You may well remember the Veloster, a small coupe-styled hatchback from Korean giant Hyundai. It won’t be because you recall seeing lots of the roads, as in Europe, sales were not exactly significant, but it had one feature which made it stand out as completely different from anything else on the market before or since. It had one door on the driver’s side and two on the other, a neat solution to the problem of providing better rear seat access than expecting passengers to squeeze through a tight space behind a folded-forward seat backrest. Although the Veloster was a decent enough car to drive, by all accounts (I never got to sample one), the combination of what most saw as an un-cool badge on the snout, and the fact that the market for small coupes has dwindled to negligible, as VW’s Scirocco and Peugeot’s RC found out, too, meant that it quietly disappeared from the European line-up after a couple of years. But that did not mean the end for the Veloster, as Hyundai decided to persevere, with sales in other markets continuing and the model being perceived successful enough that a second generation model was premiered at the 2018 Detroit Show, going on sale in America late in the year, as a 2019 model. Although this was a completely new design, with much that was new under the skin, too, it preserved the overall styling theme of the first and also retained the feature of the two doors on the passenger side, one on the driver side. A new and more powerful 2 litre engine replaced the 1.6 litre unit in the entry level spec cars and multi-link rear suspension was aimed at making the Veloster better to drive. An array of safety and technology features were added, in line with market norms.
Sales of the first generation Veloster coincided with a time when most of the Hyundai models disappeared from Hertz; US fleet, but in recent months clearly a new deal has been struck, and they are back, with almost every model that they produce now on offer. When I was in America in March 2019, I spotted quite a number of recently plated Veloster models on site at LAX and Phoenix, so I could see that I was going to be able to try this slightly quirky car after all. It never quite worked out on that trip, but come my September visit, by which time the cars had been on fleet for up to 9 months, and seemingly are more dispersed than they were, when I arrived at Phoenix’ Sky Harbor airport on a Friday evening to find sufficiently few cars on site that you could easily count them all. in among the line of Nissan Versa ad Kia Soul was a Veloster in what appeared to be a bright red, a photographically far better colour than the grey ones that seem more common in the Hertz fleet. It was a no-brainer to take it for the day. A quick bit of research once back at the hotel elicited that Hyundai call the colour Sunset Orange, and in the strong sunlight of the following morning, I could see that there is just a hint of an orange tinge to the colour. With a brilliant blue sky and some desert scenery, it was indeed perfect for photos, but the question was whether it was also perfect as a car.
In an effort to inject more sparkle into the range, and because America is denied the highly praised i30N model, there is an N version of the Veloster available. Sadly, Hertz have not bought any of those, so the car I was driving was powered by the regular 2 litre engine, which puts out 147 bhp. As this was a rental car, it came with a 6 speed automatic box. It is enough to make the Veloster decently brisk, without it ever feeling truly rapid. The engine is refined and smooth, but there’s no aural satisfaction to be had from what is intended to be an enthusiast’s car. I guess Hyundai would expect you to stump up for the N for that. the transmission goes about its job most unobtrusively, with the gearbox always seeming to be in the right ratio for the conditions. Hyundai do provide a series of Drive Modes, and when I pressed Sport, you could immediately feel a difference, with the throttle sharpening and the car feeling that bit more eager. There is a Smart mode, too, which learns and adapts from the way you drive, noting whether you race away from the lights and bury the throttle in the floor or not, I would guess. Most of my test mileage was covered cruising along the 10 freeway, where the gearing and sound proofing meant that the engine note was very subdued, with the air conditioning being much louder than anything else. There is some road noise, depending very much on the surface, as when it changed, so the amount of noise generated. That long steady speed drive doubtless contributed to the fuel economy. The trip computer declared 37.1 mpg (US), which is 44.3 mpg Imperial, at the end of the outbound journey, and a similar figure on the return, an impressive result indeed. I actually needed to put 10 gallons in the car before returning it, having driven 344 miles, which clearly is not quite as good as that, but I suspect that this difference could be explained by the car starting off as “rental car full!”.
The other driving dynamics are well judged, with the Veloster finding the line between something you could live with every day and being a bit of fun. The steering assistance is well judged, and there is a nice linear feel as you turn the wheel, and the car corners flat, with plenty of grip. I did not take this one on many twisty roads, but from I could discern, this would be more fun than one of the regular Hyundai hatch or saloon models were you to do so. Clearly the chassis is capable of handling far more power, as evidenced by the N model. This Veloster came on 215/55 R17 tyres, and was endowed with a good ride, handling the various imperfections in the road surface with ease. There were no issues with the brakes. A conventional pull-up handbrake is fitted between the seats. Nor were the problems with visibility, often a coupe bugbear. There is a second piece of glass in the upper corner of the driver’s door mirror to help alleviate any blind spot. Whilst the view through the rear is good, you clearly would struggle to judge exactly close to an obstacle you were when reversing, but the standard rear-view camera solves that problem. Various safety features on the car included a lane departure warning system which clearly takes exception to you straddling a white line (to avoid a pot hole), as it then flashes up a warning to suggest you should take a break. The first time it appeared, I had been driving for a couple of hours, so I thought it fair enough, but it happened later in the day when I had only been going for 5 minutes.
To inject a little flair into what is essentially a black interior, Hyundai have used some blue inserts which go across the dash. The main moulding has a dappled finish to it, and whilst the materials used are all relatively hard to the touch, and in the entry level trim of the test car, there’s a plastic moulded steering wheel, the overall effect is not as cheap looking as it sounds. It is also all very usable. Two large dials for speed and revs contain smaller inset gauges for fuel level and water temperature, all presented under a curved binnacle, and there is also a small display area for trip computer functions here, with the various menus selected using buttons on the right hand steering wheel spoke. There are two column stalks for indicators and lights – with an auto function – on the left and wipers on the right. The steering wheel spokes also contain the audio repeater buttons and cruise control. Mounted high in the centre of the dash as the touch screen for the infotainment system. In the entry level trim, you don’t get that many features for this to control, with just AM and FM radio, Bluetooth and some settings options. A series of buttons and knobs feature below the unit, which proved easier to use than selecting the precise area on the touch screen itself. Air conditioning is below this, with a series of buttons and a couple of rotary dials used to select the amount of cool you need, and on the very hot day that I had the Veloster, you needed plenty of cool. And that is pretty much it. A simple set up, and all very user-friendly.
Although the Veloster is a relatively small low-slung Coupe. it does not feel like this when you are getting into the front seats. Access seems perfectly normal, and once in, there is a feeling of space, with none of the impressions you sometimes get of sitting under a low roof and peering out through slot-like windows. Seat adjustment is manual, with a bar underneath for fore/aft and levers on the side for backrest rake and seat height, the former giving you a series of pre-defined steps, which Americans apparently favour, but which nearly always seem to give you a position slightly too upright or too reclined for where I would want to set the seat. The steering wheel telescopes in/out as well as up down. To help make the seat belt easy to reach, a plastic support frame extends out from the side of the car to present the belt where you can easily reach it, something I particularly appreciate as with the seat set well forward, the belt in a couple can be a long way behind you. Something I did not appreciate is that if you tip the seat backrest forward to allow access to the rear, the seat does not return to the backrest position you had previously set, you will have to adjust it again.
Of course, the idea is that most of the time, rear seat passengers will not be getting into the back from behind the driver’s seat, but will instead do so from the other side of the car, where they simply open their own door and get in. I tried this, and struggled, as the sloping roofline on what is already quite a low set car means that you have to duck far more than you expect to ensure you do not simply bash your head on the bodywork. I am sure that there is a trick to this that any one getting in with any sort of regularity would learn. You could get in from this side of the car and wriggle across to sit behind the driver, though this is also going to require a level of agility, so you may find it easier to get in from the side of the car you are going to sit at. There is only provision for two in the back, as the central part of the seat contains a pair of cup holders and a recessed tray, the only provision for odds and ends here, as there are neither nets on the back of the front seats nor door bins. Space for those two people is actually better than you generally find in a coupe, with sufficient headroom as well as enough legroom.
Once I figured out how to open the hatch, the boot proved to be a surprise, too. The release on the key fob did not work, and I had to resort to the manual to find out that there is a button in the base of the rear wiper housing which you press. The boot is a very generous size for a coupe and roomy enough to stand comparison with hatch models. It is deep and a regular shape, so even with the parcel shelf you could get plenty in here. The rear seat backrests, asymmetrically split, drop forward to create a much larger load area, with an almost flat floor. There is a bit of space under the floor, too, as there is no spare wheel, just a tyre repair kit. Inside the cabin, there is a good sized glovebox, bins on the front doors, an armrest cubby, a deep recess in front of the gearlever, so there are plenty of places for odds and ends.
At launch, Hyundai offer the Veloster to US market customers in 5 trims: 2.0, 2.0 Premium, Turbo R-Spec, Turbo, and Turbo Ultimate, with the high-performance Veloster N joining the range a few months later. When picking a Veloster, know that there aren’t option packages available. To get more features, you’ll have to step up to the next trim level. The entry point of the range is the Veloster 2.0, which was the spec of the test car and this carries a base price of $18,500. It comes with a 147 bhp four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission, and front-wheel drive. Standard features include two USB ports, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a six-speaker audio system, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, driver drowsiness monitoring, lane keep assist, a rearview camera, and a 7-inch touch screen. You can add a six-speed automatic transmission for $1,000. The Veloster 2.0 Premium starts at $22,750. In addition to the base trim’s features, the 2.0 Premium comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, a sunroof, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, cloth and leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, an 8-inch touch screen, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system, satellite radio, wireless phone charging, and automatic climate control. The Veloster Turbo R-Spec sports a starting price of $22,900. The R-Spec comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission and a 201 bhp turbo-four engine. As far as features go, this trim closely resembles the base Veloster 2.0 – with the exception of a few infotainment upgrades. It adds an 8-inch touch screen, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system, and satellite radio. The Veloster Turbo starts at $25,400. The Turbo comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Beyond that, its features list closely resembles the 2.0 Premium trim’s. The Veloster Turbo Ultimate has a starting price of $26,650. Standard features in the Turbo Ultimate include a six-speed manual transmission, pedestrian detection, leather upholstery, navigation, HD Radio, and a head-up display. You can add a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission for $1,500. Upgrading to the dual-clutch transmission also adds adaptive cruise control.
The Veloster is quite a hard car to categorise. The market for coupe models of almost any size has dwindled to not a lot, and at this end of the market, there is only one alternative, the Honda Civic Coupe. It shares the same rather controversial looks with the rest of the current Civic family, but doubtless also would impress rather more from behind the wheel as the other Civics do. Choosing between the Honda and the Veloster could well come down to personal choice, which was always an even stronger factor in coupe selection than for saloon and hatch models. Beyond that, though, the other rivals really are those small compact saloons and hatches. If you don’t need the back seats for adults that often, then a Veloster could be a perfectly viable alternative and one that is a bit more fun and stylish than Hyundai’s own Accent or a Nissan Sentra or Toyota Corolla. Just under 10,000 customers to date in 2019 in America have decided that a Veloster is the car for them, so this remains something of a left field choice in the market. And if you are at the rental car counter, well, that spacious boot means that you can probably get all your holiday luggage in so don’t dismiss it as too small for your needs. It is categorised by Hertz as a Group B car, the same as a Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Chevrolet Sonic. I would say it is more interesting than any of them and would be the car I would pick from that rental car class. Now if only Hertz would buy some N models!