The Hyundai Veloster Turbo bears the weight of being the first legitimate Korean performance car to hit the Australian market. As a result, it's likely to be compared to everything from European hot-hatches to upcoming rear-wheel-drive coupe offerings from the Japanese.
Entering the hot-hatch segment is a tough gig. The Europeans have dominated it for as long as it has existed while the Koreans are only now beginning their journey. Although the continuing success that Hyundai has experienced over the past decade has been due to production of consistently well-priced and reliable vehicles, the performance sector is an entirely different kettle of fish - a place where buyers have completely different motivations.
The Hyundai Veloster Turbo will ultimately be compared with the likes of Volkswagen Polo and Golf GTI, upcoming Peugeot 208 GTi as well as the Renault Clio RS. That’s a tough battle as it is, without mentioning the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twins or the legendary Subaru WRX, Mazda3 MPS and to an extent the Honda CR-Z, which are all in a relatively similar price bracket. So what makes this Korean hot-hatch any better than its incredibly refined and established competitors?
For an expected starting price of below $35,000 (official prices are yet to be confirmed for the Australian market), the turbocharged Veloster retails well above the Polo GTI ($27,290) but below its bigger brother, the Golf GTI ($38,990). The interior of the three-door Veloster (one door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger side) is not Golf size but it’s also not as small as Polo. Rear-seat headroom is compromised by the slopping roofline but there is noticeably more leg and shoulder room than its light-sized hot-hatch rivals.
From the outside the Hyundai Veloster is certainly a unique proposition. While the Europeans generally grab one of their regular hatches and spice it up, the Veloster was built to be a sporty hatch from the start. The front view is an aggressive portrayal of the modern Hyundai face, thanks in part to the big hexagonal grille but also a result of the Audi-like daytime running lamps. From the rear though, it’s something completely different. You would almost expect individual designers were in charge of each end, but thankfully it seems to have come together rather well, creating a definite head-turner in a segment dominated by subtlety.
The two rather large centrally mounted exhaust pipes are accentuated by a huge black rear diffuser that is there simply to remind you this isn’t just a regular hatch. If a Volkswagen with a GTI badge appeals to you because of its understated nature, the Veloster Turbo simply isn’t for you. It’s much younger at heart, playful but aggressive in its appearance and certainly anything but subtle.
On the inside the Veloster Turbo is very similar to its naturally aspirated variants. Modern, clean, well designed and with an upmarket look and feel. Our test car featured special leather sport seats with the word Turbo embedded, a slightly different interior colour and the addition of a standard sunroof. Otherwise it’s pretty much a similar story. We would have liked to see boost, engine and oil temperature gauges on the dash or just a little more differentiation from the standard car to give it that unique feel it so thoroughly deserves.
With the vehicle still a few months away from its anticipated arrival in Australian dealerships, CarAdvice headed to South Korea to drive a six-speed manual Korean-specification left-hand-drive Veloster Turbo around the green and mountainous countryside. Powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, the sporty Veloster produces 155kW of power and 265Nm of torque. That’s exactly same power output as the much larger 2.0-litre turbo found in the Golf GTI but 15Nm less torque. However, the Veloster Turbo happens to weigh roughly 100kg less (1270kg kerb weight) than its German competitor, which gives it a better power-to-weight ratio, which Hyundai claims is currently the best in its class.
This is surprising given the 0-100km/h dash takes 7.5 seconds when coupled to a six-speed automatic or around 7.8 seconds for the six-speed manual. Compare that to the Golf GTI’s 6.9 seconds for the same run (manual or DSG) and you start to wonder where the difference lies. Facts and figures aside, get behind the wheel and the Veloster Turbo feels just as quick as any comparably priced sports car on the market.
In-gear acceleration is relentless with the factory-made turbo kicking in at around 2500rpm and pulling hard beyond 5000rpm. That addictive turbo-rush feel is abundant in every gear and is certain to put a smile on your face. Manual shifts are simple and smooth thanks to a clean and straightforward gearbox matched to a proper (not too light) clutch. The accelerator and brake pedal positions allow for easy heal-and-toe downshifts if the going starts to get serious.
Arguably the real thrill of owning a hot-hatch has never been about the 0-100km/h times that facilitate unnecessary drags at the lights, but the car’s cornering ability and the go-kart steering feel that thrills around winding roads. To be clear, the Veloster Turbo is certainly no Megane or Clio RS. There’s no comparison between this and Renault’s relentless pursuit of absolute direct steering perfection in its RS models. Although our test car was made for the Korean domestic market and therefore different to the upcoming Australian-delivered vehicles that get a unique suspension and steering tune, it’s unlikely Hyundai can outdo the Europeans in dynamic steering feel. But that’s not to say the Veloster lacks the traditional hot-hatch feel around the bends.
The interesting point here is that the new Hyundai i30 (which we also drove around the same roads) actually has better steering feel, thanks to a 'flex-steer' system that allows the driver to pick between three different driving modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. Unfortunately this feature is not available in the Veloster range.
Up through Korea’s hilly and twisty countryside, we found our Veloster Turbo could obliterate both sharp and winding corners. The process is simple: flatten the accelerator to the floor as you head hot into a corner, jab the brakes to transfer weight to the front for better grip (and reduction in speed if necessary), turn the wheel smoothly but quickly in the direction of travel and enjoy the G-forces on your body as the car grips hard into the bend, find the optimal grip position and bring the power back on smoothly. Do this enough times and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how far the Koreans have come in improving their cars' ride and handling.
The Veloster’s front-wheel-drive set-up isn’t as well tamed as its European rivals (the Kumho Solus tyres, 215/40R18, also leave room for improvement), but there’s hardly any torque steer out of corners. The electronic nanny controls tend to come in when the going gets rough but not in an intrusive fashion. It’s a far cry from a WRX in how much speed it can carry out of a corner, given the lack of all-wheel drive, but it’s fair to say that it goes just as hard as a Golf GTI.
Unfortunately no automatic models were available for evaluation and we were disappointed to find out that the naturally aspirated version’s dual-clutch transmission has been downgraded to a six-speed automatic due to the Turbo’s significantly higher torque output.
Hyundai hasn’t gone the extra step of starting a family performance badge to back up the Veloster Turbo (e.g. GTI, RS, XR, R, AMG, etc), which suggests the likelihood of i20, i30 or even i40 performance variants are unlikely in the short- to medium-term. This leaves the Veloster Turbo as the company's performance flagship until the next-generation Genesis Coupe becomes available in right-hand-drive in a few years' time. That’s a lot of responsibility for a brand new car.
Thankfully though, the Veloster Turbo is an admirable starting point for the Korean giant. It has more than enough power to be classified as a hot-hatch, it corners with ease, it's sporty in its driving dynamics and is certain to be very competitively priced. Let's not forget that it’s likely to come equipped with a huge array of standard features, which will put its European competitors to shame.
Overall, the Hyundai Veloster Turbo presents an excellent choice for a first-time or veteran hot-hatch buyer. It’s fast, smooth, simple to drive and comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. It may not have the pedigree of its European rivals, but if the company’s track record is anything to go by, this is just the beginning of a new onslaught.
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