Ever heard of the Hyundai Veloster-Raptor? How about the Hyundai Veloster Race Concept? Neither had we, until we received a sneak-peek invitation to track test these specially tuned Velosters at a secret test track north of Sydney.
Ever since South Korean car giant Hyundai launched the funky Veloster in 2011 (the Turbo in 2012), I’ve been a fan of the distinctive hatch with its unusual, asymmetrical door configuration, featuring one large door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger side.
But the Velocter SR Turbo has always been more than clever styling; it’s also quick, good to drive, practical and loaded with kit. A price tag that dips below $32,000 adds another reason to like it.
But with its diminutive 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine developing just 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque, it’s one hatch we’ve always considered more warm than hot.
Rivals such as the popular Volkswagen Golf GTI ($41,490) and razor-sharp Renault Megane RS265 ($42,640) are considerably more powerful with their larger 2.0-litre engines generating 162kW/350Nm and 195kW/360Nm respectively.
But what if Hyundai made the Veloster SR Turbo more hardcore, gave it extra power, better handling and produced a more rewarding driver’s car?
Apparently the engineering team at Hyundai Australia decided to answer these questions with both the Veloster-Raptor and the Veloster Race Concept.
Both cars have been extensively modified to investigate the performance potential of the standard Veloster SR Turbo with a view to creating another more potent version for the road.
The Raptor has a retuned ECU, boosting power by 30 per cent to about 195kW, while torque is up 20 per cent to 318Nm using stock internals.
Putting this extra grunt to the road is a six-speed manual teamed with a Quaife limited-slip differential. High-performance dampers (Mando RS Valve) and progressive rate King Springs sharpen up the handling, while the 19-inch wheels wrapped in wider 225/40 (up from 215s) Pirelli P-Zero tyres add some grip that’s lacking from the standard Hankooks.
Performance brake pads, as well as a cat-back exhaust system round out the major changes for what promises to be a significantly more involving Veloster than what is currently on offer.
Whereas all the upgrades made on the Veloster-Raptor can be approved for road use, according to Hyundai the stripped-out track version gets a complete inventory of race-ready mods and a kerb weight of just 1200 kilograms.
The Quaife makes way for a Cuscu LSD, and the brakes are further improved with Alcon four-pot callipers up front and two-pots at the rear. Four-way adjustable suspension and a full CAMS/FIA-approved roll cage make it race-ready for all tarmac rally competitions.
Thankfully, Hyundai brought along a standard Veloster SR Turbo that we’ll use to both get to know the track - and to put both these concepts into proper perspective.
After only a couple of laps we were reminded of the fact that the standard car isn’t all that rapid, is a bit dull on the handling front and certainly doesn’t sound like a hot-hatch should.
Soon it came time for a spin in the Veloster-Raptor on what is a challenging circuit with plenty of hard to manage corners, and little or no room for error.
From the outside though, the Raptor looks pretty much identical to the standard SR Turbo, though the wider tyres give the car a more aggressive stance.
Inside it’s the same story, except for the in-your-face MoTec screen sitting beside the shifter, monitoring all the key performance data.
From the moment you hit the starter button you can hear the difference. The free-flow exhaust emits a distinctive growl right upon ignition, an important hot-hatch characteristic.
It’s even better once you’re out on track. Punch the throttle and the response is so much sharper, and there’s a greater spread of the extra torque available for blasting out of corners.
With only a single lap under my belt, I was thinking this is what the Veloster SR Turbo should have been from the outset and that Hyundai (global) would be nuts not go ahead with a production version – as is, please.
It’s not just the power boost that puts a grin on your face; the car also feels significantly more planted and able to carry more speed through the bends thanks to the bespoke suspension setup and the progressive-rate springs.
Harder to test are the compliance rates, but after a couple of minor, unintended off-road excursions (I was only following an enthusiastic Hyundai employee) I was left feeling confident that the Raptor version can still deliver a comfortable ride on public roads.
The brakes also deserve a big shout-out (specifically, the specially chosen performance pads), as they seem so much more robust than the stock units. And unlike other similar-style brake pads, they don’t squeak or require any more pedal pressure than the road-going Veloster SR Turbo’s stoppers.
Next it was time to strap into the race-prepped Veloster Race Concept, but only after the Hyundai mechanic kindly adjusted the Recaro racing seat to fit my shorter frame – a not-so-easy job that required it to be removed and re-fitted with an additional rail lift.
The 1.6-litre turbo engine is stock, as is the twin-scroll turbocharger and six-speed manual transmission. Everything else from the multi-point roll cage to the DMS 4-way adjustable suspension isn’t.
With a full race harness, stripped-out interior and Pirelli P Zero Trofeo race tyres, the Race Concept is full on.
There’s a lot less weight, so it felt dramatically quicker than the Raptor in every situation, though I struggled to get enough heat into the tyres and brakes, which clearly require Herculean muscle power for the full benefit.
After a few laps, one of Hyundai’s World Rally Championship drivers, Chris Atkinson, got behind the wheel with me riding shotgun. The aim was to show the kind of performance that this thing is truly capable of.
After just one lap, Atko already had the required heat in the tyres and brakes, meaning it stopped in half the distance, and the warmer rubber meant the grip levels were prodigious.
When you consider the stock engine and transmission, it’s a lot of performance and goes to show just how far the stock Veloster SR Turbo can be developed in terms of performance potential.
However, if you were to ask me which of the Velosters I enjoyed driving the most, it’s the tuned-up Raptor version that would get my vote.
With the Veloster-Raptor, Hyundai has finally succeeded in turning the heat up from warm to hot.
More than that, they’ve done it without compromising the daily driver appeal of the regular turbo model. Let’s hope the team at Hyundai soon put the Raptor in its rightful place – on Australian roads.