Hyundai is either brave or crazy – or maybe a little bit of both – because it’s one of very few brands still building a dedicated sports car. Not a hot hatch based on a regular production model, but an actual purpose-built attention-seeking device.
Now in its second generation, the Hyundai Veloster first caused a stir with its asymmetrical design. One that puts a long coupe-style door on the driver’s side, and a pair of shorter doors on the passenger side for ease of passenger access.
The 2020 Hyundai Veloster keeps that unusual layout, along with a kind of ready-to-pounce muscularity in its design that sort of borrows some ideas from old Honda CR-Xs and CR-Zs of the past. Only, like, quirkier.
It’s not the cheapest of Hyundai runabouts. In fact, you can spend up to 42 grand before on-roads for a top-spec version with turbo engine and dual-clutch auto. It’s not only zippier, but quite a bit plusher than the base model tested here.
There’s no trim grade or model name for the entry-level model. It’s simply the Hyundai Veloster. Full stop. It’s much more enticingly priced, though, at $29,780 before on-road costs, or about $34–$35K on the road depending where you live.
You’ll get a car that borrows most of its mechanical bits and bobs from the regular Hyundai i30, like its 2.0-litre engine rated to 110kW and 180Nm, and its six-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels. You could get the same package in a basic i30 or Elantra for a touch over $21K, but you wouldn’t would you?
Those unconventional looks are a huge part of the Veloster's appeal. Better still, plenty of people don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense or isn’t appealing to them, which is absolutely fantastic.
Even in its cheapest trim, the Veloster plumps up a decent wad of features. Things like 18-inch alloy wheels in a two-tone finish, sports seats with chunky bolsters, a big central exhaust finisher, and leather wrap for the steering wheel and gear knob cement the sport status.
There’s also a 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth, cruise control with a speed limiter, black fabric trim with blue highlights, halogen projector headlights, and single-zone climate control included.
To get to some of the more upscale equipment, like proximity key entry, LED head and tail-lights, leather trim or powered front seats, you have to move up the range to either the Turbo or Turbo Premium.
Safety kit covers things like camera-based autonomous emergency braking, tyre pressure monitoring, driver-attention alert, rear-view camera and reverse park sensors, lane-keep assist, six airbags, front and rear seatbelt pretensioners, and ISOFIX mount points for kids seats in the rear. Again, there’s some more advanced tech on the turbo models.
Neither Australian nor European ANCAP/NCAP independent crash testing has been conducted for this model, but with the base model missing out on pedestrian- and cyclist-detecting AEB, it would be ineligible for a full five-star safety rating under the latest test guidelines.
Put it all together and the interior is a fun and fresh place to be. There are still plenty of recognisable shared Hyundai parts, of course, but the asymmetrical design even extends to different finishes on the dash and doors surrounding the driver and passenger, which is pretty neat.
Hyundai has been clever about styling touches, so a small Veloster plaque sits where the start button would go on turbo models, but rather than looking like a filler for a missing feature, it fits right in as an attractive detail.
You won’t be wowed with plush fake suede or soft-touch dash plastics, nor will you be disappointed. There are textures and finishes grouped in such a way as to play up the sportiness and amplify the driver-centric cabin, which is really cool.
It’s spacious enough up front for most sizes and heights of driver and passenger. Behind the wheel, there’s a raked and racy driving position, but not so much as to restrict access.
The long driver’s door can be a pain in tight carparks, whereas the trim passenger door makes access in tight quarters much easier.
At the rear, space is a little on the tight side, but if you’re joined by a friend or two for a quick cross-town jaunt, they’ll still be reasonably comfortable. Rear seat head room in particular is greatly improved over the old model, and the hatch no longer closes on the heads of occupants – bravo, Hyundai.
It’s much easier to get in through the left-hand rear door, and it's clever that Hyundai deposits passengers in the kerb side. You can still load the rear seat from the right using the flip-forward driver’s seat, but really, why would you?
Sculpted seat bases in the rear mean passengers don’t miss out on the sporty fun, plus there are dedicated cupholders in place of a middle seat, but no fold-down armrest. The rear windows are pretty slim, too, limiting visibility, so really short trips are the name of the game here.
At 303L, the boot is decently sized, and there are a handful of similar-sized hatchbacks that offer less. The load lip is high and the opening narrow, so getting heavy items in can be fiddly. Extra space is available via the 60:40 folding rear seat, too.
Okay, that’s the sensible stuff out of the way. Now, the important bit – if you’re looking at a Veloster so as not to be saddled with the dullness of an i30, are you actually getting any kind of enthusiast appeal? Well, there's good news and bad.
While it may have plenty in common with its more mainstream sibling, the Veloster carves out a little niche of its own in terms of driver appeal.
The suspension, which gets a few adjustments to cope with Aussie roads and driving attitudes, certainly feels more buttoned down. There’s a surely fitted and secure front end, and a planted and road-hugging appeal on twisty roads.
The manual Veloster gets two driving modes, Normal and Sport, and they do exactly what their names suggest. Normal feels a bit ho-hum, while Sport adds some weight to the steering but gives the accelerator map a little more kick. It gives more confidence to fire into gaps in traffic, or line up an overtake on the open road. It also generally feels more rewarding in flowing traffic, and gives the Veloster a zippy demeanour to go with its rorty looks.
There’s even a faint but rumbly exhaust note from time to time as you press on. It’s not intrusive or obnoxious, but it makes for a nice accompaniment.
The engine doesn’t fire up with real zeal towards the top of its rev range either, though there’s no performance flat-spot anywhere. It doesn’t deliver performance offhandedly. If you really want to push through, you’ll need to extract the potential yourself.
Unfortunately, Hyundai still hasn’t got its head around gearshift positivity and clutch feel. The left pedal in the Veloster is numb and light with a vague take-up point.
There’s no need for it to bulk up too much, but a little more weight would work well with the package – anything to remove the current anaesthetised fuzziness of the current set-up. There’s not much to gripe about with the shift gate, but nor is there much to praise. It’s no effort, but some added mechanical precision would really suit the car.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a performance car, nor is it designed to be one. It’s a sporty little sports car, but not the sporty little sports car, so it manages to handle the repeated dreariness of shuffling to and from work each day without grating on your nerves, but can pick up the pace smartly for a more engaging drive.
If you’re heading out of town for the weekend, it’ll cruise comfortably. The buttoned-down suspension isn’t too harsh on dimpled surfaces, and although there’s a little bit of tyre roar on some surfaces, it’s never over the top.
From an ownership perspective, Hyundai includes a standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is served by a capped-price program with 12-month/15,000km intervals costing $279, $279, $365, $459 and $279 respectively over the first five visits, with all scheduled filters and fluids included in the listed price.
Hyundai suggests an official fuel figure of 7.0 litres per 100km, but our week returned a thirstier 8.8L/100km figure after exploring the Veloster’s more enthusiastic side.
As a package, the Veloster presents plenty to like. It carries some visual drama and dares to be different. It can be driven sedately, but also has a bit of soul tucked away for when you need it.
For some strange reason, the base model is a little shy in its colour selection, with white, silver grey or black on the cost-options list ($595 for each), or solid red the only vaguely exciting hue, while turbo models also get zesty orange and yellow to pick from. No bright blues or bold greens for Hyundai's most adventurous model seems counterintuitive.
Be that as it may, the most basic Veloster has caught some worthwhile upgrades compared to the previous model. The old entry-point 1.6-litre engine was only down a little on power and torque (7kW and 13Nm), but lacked the all-speed reserves of the new model, not to mention the extra safety kit the new version packs in (AEB at the top of the list).
Oddly, keyless entry and start, partial leather seats, power adjustment for the driver and a panoramic sunroof went missing from the new model against the old, but of course run-out versions often get a plumper equipment list on their way out.
The Veloster also exists in a barren land of few competitors when it comes to sports cars under $40,000. You’d just make it into a base-model MX-5 for that and get scalpel-sharp dynamics as a result, but a two-seat soft-top won’t suit everyone.
You might also consider a Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ – conceptually closer but more fun to drive, yet lacking in refinement and with less practical rear seats (and rear seat access). Something like the Suzuki Swift Sport really makes the Veloster’s life difficult – technically smaller though about as roomy inside, with turbo punch, very tidy dynamics and a lower price (not to mention some bold colour options), it really gives the oddball Hyundai a hard time.
Hyundai really faces its biggest battle from within, though. The i30 N Line, with a 150kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo engine, sharpened handling and plenty of sporty touches, might be far more conventional, but it's also a touch cheaper and more practical. That places a fair premium on the non-conformist approach of the base Veloster.
It would be boring if we were all the same, liked the same things, mutually agreed on what was good and what wasn’t (but it would take so much effort out of choosing what to watch on Netflix), and by daring to be different, the Veloster breaks up modern automotive monotony. The Hyundai Veloster isn’t boring, nor is it universally appealing, which becomes part of its appeal.
It isn’t wild, rambunctious, or preternaturally dynamic either, but it’s bold and decently enjoyable. Okay, maybe not the all-in enthusiast driver’s starter pack, but for fringe-dwelling commuters keen on the occasional punt and a little stylistic flair, it serves as a worthy first instalment.