Car enthusiasts have always had a soft spot for hot hatchbacks.
They’re three or five-door hatchbacks that are practical, affordable, and best of all, are fun to drive. More often than not, they’re front-wheel drive and don’t necessarily offer the most straight-line speed. They are, however, a blast in the corners, and drivers can put a smile on their faces while driving at anywhere between two and ten tenths of the car’s limits. The original in this category was the Volkswagen GTI in the 1970s, and today, the four-door (three-plus-one?) 2019 Hyundai Veloster N is the newest entry into this segment.
Considering that the last-generation Veloster was general anaesthesia in everything that it did, our expectations are high for this new one. “N” is Hyundai’s new performance department, and we’d definitely say its snazzy Performance Blue colour makes a great first impression. Going beyond skin deep reveals a 2.0L turbocharged and direct fuel injected inline-four making an eyebrow-raising 275 horsepower at 6,000RPM, paired with a very useful 260 lb-ft. of torque between 1,450RPM and 4,700RPM.
Only one transmission option is available, and purists will be happy to know that it’s a six-speed manual. It has automatic rev matching that can be switched on and off, and shifter action is free of slop and engages with a high-quality feel. The clutch, while a little awkward to engage at first in city driving, is generally good in any other setting. There’s some real trickery going on in the Veloster’s gearbox, and this includes an electronically controlled limited slip differential (e-LSD). As opposed to the more mechanical units seen in competing products (Honda Civic Si, Type R, and 2019 and newer Volkswagen GTI), more precise vectoring can happen thanks to on-demand electronic control.
What’s also curious is the two final drive ratios depending on the gear selected: first, second, and reverse make use of a 4.333 reduction, and third through sixth uses a taller 3.250. In translation, this means that the ratios are nice and short for getting off the line, yet fuel economy doesn’t suffer too badly when taking it easier: city consumption is rated for 10.6L/100KM, and highway economy is rated for 8.3L/100KM. Observed economy after a week that involved more highway driving came back at 8.8L/100KM. Premium fuel with an octane of 91 or higher is required, and tank capacity is 50 litres.
Now, for the real meat and potatoes: the Hyundai Veloster N is a fun piece of kit to wheel around. Steering is heavily weighted, the brakes are responsive, if not grabby, and the e-LSD works wonders to keep the nose pointed when putting the hammer down on corner exit. It feels almost like a good all-wheel drive system in dry weather, and there’s only a hint of torque steer that’s noticeable during hard acceleration in first and second gear. Otherwise, the historical limitations and perceptions of front-wheel drive are smashed to smithereens with the Veloster N.
Relative to rivals like the Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen GTI (reviewed here), and Subaru WRX, the Veloster N is a sharper experience. Turn-in, overall grip, and general aggressiveness is turned up a notch, and you can practically shoot for the higher entries in the market – the Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R, Ford Focus RS, and Subaru WRX STI (reviewed here). The 19″ wheels wrapped in Pirelli summer tires hold on tight, and it’s safe to say that the N falls in between the hotter side of these two ends of the sport compact spectrum.
For those techies who like to tweak things, the N driving modes are configurable in an umpteen number of ways: steering firmness, damper firmness, and exhaust sound can be set at three levels each, and the e-LSD and automatic rev matching can be set at different aggression levels as well. For best results in spirited street driving, having full SPORT+ on steering, exhaust, e-LSD, and rev match functions keeps things lively. The exhaust in the loudest mode can drone at highway speeds, but when giving it the beans, the warble and deceleration pops are extremely satisfying.
On the other hand, the suspension in full soft keeps ride quality manageable, which may be a bit of a generous statement: the Veloster N’s main trade-off is its ride quality. It’s reasonably firm in its softest setting, and every little divot and pockmark on the road can be felt in the wildest SPORT+. It’s considerably firmer than a Civic Si or GTI, and even the Civic Type R and Golf R are more civilized for daily driving. Body control is where the Veloster N really loses out, and there’s a lot of bobbing and pitching of the back end over bigger bumps. More time spent on suspension calibration and a move to a smaller 18-inch wheel could potentially do wonders here.
Inside the Hyundai Veloster N, Performance Blue seatbelts are an immediately noticable touch, and the steering wheel “N” buttons to change performance settings are finished in the same tone. Otherwise, things are generally the same as other trims of Veloster – a no-nonsense design that’s ergonomically good and put together with good fit and finish. The use of numerous easy to reach buttons augments the 8-inch touch-screen and helps to minimize distraction, and Hyundai’s infotainment menu system is intuitive and better to use compared to most others. The inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity helps, too.
With the extra rear door on the passenger side, practicality is better than most two-door hot hatches. That said, with the Civic, Golf, and WRX variants all packing two rear doors on both sides, it’s a bit of a wonder why the Veloster doesn’t become a five-door, aside from tradition. Rear seat passengers will do almost as good as the others, and those up front get good bolstering that isn’t too firm or unforgiving for larger-bodied drivers. For those counting cargo, a full set of wheels and tires can be accommodated with the second row folded down. By the numbers, the Veloster N is good for 565 and 1,261 litres (19.9 and 44.5 cubic feet) with the rear seats up or folded, respectively.
For those of you who want to get into a Veloster N for yourselves, prices start at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $34,999. The Performance Blue paint job is at no extra cost (why would you get anything else?), but Phantom Black is $200 extra. No further options are offered other than your standard array of dealer-installed accessories. Included at this one-and-only price are heated front seats, 8-speaker Infinity audio, single zone automatic climate control, a heated leather wrapped steering wheel, and LED headlights. Of note, there are no driver assist safety features available, meaning that there are no forward collision systems, lane keep assist, and blind spot monitoring.
As a car that’s attracted a lot of online hype, the Performance Blue 2019 Hyundai Veloster N is also one that matches it with attention in the streets. People noticed the eye-catching colour matched with the somewhat love-it or hate-it styling, and often gave it more than a second look. It has the performance and gusto to match, and will be a very good companion on a curvy backroad, local autocross, or full-on road course; we’d love to get the chance to try an N with the latter two. It’s a hot hatch that almost does it all, with the exception of ride quality that could be improved without sacrificing performance too much. It’s priced aggressively and right in the middle of all the action, and if this is what we can expect to see from Hyundai’s N division, it commands our attention and respect.