PORTLAND, ORE — Quirky is apparently the new cool. First Nissan with its Juke, now Hyundai with its Veloster. Two very different vehicles to be sure, but with one common characteristic: There’s nothing currently on the market quite like them.
Thank goodness, and it’s about damn time.
I recently attended the press launch for the all-new Veloster, and while our time is usually limited to a couple hours in the vehicle, I was lucky enough to spend 2 solid days behind the wheel trolling through the winding, wending roads surrounding Portland.
Even though this was just a slice in time, it was enough for me to say the following: I. Loved. It.
Seriously. I loved pretty much everything about it from the comfy seats to the 6-speed manual transmission to that 3rd rear door on the passenger side that lands Veloster on the other side of quirky. This is a vehicle that shouldn’t work, or at the very least should be awkward. But it isn’t.
It should be awkward because that 3rd door isn’t a suicide door like the one in the Mini Clubman or the former Saturn SC. Instead, on the driver’s side, you have a full coupe door, and on the passenger side, you have 2 regular doors. But that rear door is so seamlessly designed, you almost miss it. The rear door handle is hidden, and the overall coupe lines of the Veloster remain intact. The designer who did that? Brilliant.
The overall design of the Veloster is a bit of tangent for Hyundai as it doesn’t follow many of the design cues initiated by the all-new 2011 Sonata. Sure it’s got swoop like the Sonata. But where Sonata long and lean, Veloster is all sexy curves and interesting angles.
As much as I liked the exterior, I loved the interior more. We’re looking at a vehicle with a base price at $17,300, and yet the care and attention given here is impressive. I’m particularly fond of the OnStar-like Blue Link that has varying packages and degrees of functionality.
From the supportive seats to the clean center stack to the high-level fit and finish, Hyundai got this vehicle exactly right. Well, almost exactly right.
The one thing I wanted, and the first thing I asked about were heated seats. Silly, I know, but hey, I live in Chicago, and it’s heated-seat weather for 9 months of the year. For me. I get cold easily. So, it was to my dismay that I learned that heated seats are not available for 2012. But John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai America, assured me they would be available for 2013. Phfew. I mean, if Ford Fiesta and Fiat 500 have them …
One of the reasons I liked the Veloster so much is that it seems like it was created with someone like me in mind. As a marathon runner who lives in the city, I need a compact vehicle that has plenty of pep, parks well, can carry a couple sweaty runners to breakfast after a 12-mile run and holds my/our gear. But I also want something that’s a little flashy and a lot of fun that I won’t mind driving to work and that I won’t be embarrassed to shove coworkers into on our way to lunch.
Oh, and since my commute is 30 miles each way, fuel economy would be nice, too. Bing! EPA estimates 29 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway with the automatic transmission (28/40 in the manual). Pretty spiffy, if it holds up under fire. Which it does. In a 2-hour, mostly highway trek between Portland and Eugene, Ore., I averaged a solid 37 mpg, and that was with some aggressive passing maneuvers and fast on-ramp accelerations.
It’s like Krafcik and his team waved a wand and read my mind. Right down to the color names, which include Marathon Blue, 26.2 Yellow, Electrolyte Green and Ironman Silver. Then again, I suppose it doesn’t hurt that Krafcik and several of his staff are also runners.
Ok, so we’ve got excellent fit and finish, attractive design and great fuel economy. You’re probably thinking about now that ride and handling must be where the Veloster falls short. Not so much. On the first day of the launch, the Hyundai team purposely chose the windingest route they could find. Lots of blind curves and elevation changes.
I had an absolute blast. So much so that I accidentally made my front-seat passenger car sick. I just loved the way the Veloster handled around the corners … and out of the corners. The 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection engine delivers 138 horsepower, and that was just enough to have a heck of a lot of fun.
Which is why “Veloster” is the perfect name for this car. It’s a combination of the words “velocity” and “speedster.” So, unlike some amalgamated names (I mean who puts “tiger” and “iguana” together to represent a car anyway?), this one works. Sporty, fast and fun, the name says it all.
Veloster handled great on country roads and just as well on straight stretches of highway. Steering is responsive yet steady, and the overall ride is smooth without being squishy.
On day 1, I spent some serious quality time with the 6-speed manual transmission. And I immediately fell in love. This is one of the best manuals I’ve experienced in a car that costs less than $20K. The gears were smooth, and the clutch had just the right amount of spring. Perfect for an everyday driver–even if you live in a place with stop-and-go traffic. Day 2 was all about the dual-clutch EcoShift automatic. I have to say, I liked it less, but that’s mostly because I like automatics less in general. But when left to its own devices, it didn’t do a bad job.
And on to the teeny weeny thing I didn’t love: the standard paddle shifters on the automatic transmission. Unlike some of the other auto journalists on the launch, it wasn’t the flimsy plastic paddles that got me. Nope, it was the shift itself. Every time I clicked the paddle to shift, there was a bit of a lag before the gears changed. Just enough to be annoying. Oddly, I didn’t feel the same lag when the car operated in full automatic mode.
And that’s it. That about sums up what I didn’t like about the Veloster.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this car is not for everyone. It’s urban. It’s hip. It’s compact. And, yes, it’s quirky. But it’s also intelligent, sporty, fun and active. Perhaps not quite a family vehicle, but it’s practically perfect for young, single city dweller who has an active lifestyle and takes a couple of passengers along for the ride.
In fact, once those heated seats get installed, a Marathon Blue Veloster might just have my name on it …
- Jill Ciminillo
Drive She Said
October 24th, 2011
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