have liked, partly the result of the optional 18-inch wheels and low-profile (P215/40R/18) tires.

More than a decade ago, I wrote that the Tiburon was“funky.”The Veloster is its spiritual descendent, certainly a candidate for today’s“King of Funk.”And the automotive world is better for it.