2019 Hyundai Veloster N first drive review: Dial N for Nürburgring

Hyundai inaugurated its own performance division, N, in 2015, and this Veloster is the first US-market car to result from the go-fast team; the similar i30 N hatchback has been on sale in Europe for about a year. The Hyundai Veloster N builds on the new, second-gen version of the automaker's funky hatchback with more power, more grip and more excitement. And if you're not convinced about the bona fides of a go-fast Hyundai, note that the "N" branding was chosen not only to reference the company's Namyang, South Korea global research and development center, but also for the fact that all of the division's cars are tested and proven at the Nürburgring.

Turbocharge and add sticky tires

Your Hyundai Veloster N experience will vary a little bit depending on whether you pick the standard model or opt for the Performance package. As the Performance model is the only version available for my test drive, it's the one I'll focus on here. Its version of the 2.0-liter inline-four engine is boosted by a twin-scroll turbocharger to 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque (non-Performance cars make the same torque figure but 25 fewer horsepower). A six-speed manual is the only transmission choice. Using the built-in launch control, Hyundai says the car will get to 62 miles per hour in 6.1 seconds.

Handling upgrades begin with reinforced strut-tower mounts, extra welds around the hatch opening and side sills and extra under-chassis braces. Engineers worked to stiffen all the suspension components too, which will reduce toe and camber changes under severe cornering. The standard tires on the Performance pack model are grippy 235/35-series Pirelli P-Zeros on 19-inch wheels. An electronically controlled limited-slip differential is included to help fight torque steer and understeer.

Also included is adaptive suspension damping, with various damping curves depending on which of the car's several drive modes you select. Moreover, the suspension uses five G-force sensors to help reduce roll, dive and squat by selectively adjusting each shock absorber.

Those drive modes are collected under what Hyundai whimsically calls the N Grin Control System, selected via two buttons on the steering wheel. The left-hand button, marked Drive Mode, allows for picking Normal, Eco or Sport, while the right-hand button wears a checkered flag and activates the intense N mode or the N Custom mode, wherein drivers can select their own configuration for the powertrain, suspension, steering, differential and exhaust noise. A single REV button on the wheel also allows for turning on the electronic rev-match feature.

Even on the Performance model, the Veloster N does not use exotic brakes from a supplier like Brembo. Rather, they're existing calipers and rotors from the Kia K5 (aka Optima) parts bin, albeit with unique pads, a move Hyundai notes helped keep the car's cost down. Not that the specs are anything to sniff at, with 13.6-inch front discs gripped by two-piston calipers and 12.4-inch discs with single-piston calipers in back. Plus, naturally, red paint and N logos.

The N brand's defining colors are Performance Blue, as seen all over the bodywork, and Active Red, as seen highlighting the fascia and side skirts.

Hyundai

The final piece of the pie is upgraded bodywork, which in addition to giving the Hyundai Veloster N its eye-popping looks, is also functional. The gaping mesh grille chills the intercooler and radiator; front-fascia ducts funneling air to the brakes and the rear wing helps contribute to a modest amount of downforce. The car's aero bits are not set up, Hyundai says, for the all-out fastest lap times, but instead to flatter (and keep safe) amateur drivers by ensuring the Veloster N is stuck to the road at all speeds.

The standard, non-Performance-pack version of the Hyundai Veloster N is still set to be a performer, but it'll have just 250 horsepower, won't feature the limited-slip differential, rolls on 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and uses smaller brakes. Its steering and suspension are also retuned to compensate for the tires and lack of LSD. Frankly, if you're never planning to track your Veloster N, this more affordable model will probably be more than capable enough -- though I'm looking forward to getting behind the wheel at a later date just to be sure.

Hitting the Green Hell

How fitting, given the N brand's focus on the famous track, that my first experience with the Veloster N is blasting around the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The wild circuit puts the car through its paces with fast corners, slow corners, bumpy corners, smooth corners and plenty of elevation changes.

The Veloster N is immediately quick, surging away from the staging lanes in a way that feels as seat-of-your-pants fast as its competition. The turbo delivers big power right up toward redline, so the car just pulls and pulls. The auto rev-match system is irreproachable, though the pedals are nicely spaced for DIY heel-toe work. With its not-too-close gate spacing and excellent mechanical feel, it's impossible to pick the wrong gear from the six-speed transmission.

The triangular LED brake light is inspired by racing cars. Note dual exhausts, rather than the center-exit exhaust on the lesser Veloster Turbo.

Hyundai

So too is it seemingly impossible to upset the Veloster N's chassis. The adaptive suspension happily soaks up bumps or quick line adjustments, while massive grip from the P-Zero tires means I never feel like I even approach their limits through corners. And thanks to the tires and differential, I can pile on the power as early as I want out of a bend without understeer or unruly tire spin. The whole result is a car that goes around a track really quickly with just the right balance of ease and excitement for the driver: I'm having fun and never feel like I'm fighting the car.

Perhaps most impressive is the brake performance. Not only is stopping power huge, but the pedal delivers reassuringly short travel and firm feel -- even after the car has pounded a half-dozen laps around the challenging track already, attesting to how well the cooling ducts work.

With the car in the N setting, the exhaust and sound synthesizer are in their loudest modes, and the former delivers crackles and snaps on overruns thanks to engine programming that deliberately pulls ignition timing. So the Veloster N sounds exciting and racy and thrilling, not just from behind the wheel but also as a bystander when other drivers blast past.

If there's anything to criticize about track performance, it's that the modestly bolstered seats don't prevent me for sliding around a bit against the seatbelt in fast bends. The engine note, though wild, isn't all that distinct when approaching redline, so it helps to watch the white-yellow-red shift lights. And though never harsh or punishing, the ride certainly is stiff and bouncy on high-speed straights.

Interior upgrades include a unique steering wheel, leather-wrapped shifter, new pedals and blue seatbelts.

Jake Holmes/Roadshow

Not a one-track pony

The next day I took the car for a drive through the German countryside near Nürburg and find it's just as fun when wending between small villages. Even driving in Sport mode rather than N, the Veloster pulls briskly in any gear, and there's enough grip from the tires you can even deploy all that torque in first gear from a stop. Flick through the gears, hurtle up to redline and listen to the snaps and pops from the exhaust.

With its quick steering ratio and snappy turn-in, the Veloster feels neutral and light as I scythe into a turn, while the damping keeps the car level without much fuss. N mode is, honestly, a little stiff and bouncy; though the car handles great, it also ends up fussing over every bump. For sporty road drives, Sport mode -- or a bespoke setup in N Custom -- is the way to go. Still, the suspension doesn't beat me up in the way of sporty cars like, say, a Ford Focus RS or Subaru WRX STI.

When I spot the beloved "unlimited" sign on the autobahn on the way back, the Veloster N pulls readily to an indicated 245 kilometers per hour -- 152 mph -- before the engine loses its fight against wind resistance. Officially, Hyundai pegs top speed at 155 mph.

Also impressive during my street drive: Dial things back to Normal mode and the N feels a whole lot like the 201-horsepower Veloster TurboI drove a week earlier. Specifically, it exhibits great suspension compliance over crumbled roads and stays quiet enough as to not drone or annoy within the cabin. The steering in Normal or Eco is overly light and thus a little vague, especially just off-center, but that's ultimately going to be a benefit in urban driving.

An extra N Mode in the infotainment screen shows everything from G forces to turbo boost to suspension settings.

Jake Holmes/Roadshow

Two versions, modest equipment levels

As mentioned up above, Hyundai will sell the Veloster N in a standard variant and with the Performance package that I test drove. In addition to all those go-fast bits, the latter model comes with things like push-button start, automatic climate control, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and LED head- and taillights. Want heated or powered seats, or active-safety tech? Unfortunately, you'll need to look elsewhere.

The Hyundai Veloster N will reach US showrooms by the fourth quarter of this year, likely around November. Though we won't have specific prices for some time, Hyundai officials promise that the Veloster N will offer "excellent value for money." It's safe to expect it'll undercut the Honda Civic Type R ($35,595 with destination) and Ford Focus RS ($41,995) -- though to be fair, those are more powerful and/or have all-wheel drive.

Truthfully, the Veloster N isn't necessarily a direct rival to those cars. It's rather a sort of in-betweener among hot hatchbacks. Less powerful and likely more affordable than those two cars, it will nonetheless be more focused and more capable than sporty models like the Civic Si, GTI and Focus ST.

That makes it an interesting proposition for performance drivers. 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.

This Veloster is a great first impression of what's to come from Hyundai N.

Hyundai

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