The ultimate bargain hot hatch, for better or worse.
It was only a matter of time before Hyundai figured out how to create a true, hardcore performance brand. After flirting with rear-drive fun in the form of the Genesis Coupe and teasing compact performance with the turbocharged Elantra Sport, the South Korean brand has finally delivered a firecracker in the form of the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N.
Put simply, this funky hatchback is one of the surprises of the year. It’s a remarkably good car to drive, despite its bargain price and front-wheel-drive layout. The Veloster N is proof that high-performance hatchbacks don’t need $30,000-plus price tags to deliver thrills. But like so many things, you get what you pay for, and the Veloster N’s cabin is a casualty of the model’s impressively affordable price.
Holy crap, the Veloster N is a stunning hot hatchback. Tight, aggressive handling, a fantastic turbocharged engine, and an enjoyable six-speed manual transmission are a perfect combination for a vehicle this size. The N’s responses – be it to handling, acceleration, or braking – are ideal. Drivers new to hot hatches will find it accessible, while more experienced drivers searching for an affordable toy will find an engaging partner with impressive depth. If Hyundai’s future N cars are even half as fun to drive as this, the sub-brand has an extremely bright future.
Our Performance pack-equipped Veloster N features the typical Sport, Eco, and Normal drive modes, and then adds an N mode and a Custom setting. What’s remarkable, though, is how dramatic the change from Normal to Sport or N is when tapping the periwinkle blue button on the steering wheel. It’s almost like you can feel the entire car tense up, as it anticipates whatever abuse you’re about to hurl its way. The way the suspension and throttle change are easily palpable; a rarity in a world where automakers stuff every hum-drum crossover with largely useless Sport modes that change little. Also, the Veloster’s drive mode system has the best name: N Grin Control.
With respect to the new mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette, the Veloster N is the best performance bargain on the market. The model starts at just $26,900 (or less), and the only option is the $2,100 Performance Package, a must-have that ups the output from 250 to 275 horsepower, adds an excellent limited-slip differential, a variable exhaust system (which is worth the cost of entry alone), larger brakes, and 19-inch Pirelli summer tires. For just $29,920 (including a $920 destination charge), the Veloster N can easily stand toe-to-toe with the $36,300 Honda Civic Type R, the $40,395 Volkswagen Golf R, and the $36,995 Subaru WRX STI.
How can Hyundai make a profit at such a low price? Step into the cabin and you’ll immediately understand. This cabin is as cheap as the Veloster N is good to drive. Hard, scratchy plastics are a fact of life at this price point, but in the Veloster N they’re everywhere. And it’s not just the material quality that’s egregious. The vibrations and rattling in the cabin, particularly with one of the noisier drive modes active, are constant at freeway speeds. A great road-tripper this is not.
The Veloster N nets just 28 miles per gallon on the highway, 22 in the city, and 25 combined. That’s roughly par for the course, matching the Honda Civic Type R. That said, we drove the Veloster N from Detroit to Honda’s sprawling Marysville, Ohio facility – a roughly 350-mile drive that’s almost exclusively undertaken at freeway speeds – and we struggled to hit the highway figure, despite running in Eco mode for most of the lengthy drive.
The only chink in the Veloster N’s performance armor is its steering, which is well weighted for the vehicle’s size, but lacks feedback. It’s hard to tell just what the front tires are doing, even at freeway speeds. In that setting, it’s merely inconvenient. But in aggressive driving, it’s simply more difficult to judge inputs compared to the Veloster N’s competitors (particularly the Civic Type R). Even in more aggressive driving modes, we struggled to intuit grip levels and the state of the road surface.