Going Weird: Two Misfits From Different Sides of the Track Have At It
One is a hotshot upstart eager to make an impression. The other is a warhorse with a pedigree. When the two meet, you can expect the conflicting personalities to clash and then gel for our viewing delight — the old “opposites attract” precept never fails, right? It worked for Messrs. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt.
Based on those two archetypes, you can guess where this comparison is going. Let’s ID our vehicular contestants. Suspect 1: baby-faced Hyundai Veloster Turbo in arrest-me Boston Red. Suspect 2: a seasoned Reef Blue Mini Cooper S Clubman with stripes over a fair portion of its body. But unlike in the movies, there’ll be no buddying up today.
Need back stories? The Veloster Turbo is straight out of its South Korean academy, the upgrade for a still-fresh, bizarrely styled three-door hatchback sold by a brand better regarded for its economy cars. True to its value-oriented family roots, the bottom line is in its favor, with a $22,725 base price bringing 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque (46 and 47 percent more, respectively, than the standard Veloster), plus a body kit. For an as-tested $25,320, tech goodies like navigation and backup sensors compete with the lovely panoramic sunroof for attention. In contrast, Mini should petition to be renamed David, given its documented prowess in turning out giant-slaying fun-mobiles. I like to think all modern Minis have a “Keepin’ It Real Since 1959” engraving hidden somewhere. But value? Only if you lean on phrases like “the long list of options and packages is totally worth it.”
I don’t blame you if you’re getting more of a “21 Jump Street” vibe, rather than “Seven,” from the two cars’ appearances. The booking process reveals the Cooper S Clubman and Veloster Turbo are anatomical anomalies trying to play it cool, and it’s clear there’s something strange going on. The Hyundai fits two conventionally hinged doors on the passenger side, compared with the solo point of entry on the driver’s side. A small suicide door perches next to the Mini’s passenger primary door. Move to the back of both, and there’s more weirdness. Retro, split “barn doors” on the Clubman swing out for cargo loading. The Hyundai looks angrier from behind than from the front, with center-mounted twin exhaust tips, indented flourishes on the hatchlid, and a diffuser-like lower panel. Inside, the Mini’s notorious style-over-substance ergonomics reign supreme, as opposed to the Veloster’s more traditional digs.
Like that of a cop car, neither second row is inviting. The Mini has scant rear legroom, and the front passenger’s seatbelt, which is attached to the third door, impedes ingress and egress. Still, the straight-edged roofline gives perps…er, friends sizeable headroom and a feeling of airiness courtesy of slab-sided windows. The Hyundai is the opposite, point for point. There’s decent legroom despite the 0.6-inch deficit to the Mini, but 6-foot-1 drive partner Kim Reynolds found that moving his head even a little would put it either on the rear hatch’s glass or the headliner. At 5-foot-8, I fared better, but had to imagine what life was like on the outside, since the kinked beltline and triangular side windows limit outward visibility.
At first glance, the spec chart shows the two are packing about the same heat: direct-injected 1.6-liter turbo-fours, six-speed manuals, practically the same-size brake rotors all around, and virtually identical combined EPA fuel-economy ratings (Hyundai’s 30.3 mpg versus Mini’s 30.1). On closer inspection, the Mini — having given up 20 hp and nearly as much torque, and running slightly narrower tires along with a higher weight-to-power ratio–doesn’t appear to match its more energetically charged counterpart. And the Veloster Turbo takes 87-octane fuel, where the Cooper S Clubman thirsts for 91 or higher. It’s starting to look like the new boy is about to pull a fast one.
But the Clubman takes the Veloster to school in the real world. Quicker and more consistent in testing, more adept at communication, and compassionate at the gas pump (30.5 observed mpg to the Hyundai’s 25.2), the Mini skillfully handled mountain roads, city streets, and the highway patrol with authority and expert steering. That grizzled tuning team at Mini — or BMW, depending on how you want to view it — knows how to extract a smile from the driver.
The Hyundai, bless its ambitious heart, seemingly neglected to shine its shoes for its big debut, and had to show up in sandals. The suspension setup is shared with the non-turbo Veloster. While perfectly acceptable for off-duty driving, the Kumho Solus KH25s (also poached from the regular Veloster) proved woefully incompatible with the otherwise satisfactory chassis tune. The grip deficiency was even more apparent during testing, where the window of opportunity to lay down fast times and high cornering g’s was limited to one or two (preferably one) banzai attempts. Rookie mistake — any car is only as good as how it works the tires. The sportingly damped and edgier Mini, with its $500 Sport Suspension and aggressive Continental ContiSportContact 3 SSR run-flats, never flinched in the line of fire. Not even close. But the veteran Cooper S Clubman’s drill instructor act will grind away at you because of the sheer volume of wheel thumps and road noise blowing into the cabin. (Reynolds likened it to repeatedly pounding a tambourine.) I’m not sure the optional suspension was ever needed.
A pricing standoff is where these long, tortured metaphors end. We know the new-recruit Veloster Turbo will have no trouble finding takers on a dollars and cents basis. In the case of our $34,600 Cooper S Clubman, you can ditch the $4500 Hampton Package and Sport Suspension, but it’s still not a thrifty purchase. But if perpetrating some serious driving and enjoying the oddness of your cars is in your DNA, there’s really only one choice.
2nd Place: Hyundai Veloster Turbo
Hardworking, won’t break the bank, and has plenty of untapped potential. The proverbial “student becomes the teacher” moment is still
on the horizon, though.
1st Place: Mini Cooper S Clubman
Experience trumps youthful zeal. It looks like it’s from an earlier, simpler time, yet the lessons it’s learned and can
teach in enjoyable driving
are worth their weight
Impromptu retirement party for the Volkswagen GTI
The Veloster Turbo will presumably stick around for a bit, and we may still have a few years with the Clubman series before we see its successor. But the Volkswagen GTI as we know it is ready to turn in its shield. Why mention it in this story? Well, as one of our highest-ranked, front-drive hot hatches on sale today, and of comparable price to the two featured cars, the tenured VW would inevitably be dragged into the bench-racing fracas.
Next year, the new seventh-generation GTI, expected to be lighter and more efficient, will inevitably be baptized by fire. We’ll have lofty expectations when we get our mitts on it. The new GTI will ride on VW’s new, scalable MQB architecture that’ll be a key element in expanding the brand’s global sales. Of course, this more widely shared platform may render the new GTI less special than the current one.
As a last hurrah of sorts, I lived with a two-door GTI for a couple days, taking in the supple ride, elegantly simple interior, and throwback plaid seats. Versus those of the Cooper S Clubman and Veloster Turbo, the GTI’s chassis and suspension mixes a superior blend of everyday ride comfort and dynamic driving potential, all in an easy-to-use package.
I can’t say I fell in love with the flat-bottom steering wheel, but the fact that our test car came with the steering wheel free of secondary control buttons and switches shows a righteous dedication to our preferred activity of driving. That familiar, 200-horse turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which is found in one guise or another in various Volkswagen Group products, has never felt more at home than in the MkVI GTI. Nor I in any Volkswagen.
MkVII, you have some big shoes to fill.
|2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo||2012 Mini Cooper S Clubman Hampton|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front engine, FWD||Front engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||97.1 cu in/1591 cc||97.5 cu in/1598 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||201 hp @ 6000 rpm||181 hp @ 5500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||195 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm||177 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm*|
|REDLINE||6750 rpm||6500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.5 lb/hp||15.4 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; torsion beam, coil springs||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||11.8-in vented disc; 10.3-in disc, ABS||11.6-in vented disc; 10.2-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.5 x 18-in, cast aluminum||7.0 x 17-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||215/40R18 85V M+S
Kumho Solus KH25
Continental ContiSportContact 3 SSR
|WHEELBASE||104.3 in||100.3 in|
|TRACK, F/R||61.3/61.8 in||57.2/57.5 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||167.3 x 71.1 x 55.1 in||155.9 x 66.3 x 56.4 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||34.1 ft||36.1 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||2905 lb||2792 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||61/39%||59/41%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||37.2/35.3 in||39.0/37.7 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||43.9/31.7 in||41.7/32.3 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||55.6/54.0 in||50.3/45.9 in|
|CARGO VOL, SEATS UP/DN||15.5/34.7 cu ft||9.2/32.8 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.7 sec||2.4 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.3||3.3|
|QUARTER MILE||15.2 sec @ 93.4 mph||15.0 sec @ 93.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.2 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)||26.6 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1400 rpm||2500 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$25,320||$34,600|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 mi||4 yrs/50,000 mi|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||10 yrs/100,000 mi||4 yrs/50,000 mi|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/unlimited||4 yrs/unlimited|
|FUEL CAPACITY||13.2 gal||13.2 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||26/38 mpg||27/35 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||130/89 kW-hrs/100 mi||125/96 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.64 lb/mi||0.64 lb/mi|
|MT FUEL ECONOMY||25.2 mpg||30.5 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||Unleaded premium|