As I’ve written in this space quite a bit in the past few years, Hyundai is really on a roll with interesting and innovative products, from the compact Elantra to the high-end Equus. The brand is coming on strong these days, not unlike the way Toyota and Honda did in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Their latest model is a head-turning coupe called the Veloster. What the heck is a “Veloster,” I wondered, and inquired to Hyundai’s OC-based public relations staff about the origins of the name. Was it some kind of spin on the dinosaur, the Velociraptor, made famous in the Jurassic Park movie franchise? Or was it a playful spin on “velocity,” which evokes thoughts of high-speed travel.
Neither of those, was all I could glean from the mouthpieces at Hyundai Motor America. “It’s just a cool name” is the unofficial company line. Uh, okay, thanks.
Anyway, name origins aside, the Veloster is one slick little hatchback coupe with two doors and a rakish roofline. Oh, wait. There are actually three doors on this car, not counting the hatch at the rear. Cleverly integrated into the passenger side of the car is an extra door to access the back seat from the curb side.
The unusual door configuration kind of sets the tone for what the Veloster is all about. Meant to appeal to a young audience in the same way as Toyota’s Scion brand, the new Hyundai is cutting edge in both design and features, all for a starting price of just under $18,000.
Standard equipment in the interior is a seven inch LCD screen right up high in the dashboard’s center stack. The touchscreen is there to control various functions of things already in the car, like Hyundai’s Blue Link, as well as whatever you might bring into it. It will control your iPhone, iPod, iPad, and presumably iWhateverAppleBringsOutNext. This car is targeted squarely at the wired generation. (Or perhaps “wireless generation” is a better description.)
Beyond just being a rolling docking station for gadgets, the Veloster is also a pretty slick piece of transportation. Its shape is definitely unique, and Hyundai says the design is supposed to evoke thoughts of high-performance motorcycles. The swoops around the body resemble handlebars. The dash vents represent exhaust pipes. And the angle and black surrounds of the windshield look a bit like the tinted face shield of a helmet.
My test car was packed with the two option packages available, one called Tech and the other called Style, and each costing $2,000. Tech gets you things like weather information and stock prices in the dashboard display, and Style gets you…style. Extra frills and things like 18” wheels and a sunroof. One curious thing – you can only get the Tech package on top of the Style package.
Standard on the Veloster is a 6-speed manual transmission, and an advanced 6-speed automatic is available at extra cost. Unfortunately, they’re both connected to a somewhat lackluster engine. The 1.6 liter four that resides under the hood has advanced features like direct injection and variable valve timing, but can only muster a modest 138 horsepower. The further problem is that you have to really rev the engine up to get that kind of power. Off the line the Veloster isn’t too ferocious.
The engine obviously wasn’t selected for its performance, but obviously toward good fuel economy. Official estimates for the Veloster are 28 mpg city and 40 highway with the 6-speed manual transmission. (The automatic picks up one mpg in the city cycle but loses two on the highway.). That magic “40” number for highway driving is great for boasting, but only the most careful drivers will get anywhere near that figure.
As a package, the Veloster has a lot going for it. Striking looks combined with the technology interface should put it on the shopping list of many buyers. Add in low price and fuel efficiency, and Hyundai looks to have a winner on its hands. Again.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz