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Car shopping is accelerating - and I'm not interested in a Veloster N

Illustration for article titled Car shopping is accelerating - and Im not interested in a Veloster N
Photo: Hyundai (Fair Use)

Yesterday I test drove a Veloster N, and no, I will not be buying a Veloster N. I’ve been sorta kinda casually looking at cars for the past year or so, thinking about when I’d inevitably replace my 335xi.

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The Veloster N hasn’t really been on my list because I’ve never been much a fan of its body shape, and to get the N performance goodies you give up a lot of equipment that’s available in other Veloster trims, or even compared to more direct competitors. For example, the main car that makes me not want a Veloster N, the Civic Si, at least gives you heated seats and a sunroof. The 2020 Si also has active cruise.

But, I know the 2021 Veloster N is arriving soon, and in addition to an optional DCT, it’s at least gaining a few things like better looking seats that will now be heated, and some active safety gizmos. These might be unique to the DCT, I’m unclear. The 2021 updates were just enough to make me curious enough to try a 2020 to see how I feel about the overall car.

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If you specifically want a rorty sporty hot hatch and can put up with some compromises, it’s a good car, but not a fit for what I’m seeking in my next car.

For those unfamiliar with the Veloster N, when equipped with its optional Performance Package (which becomes standard for 2021) it has a 275 hp 2.0 liter turbo 4, a 6-speed manual with auto rev matching, electronically controlled LSD, adaptive shocks, and many drive mode adjustments. On paper this is a great hot hatch formula, but it’s packaged in the less-than-optimal Veloster body.

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The chassis tuning was good, but a little disappointing to me. The steering is precise with some feel, but not tons. The diff is good and seems effective. The car takes turns very competently but obviously doesn’t rotate with the throttle like a rwd or awd car. The ride even in comfort mode is just ok. It handles bumps alright, but it never gets to the point where I felt it was a great handling car that also can comfy itself up enough for me to relax & cruise.

Steering & damping are two areas where I feel the Veloster N falls short of my preferred cheap ‘n cheerful hot not-a-hatch, the Civic Si. Compared to the adaptive shocks on the Civic Si, the Veloster N’s shocks don’t quite soften up enough. The Civic Si isn’t known as a particularly comfy car, but its seats are more plush and it has just enough extra compliance vs. the Veloster N. But, the Civic Si’s steering destroys the Veloster N. The steering on the Veloster N gets the job done, but the Si’s turn-in response is a whole order of magnitude sharper, and you can feel everything that’s happening with the front end, including feeling the Si’s fully mechanical LSD clawing its way out of corners as you power out of them. You don’t really get that fwd/LSD clawing feeling through the Veloster N’s wheel.

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The power’s enough to feel quick-ish, but not overwhelming. My butt dyno is all out of whack because I drive my full bolt-ons + Stage 2 tuned 335xi. The Veloster N is not as fast as my car, of course. But the Veloster N at least feels somewhat punchier than other, less-powerful turbo 4 cars like the Civic Si or VW GTI/GLI. But not that much faster.

The exhaust in its sportiest mode is suitably farty and obnoxious, but doesn’t sound nearly as good as more desirable cylinder formats like an I6 or V8 etc. There are some turbo 4s that sound really excellent, and this is in the upper range among turbo 4s, but it can get a little tiring. Putting the exhaust in quiet mode quiets things down a bit but it’s not a quiet car.

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The shifter is not great. It works, but the reverse lockout is clumsy, and it’s just not a nice snick-snick shifter like you would get from companies like Honda. I couldn’t get any of the rev matching settings to consistently match revs so I just turned it off and matched revs myself. Overall the transmission was fine. If you must have a stick, you won’t hate it. But for me, it was mediocre enough while putzing around town that if I were more interested in a Veloster N, I’d most likely go for the DCT.

Now, about that compromised Veloster body shape. I’ve been one of those folks carping about how Hyundai should’ve sold the i30 N here as the Elantra GT N, but that ain’t happening so whatever. The Veloster body is less compromised than I worried it would be, but still compromised. The rear window is pretty tiny. It’s at least relatively upright so you can see cars behind you but the opening is still smaller than ideal. The side mirrors are at least good at helping mitigate this but they’re no replacement for a bigger damn window. The trunk is ok but smaller than other regular 5-door hatches. The back seat juuust passes the sit-behind-myself test (I’m 5'11" with short legs & long torso).

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Compared to a Civic Si sedan, the Si is much roomier in general, especially in back. It’s easier to see out of, and has a sunroof. Overall, it’s a normal friggin car which is fine enough to cruise around in without feeling all closed up inside, which is definitely the feeling I get when I drive the Veloster. If the Veloster had a sunroof, that would help mitigate the claustrophobic feeling, but the nice big sunroof on the Veloster Turbo isn’t available on the N.

I know I’ve had various negative things to say about the Veloster N, but overall it’s a good car for the right buyer. I personally would rather save $5k+ and get a Civic Si, which is not that much slower than the Veloster N in a straight line, while offering much better daily driver livability including its damping, a better shifter, and fantastic steering.

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