GTI HUNTER

Hyundai Veloster N Review: A Very Worthy and Affordable Hot Hatch


October 31, 2018 Cars By Photo by Eric Adams
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Hyundai has dabbled in road rockets before, most notably with the nice but weakly styled Tiburon sports car. Now it brings is ascendant N package to the United States with the new Veloster. It’s a fast little machine that’s seriously engineered to be driven hard, and to deliver considerable value for the modest investment. It’s a car you can have fun with, from a brand that younger performance enthusiasts might have forgotten about.

The Good: There’s a lot to love here: the six-speed manual transmission with rev-matching, the variable exhaust note, the adjustable chassis control and the launch control. But most importantly is the legitimately respectable — and safe — track handling. It’s a blast on the track and the street. It’s also got crisp lines and cool design touches to set it apart from the standard Veloster without looking like it fell of the Fast & Furious prop trailer.

Who It’s For: The Hyundai Veloster N is overwhelmingly targeted toward younger import-tuner enthusiasts who want to be able to show up for track days but still go to work and take it to the mall. It’s an affordable car — notably one that’s engineered for continued affordability — but it delivers much more than you might expect in spite of this.

Watch Out For: If you’re expecting a truly off-the-charts acoustic performance, don’t get your hopes up too high. The exhaust note is perfectly well tuned and aggressive — in N-mode the ignition timing changes to ensure that you get more crackly feedback at the right time — but you have to work to hear it inside the cabin while driving. Of the sensations I experienced on the track and in some brisk street driving, acoustics was the least memorable — which is honestly exactly how you want it.

Alternatives: The world of performance compacts is the knottiest of auto subcultures. You can build your own, essentially, out of anything, really, simply by upgrading parts. Or buy right out of the box. The most oft-spoken competitors would be the Volkswagen GTI at the lower end of the price range, starting at $26,415; and the Ford Focus RS, which enters the picture at a hefty $41,120; and the Subaru WRX, which ranges from $27,195 to $41,395 for the legendary STI trim.

Review: Thunderhill Raceway, located about an hour north of Sacramento, California, is a fantastic gem: fast, packed with surprises, and blessed with terrain challenges that match the rolling countryside around it and give the famed Laguna Seca Corkscrew, not all that far away, a run for its money. Testing the Veloster N here and on the roads that surround it was a unique thrill.

Of course, it was only a thrill because the car itself could handle the challenges. Hyundai describes the N as a “corner rascal,” and while a bit of a snicker-inducing term, it’s pretty accurate. For starters, they produced an appropriately stiff structure and a suspension that reacts immediately to every twist to keep the car flat, elevating the “roll center” in the front and lowering it in the rear to enhance mechanical traction — or the role of the suspension in handling performance. But they also made it all accessible to those who want to get the most out of the car but who may not have the experience just yet.

This overwhelmingly comes via the N’s excellent dynamic response, specifically making it predictable and stable so noobs don’t embarrass themselves — or worse — at track days, yet also tight enough to raise the eyebrows of veteran drivers. Other measures they took to achieve this include a precisely modulate clutch — the car is only available with a manual transmission, thank heaven — that allows the driver to sense the engagement readily without snapping their foot off. That’s attached to a transmission with a short-throw shifter that snaps precisely into each gear and rev-matching, both of which provide the kind of feedback and quickness you need on a track. (For those who prefer to heel/toe their way around the turns, you can disable the rev-matching feature.) It is a front-drive car, of course, so there is some torque-steer present, given that all the power goes through the same wheels that steer the car. During a briefing before our drive, the company said they deliberately left some of that in to enhance the feeling of power on the road, going so far as to describe it as “a feature, not a problem.” That’s a bit of a stretch, but we kind of see the point. To be generous about it, having a little bit of uncertainty in the drive can actually enhance the experience. A bit.

The car also has a better-balanced engine, with new bushings to ensure that the powertrain movement doesn’t throw you, and well-cooled brakes to keep them going longer. Notably, they didn’t go for drilled Brembo brakes, as they’re generally too expensive, but instead engineered them in-house, which keeps the replacement prices low as you rack up the harder miles on the track.

The net of all this is a car that you can push much harder than you might expect. At Thunderhill, the two blind crests that are the hallmarks of the track — both of which arc menacingly to the right just as you’re going over — would ordinarily cause front-drive racers to go a bit weak in the knees, but the Veloster N took them brilliantly, enabling me to go through faster and faster each time. I did have one or two moments of instability in those spots, as the car’s weight came off at the vertical apex of the hill, but it landed solidly and with nary a wiggle to show for it. It was both fun and hairy, which is a great combination of sensations on a track.

On the street, the N is all about pushing and maintaining your speed, and whipping back and forth along the deserted country roads of inland California was in some ways even more fun than the track. The car had ample power in reserve — you can get it with 275 horsepower or 250, though I have no idea why you’d opt for the latter — allowing you to keep climbing through the tach and the speedometer as much as you dare. It was just as exhilarating, and proof that Hyundai did its job well with this carefully crafted and thoughtfully conceived little machine.

Verdict: Last year, the purest, least adulterated fun I had in any of the vehicles I drove — and that includes a Bugatti Chiron and about a dozen other supercars — was in the Honda Civic Type-R, a mean, angry little track-ready monster. I’m not saying it’s better than those other cars, but it was just the most low-stress/high-reward, tossable, silly fun I had all year. This year, the winner of that title goes to the Veloster N. It’s perhaps not surprising that they’re both in the same category, but it is a bit surprising that Hyundai coughed up such a solid and sophisticated champ that still feels a bit like a toy, in the right way.

What Others Are Saying:

• “In order to provide the full touring-car-for-the-road effect, special attention was paid to the exhaust note. We’re not just talking about special baffling, either – though there’s that, too – in N mode the ignition timing changes just so you can get more pop-pop-pop on the overrun. N mode is the most hardcore of the four drive modes (along with Eco, Normal and Sport; there’s actually five if you include N-Custom) on offer; so hardcore, in fact, that it gets its own steering-wheel-mounted activation button.” — Dan Heyman, AutoTrader

• “Performance cars have never been Hyundai’s specialty in the U.S. The Genesis Coupe couldn’t keep its spot on the roster; the Veloster struggles to sell a thousand units a month. But the Veloster N is the product to create new believers, and it absolutely deserves a place at the hot hatch table.” — Jonathon Ramsey, The Drive

• “The Veloster N is wildly fun on the street and able to deliver serious lap performance on the track, all without giving up much if any of the civility and usability that makes standard Velosters great everyday-drivers. It’s neither a fun street car that falls apart on a circuit, nor is it an intense track-day toy that abuses you on your commute. Most of all, the Veloster is a strong endorsement that the fledgling N division knows how to build one seriously fun machine.” — Jake Holmes, Roadshow

Key Specs

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual with tunable rev-matching
Horsepower: 250 (275 optional)
Torque: 260 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 28 mph combined
Price: $28,000 (est.) with Stanard Package; $30,000 (est.) with Performance Package

Hyundai hosted us and provided this product for review.

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