When Hyundai launched the sporty little Veloster last year, the car really turned heads. Rakish and athletic in design, it looks like nothing else on the road, which you can’t say about many cars these days that don’t wear a high price tag.
It also has a lot of practicality, as it’s a 3-door. No, not like two-doors-plus-a-hatch as we sometimes know the term. The Veloster has two doors on the right side, with a clever semi-hidden one to help passengers access the rear seat. And yes, there’s a hatch too, which furthers the car’s versatility.
So it looks interesting, is practical, and even has lots of fun technology available, like Bluetooth integration, Pandora streaming internet radio via your iPhone, and so on. There was just one problem with the Veloster: It didn’t have much power.
The base 1.6 liter engine — and the only one available initially — musters up just 138 horsepower. While that could be considered “adequate” by some people, others who looked to the Veloster as something sporty might have felt let down.
Hyundai’s reasoning for the somewhat weak-kneed power plant was that it would garner good highway fuel economy, giving the brand another entry in its “40 mpg club.” Part of that was marketing, of course, but it was their official drumbeat last year. (Never mind the fact that most buyers of Hyundais or other cars ever actually get the rated figure.)
Relief is now here for those looking for more power, with an optional Veloster model called the Turbo. As its name suggests, it gets a turbocharged engine with 201 horsepower, which is a huge improvement. General drivability is much better, and that highway mpg figure has only been reduced a bit, to 38. (The highway figure further drops to 34 if you choose the automatic transmission over the manual.)
The Veloster Turbo isn’t just a car with a more powerful engine than the non-turbo model. There’s also unique body cladding, a handsome set of 18” wheels, leather sport seats, and of course a more free-breathing exhaust system for the proper racy note.
My test car had the standard 6-speed manual transmission, and what a difference those extra 63 horsepower make. The turbo system is well-mapped to provide smooth power from just off idle all way up to the peak at 6000 rpm. The shift mechanism is fairly linear and precise, and it’s easy to click through the gears as you’re exercising the engine.
Lots of standard features with this model, and there are a few options. One is a combination navigation system and rear-view camera, which I highly recommend. The Veloster’s broad shoulders somewhat hinder visibility out the back, so having the camera is really handy.
The option I don’t really recommend is the panoramic sunroof, unless you’re well under six feet tall. It’s a headroom thief, and I found that I couldn’t really get comfortable behind the wheel because of it. It may be a problem finding a Veloster Turbo that has the navigation system and not the sunroof. The example I drove had them bundled as an “Ultimate Package” along with a few other goodies.
There’s another interesting option for the Veloster Turbo, and it marks the first time a recent trend has made its way down to a car in this price class. For an extra $1,000, you can select Matte Gray paint. Yes, the paint isn’t shiny. It’s dull, on purpose. Matte paint colors started out on high-end cars, and some customizers have used it. But to find it on a car for under $25,000 is pretty revolutionary.
But you have to be really certain you’re willing to put up with owning a car with this special matte paint. Hyundai gives buyers a detail kit and explicit instructions about caring for it. No commercial car washes, and don’t dare try to wax it in a conventional manner. Doing either could permanently ruin the paint.
The Veloster Turbo starts at $21,950, or $4500 more than the base Veloster, though it comes with many more standard features. Add another $1,000 for the automatic transmission.
The title on Hyundai’s own press release summed up this car best. “Hyundai injects street credibility into Veloster with new turbocharged engine.” Indeed, they did.
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, Facebook: ABC7Dave