The Hyundai Veloster N fills a fascinating space in the hot hatch market. It offers performance that approaches the Honda Civic Type R, but for thousands of dollars less. In order to do that, Hyundai equips the Veloster N with a wealth of performance features, but skimps on creature comforts to give you the most bang for your enthusiast-minded buck.
As a result, the Veloster N offers some of the best driving satisfaction per dollar out there. But is that enough to call it the best hot hatch for the money?
Impressive everyday performance
The Veloster N is powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The optional Performance Package's hotter ECU tune pops my tester up to 275 horsepower, and extends the same 260 pound-feet of torque further up in the rev range to 4,700 rpm instead of just 4,000 rpm for the standard car.
All that power translates to a roughly 6-second sprint to 60 miles per hour, according to Hyundai, but that figure feels conservative. From the seat of my pants, this feels like a much quicker car.
With the Veloster N's optional variable exhaust wide open, the little hatchback sounds entertainingly scrappy as I run it through the gears. For an extra cherry on top, the Veloster will even pop and crack during gear-changes. Speaking of which, swapping gears is a delightful event thanks to the Veloster's nicely tuned six-speed manual transmission with automatic rev-matching. The shifter itself doesn't quite have the same, special tactility you get in, say, a Mazda MX-5 Miata, but it's still super fun.
The hot Hyundai erases velocity with incredible confidence. The brake pedal is responsive without being overly touchy, ultimately allowing for secure stopping power as you slow down before diving into a corner.
The quick steering ratio and immediate turn-in make the Veloster N a joy to toss around, my tester's the optional 235/35 R19 Pirelli P Zero tires communicating plenty of feedback into my fingertips. Powering through apexes is a grippy affair thanks to the front axle's available limited-slip differential with torque vectoring, which not only helps split power between the front wheels, but eliminates torque steer under hard acceleration.
That said, the Veloster N can sometimes feel a little skittish over mid-corner bumps. I really appreciate how much stiffer the electronically adjustable dampers become when dialed all the way up to their most track-focused N mode, but on public roads, this most hardcore setting only makes the Veloster more unsettled over asphalt imperfections, and thus, is best left for glass-smooth racetracks. During regular A-to-B driving, the suspension is firm but comfortable when set to its softest Normal mode.
The EPA estimates the Veloster N should return 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg highway -- same as the Honda Civic Type R. Of course, that's only if you go easy on the throttle. Drive it with gusto -- trust me, you'll want to -- and you might see numbers closer to the 21.8 mpg combined I observed after 373 miles of mixed driving.
With two doors on the passenger's side and one on the driver's side, along with a bevy of sharp angles and body surfacing, the Veloster's exterior appearance certainly isn't for everyone. But I actually love that it makes a unique statement, and has palpable road presence as a result.
The Veloster N's interior is less ostentatious, but is nicely designed, nonetheless. There's plenty of room to stretch out in front, and back-seat space is decent for a car this size. Cargo capacity is also pretty good, with 19.9 cubic feet of volume behind the back seats, and 44.5 cubic feet with the second row folded.
Cabin materials are subpar, even for a car with economy-class roots, but interior comfort is right on the money for skinny folk like me. The Veloster N's seats are conservatively bolstered, but secure me tightly enough during hard cornering. When I'm not flirting with the edges of the sporty Hyundai's lateral adhesion, the seats are supportive and comfortable, leaving me feeling fresh after longer drives.
As is the case with every Hyundai that Roadshow has tested recently, interior tech is satisfying. The Veloster N comes standard with an 8-inch touchscreen running Hyundai's straightforward infotainment interface, which lacks visual whizbangery, but offers a wealth of simplicity and ease. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard in the Veloster N, along with satellite radio and an eight-speaker Infinity that sounds fine enough, but is really only a quarter-step above a conventional, unbranded audio system. At least you don't have to pay extra for the slightly nicer speakers.
If you want other niceties like a sunroof, embedded navigation, a head-up display, leather seats, or advanced driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, you'll actually have to step down. Hyundai offers these amenities on the Veloster, but not on the N. Instead, check out the $27,570, 201-horsepower Veloster Turbo Ultimate if luxury and safety tech are on your list of must-haves.
Performance first, everything else second
The Veloster N starts at $27,820, and there's only one option offered: the $2,100 Performance Package. With that package elected, in addition to the extra 25 horsepower, the variable exhaust system and limited-slip differential, you get larger brake rotors as well as wheels and tires that are an inch greater in diameter than the standard setup. As tested, my Veloster N's grand total comes out to $29,920.
That's a lot of performance for a car that squeaks in just under $30,000, making the Veloster N arguably the greatest bang for buck among hot hatches sold in the US. I, however, appreciate something more well-rounded rather than simply performance-focused. And for $130 less, I could have a Volkswagen Golf GTI Rabbit Edition that's nearly as satisfying to drive, while offering more acceptable looks, a higher-quality cabin (not to mention those coveted plaid seat inserts), plus more interior space and better fuel economy.
Don't get me wrong, the Hyundai Veloster N is a terrific car I'd be happy to recommend to a performance-focused buyer, but as a daily driver, I wouldn't fault anyone for picking a more well-rounded option.