2012 Hyundai Veloster
Vehicle styling is about as subjective a subject as they come, but it's impossible to discuss the 2012 Veloster without addressing its looks and oddball design.
Up front, the Veloster's face is a complex mix-up of overlapping panels, large windswept headlights (with LED accent piping, of course), and hood vents. There's a lot going on here and the overall appearance is of a wild-eyed, buck-toothed cybernetic chipmunk. This is not the Veloster's most flattering angle, but if I'm honest, I still like it.
Working your way back down the driver's side of the car, the Veloster's low flat roof and deeply creased door shout "sport," and the wide rear fenders and high beltline echo that pretense. If the Veloster has a best angle, it's the rear quarter, where the center exhaust and insect-like rear lights enhance the visual width.
As you make your way back toward the front of the car on the passenger side, you may miss the Veloster's greatest trick and most subtle styling cue. Go ahead, take a second look at the passenger side doors, I'll wait. That's right, I say doors because while the driver's side of this hatchback only has one door, there are two shorter doors on the passenger side. Hyundai has done a darn good job hiding this third door by integrating its handle into the nook where the C-pillar meets the glass. In fact, most passengers and observers didn't even notice the asymmetry--including the CNET parking attendant who sat in the car every day for a week!
Why would you want an extra door on one side of the car? For starters, it helps in getting into and out of the rear seat (which offers a reasonable amount of leg room), while still giving the most important passenger--the driver--the largest possible opening to enter and exit. Additionally, the two smaller doors protrude less than the one long door, allowing the Veloster to be parked closer to obstruction on one side (for example, parallel parking against a wall in an alley) without seriously hindering the movement of these doors. Plus, it's just sort of cool.
Under its quirky skin, the Veloster is remarkably similar to Hyundai's other compact hatchback, the Accent. It features the same 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine that puts power to the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual gearbox. However, as we'll soon learn, the Veloster's manually shifted variant is not limited to the most basic, no-tech trim level.
Additionally, the Veloster is built on the same platform and features a similar MacPherson strut suspension on its front axle and torsion beam linked rear axle. A Honda Civic killer, this is not. In the pursuit of sportiness, the Veloster's suspension has been stiffened at all four corners, its track widened by 3 inches, and its wheelbase stretched by about the same. At the same time, overall vehicle height is lower by 2 inches. The result is a vehicle that appears to be slung wide and low across its optional 18-inch wheels and that should hug the road more tightly and deliver more driving thrills than the more pedestrian Accent.
Unfortunately, it simply doesn't--at least not appreciably. Although we were able to appreciate the Veloster's claims of improved road holding over smooth asphalt, the vehicle's engine just wasn't able to produce enough thrust to actually make driving the Veloster a truly enjoyable experience. The engine didn't generate enough thrust to accelerate from a stop without either bogging the engine or running up the revs and slipping the clutch for the first few feet. Once in motion, there's simply not a tremendous amount of thrust generated until high up in the powerband. Unfortunately, each shift drops the revs just below that meaty power sweet spot, making it difficult to keep the engine boiling during enthusiastic driving. Tackling a winding back road becomes an exercise in momentum conservation and speed management--which I'll admit can be fun in its own right--but around town the bright orange hatchback got its wide-bodied rear end handed to it by Toyota Yarises and Prii at stoplight after stoplight. How embarrassing!
And while the suspension was capable of delivering joy on a smooth and sweeping back road bend, around town, amid the potholes and uneven pavement of San Francisco's streets, about the only thing the Veloster's stiffer suspension seemed to accomplish was to annoy our editors with its jarringly stiff ride and tendency to wander over midcorner bumps. This is likely because of the inherent limitations of that torsion beam rear axle, but those huge 18-inch color-match wheels with low-profile tires likely also contribute to the harshness of the ride.
While I was alternately playing fuel economy games (more on this later) and trying to wring something resembling a fun drive out of the Veloster, the hatchback's engine was sipping fuel at a rate of 24.6 mpg. That falls significantly below the EPA's estimates of 28 city mpg and 40 highway, but if experience has taught me anything about three Car Tech editors sharing a car that claims a sporty pedigree, it's that our observed fuel economy is usually something of a worst-case scenario.
If I had to guess why the Veloster's performance impressed me so much less than the similar Accent, I'd blame three factors: more weight, oversize wheels, and transmission gearing. The Veloster doesn't output any more power than the Accent, but it does weigh 150 pounds more. Additionally, it's got larger, heavier wheels. Larger wheels look great, but they also change the final drive of the vehicle, resulting in a taller final drive, which hurts performance at low- to midrange engine speeds. Factor in the increased rolling resistance of the wider tires and you have car that not only weighs more, but also has to work harder to get going. It appears that Hyundai attempted to address this change in the final drive by adjusting the gear ratios of the manual transmission, but what the Veloster need is simply more power. Fortunately, a 1.6-liter 200-horsepower turbocharged variant is due for the 2012 calendar year. I think that will be the Veloster variant to watch.
New BlueLink tech package
The Veloster builds on Hyundai's already much-praised cabin technology package with the addition of its BlueLink telematics system. Think of it as Hyundai's version of OnStar and you'll have an idea of what to expect here. Depending on the tier of service selected, BlueLink can include features such as emergency crash response, remote start and door unlock, or online Eco-Coach.
At the base level, there's the BlueLink Assurance package, which includes automatic collision notification; emergency SOS assistance; roadside assistance; and monthly vehicle reports. Stepping up to the Essentials package adds a variety of features, including remote door unlock; horn/lights; and start, location sharing, geofencing, stolen vehicle slowdown and immobilization, and vehicle diagnostics, which can be accessed online or via a smartphone app. The top-tier Guidance package adds BlueLink turn-by-turn navigation with traffic and voice search for destinations, as well as an Eco-Coach function that helps drivers to maximize fuel economy. These packages will run you $79, $179, and $279 annually, respectively; three months of trial to the full package (and an additional three months of Assurance level) is included with a new purchase.
Beneath the BlueLink connectivity suite is an updated version of Hyundai's technology package. Our fully loaded Veloster featured a 7-inch navigation system, which stored its maps on solid-state memory and imported traffic and weather data via its SiriusXM Radio connection. The maps themselves are as good-looking as they ever were and now feature 3D view for people who don't like basic 2D maps.
Spoken turn-by-turn directions and audio sources are piped through a 450-watt Dimension premium audio system with a total of eight drivers, including a center fill and a powered subwoofer. Audio quality is good, but is probably best described as "good for this class." I did like that the system's audio settings included a trio of Dynamic EQ modes for enhancing bass and treble or simulating surround from stereo sources, but I didn't like that getting to the audio controls required so many button presses. I'll come back to this point in a bit.
Available audio and video sources include a single-disc CD slot with MP3 capability, standard USB and auxiliary audio connectivity, and an optional iPod connection that bridges the aux and USB ports into a 30-pin dock connector, the aforementioned SiriusXM Radio connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, and an AV pigtail that breaks the 3.5mm auxiliary input into a trio of RCA connections, which I was able to find a fantastically fun use for.
In addition to the new BlueLink menus, the entire Hyundai infotainment system has undergone an overhaul before its appearance in the Veloster's dashboard. A new Info menu is home to an Eco-Coach feature that monitors your fuel economy and a game called Blue Max. More options are available for tweaking under the Settings menu, and the map screen gives users access to more information than ever, including graphic lane guidance, previews of services (such as lodging and fuel) at upcoming freeway exits, and so much more.
However, I'd say that perhaps Hyundai's interface is venturing dangerously close now into the realm of TMI (too much information). Performing a simple task like adjusting the stereo's bass now requires about five button presses and takes you through the new Settings menu, which has about a dozen buttons that all look more or less the same at a glance. Similarly, it took a concerted effort to find the option on the map screen to unmute the spoken turn-by-turn directions; as it turns out, there's a small unlabeled slide-out menu on the bottom of the map screen. Hyundai's system used to be simple, but smart and for day-to-day usage, it still is. Just don't try to go digging through that Settings menu while driving; it's a bit of a mess.
Two very different driving games
I mentioned that our Hyundai Veloster came with an RCA pigtail for connecting an external video source when parked. It was also equipped with a 115-volt AC power connection in the center console, which gave me the great idea of hooking up an Xbox 360 to the hatchback and doing some driving in Forza Motorsport 4 while parked. With all of the connections made, I powered on the gaming console and was greeted by the game's title screen and within minutes I was piloting a Hyundai Genesis Coupe around the Hockenheimring in Germany. The 7-inch screen is a bit small for serious gaming and its colors a bit washed-out when displaying auxiliary video. However, the Dimension audio system sounded fantastic, filling the car with virtual engine noise, tire squeals, and crunching metal.
The Veloster may not be a driver's car, but there's more than one way to have fun with it. I wouldn't recommend that you drag your Xbox or PlayStation into the car on a regular basis, but it's nice to have the option to pull over and kill some time on a road trip or at a Hyundai owners meet.
When the car is in motion, drivers can play a different kind of game with their Hyundai's infotainment system, with a game called Blue Max. Accessible through the Info menu, Blue Max presents the driver with meters for fuel economy and speed. Pressing the game's round start button starts a 10-minute timer. The driver is awarded points for maintaining a high instantaneous fuel economy as the time counts down; at the end of each round, the score is recorded. I liked that the game challenges drivers to enjoy the Veloster in a different way; I made dozens of attempts over the week to continually improve my score.
The disconnect between the Veloster's appearance and its performance was disconcerting for the first few days of testing. But once I stopped treating it like a sports car and started driving it like stylish city car that it is, I found that I was able to better enjoy the ride--as long as I made sure to dodge any potholes.
The Veloster's eye-catching style and specifications bring to mind the non-S Mini Cooper. Granted, the Mini's BMW tuned suspension would run circles around the Hyundai, but you'd pay quite a bit for the privilege to do so.
The 2012 Veloster starts at $18,060 for a base model with the six-speed manual transmission, including the destination charges. That gets you BlueLink, Bluetooth, and pretty much the full suite of available audio options. People who don't want to fiddle with three pedals can select the Veloster's available six-speed EcoShift dual-clutch transmission (DCT) for an additional $1,250. Step up to the Style package for $2,000 to add the Dimension premium audio system, larger 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, and more. Finally, add 2,000 more greenbacks for the navigation package, which adds navigation, the 115-volt AC power connection, a rearview camera with proximity sensors, keyless entry with push-button start, and different 18-inch wheels with colored inserts. Add that all up and you reach an as-tested price of $22,060. The closest apples-to-apples Mini Cooper that we could spec rings up at over $4,000 more expensive and even then, the Hyundai just barely edges the Cooper out with better tech.
On the other side of the coin, drivers looking to save a few bucks, but still get good tech or compact car utility should consider the Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit, which are slightly smaller cars, but are also a few thousand bucks cheaper when similarly equipped.
|Model||2012 Hyundai Veloster|
|Power train||1.6-liter GDI, FWD, six-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||28 city, 40 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||24.6 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes|
|Disc player||Single-slot CD|
|MP3 player support||Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input with AV pigtail, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, optional iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM Radio|
|Audio system||8-speaker, 450-watt Dimension audio system including subwoofer and center fill|
|Driver aids||Available rearview camera with proximity sensor|
|Price as tested||$22,060|