When you come at the king, you best not miss
Hyundai products’ year-over-year progress seems to improve at an exponential rate rather than a linear or incremental one. The step between one generation of a model and its successor is much larger than most manufacturers achieve. Hyundai’s quality, dynamics, and even styling seem to skip a generation while advancing a generation. The Veloster is no exception. Of the first-generation Veloster, we said, “When Hyundai gives it the engine it desperately needs and tunes the suspension to deliver the sportiness the exterior suggests, [the Veloster] will be the hottest pocket-rocket in the segment.” Well, guess what? For 2019, Hyundai did those things and the Veloster advanced to our 2019 Car of the Year finalist round.
In the meantime, however, Honda sucked all the air out of the room by offering for the first time in the U.S. its enigmatic Civic Type R. After setting numerous front-wheel-drive lap records the world over, including at our 2018 Best Driver’s Car competition, it also earned finalist status in our 2018 Car of the Year contest. If that weren’t enough, in a sport compact comparison test against a Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI Type RA, and a Volkswagen Golf R, we named it the winner and called the Civic Type R “the new world-standard hot hatch.” Does the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N have the goods and the aim to take down the king?
First the Details
From technical director Frank Markus’s exhaustive first drive of the entire three-door hatchback Veloster lineup, we learn that for 2019, the Veloster gets updated styling inside and out as well as new engines, transmissions, and suspensions. The new Veloster is 0.8 inch longer and 0.4 inch wider (the N is another 0.4 inch wider), yet the car rides on the same 104.3-inch wheelbase. “Without changing the [nominal] height,” Markus writes, “the roof slopes more steeply, but savvy packaging adds 0.6 inch of headroom, and seats-up cargo space balloons from 15.5 cubic feet to a CUV-ish 19.9 cubes. And, although the stylists have resculpted the flanks, revised the nose, added LED jewelry, and applied the latest aerodynamic tricks like air curtains at the front and rear tires, nobody will mistake this rig for anything but a Veloster.” So true, but now it actually drives like it looks. Visually, the N is distinguished, riding 0.2 inch lower, with exclusive Performance Blue paint (others include Ultra Black, Chalk White, and Racing Red), a mesh grille with a red front splitter, side sills, and red brake calipers. The triangular brake light located on the N-exclusive hatchback spoiler also differentiates it from any other Veloster. It’s a matter of taste, but the Veloster N’s attention to details doesn’t get out of hand compared to the undisputed hot-hatch benchmark, the Honda Civic Type R, which some say has overwrought styling.
The Veloster N’s $27,785 USD base price nets a high level of equipment. Highlights include a proximity key with push-button ignition, height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 split folding rear seats, automatic headlights, an LED shift-timing indicator, an intuitive 8.0-inch touchscreen display, an eight-speaker Infinity premium audio system with satellite radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth, dual USB and one aux port, a rearview camera with guiding lines, and drive mode selections including Normal, Eco, Sport, and track-focused N. A feature also allows custom calibration of each tunable performance setting from suspension to throttle response. The infotainment system also has cool performance graphics, including G force, turbo boost, torque, and power readings, suspension settings, and a built-in timer. Yet the quality of the apex Veloster’s interior doesn’t quite impress us as much as the quantity of stuff. There are numerous hard plastic surfaces, and the cloth sport seats don’t look or feel any more special than those in lower-tier Velosters. Perhaps a little less restraint and more color and excitement would be nice inside the car.
The only option available on the Veloster N is a thorough and worthwhile $2,100 USD Performance Pack that ups the 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo-four’s horsepower from 250 to 275 hp at 6,000 rpm, while torque remains the same at a stout 260 lb-ft at 1,450 rpm. A sportier multi-mode exhaust lets us hear it all better, too. Also included is more aggressive gearing in its six-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential that does an excellent job sending power to the proper front wheels. Instead of 18-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, the package substitutes 19-inch Pirelli P Zero HN tires and bigger brakes front and back, adding vented discs out back. Lastly, electronically adjustable dampers and a smaller-diameter front anti-roll bar are added to quell understeer.
A Short Detour
The first time any of us drove the Veloster N was on the infamous Nurburgring. That’s one heck of a debut and explains one half of its namesake. (N is also the first letter of Namyang, Korea, the location of Hyundai’s global R&D facility, where it was created.) With searing envy, we read features editor Scott Evans’ take on the hottest of the Velosters: “In the two laps I drove at the ’Ring, the Veloster N equipped with the Performance Package felt at home. The Veloster N is fun and confidence-inspiring in corners, and my excitement grew to a different level when I hit the autobahn. The light traffic on a Saturday morning in the countryside made it the perfect day to go fast. How fast? The speedo’s needle moved past an indicated 160 mph, though Hyundai pegs the car’s top speed at 155 mph.” Lucky duck.
Stateside, we first tested the 2019 Veloster N during our 2019 Car of the Year program on its home court, the Hyundai Proving Ground in California City. Alongside the base 2.0, 1.6T, and R-Spec Turbo trims, the N was clearly at the pointy end of the Veloster lineup: quickest to 60 mph, fastest in the quarter mile, grippiest on the skidpad, and most nimble over our industry-exclusive figure-eight test. We needed to get one back and test it on our turf, and in more favorable conditions than the high desert offered.
Our first stop was the test track where the first order of business was the braking test. In addition to our usual 100–0 km/h stops, with high-performance cars, we add a 160–0 stop in every other direction and slice out the 100–0 part. We also use these 160–0 stops to generate half of those telling 0–160–0 times. During brake testing, I found the Veloster N’s attitude flat and straight, its pedal firm, the ABS quick-cycling and smooth, but the car’s attitude rather skittish and skatey. There was a lot of movement happening in the rear that, while it was controlled, wasn’t entirely confidence inspiring. However, the vented discs provided good heat capacity and no brake-pad odor, so there was little fade, even with those 100–0 mph tests added in. In order, the car required 112, 115, 111, and 111 feet to stop from 100 km/h, and 4.2 seconds to stop from 160 km/h. The Civic Type R needs just 99 feet to stop from 100, and 3.9 seconds to stop from 160 km/h.
On the drag strip with the most aggressive “N” mode on and traction control disabled, I found it difficult to carry enough initial wheelspin from a standstill. At first I thought traction control was not fully defeated but soon realized it was due to the immense grip of the P Zero tires. With the engine revving in first gear, coming off the clutch quickly would spin the tires slightly, but then they’d bite and bog the engine down. I found I had to really zing the revs it to produce a smooth, controlled launch with that telltale ch-ch-ch-chirp confirmation. That’s what it needs/wants, and the times improved by 0.5 second—all in the launch. As they say, “drive it like ya stole it.” The clutch pedal’s bite-point is good, but not as intuitive as a Civic Type R’s. The shifter and linkage, too, are good, not great. The Hyundai’s shifter itself is a further reach and the throws between gears are also longer. The results of getting it all just right are 0–100 km/h in 5.9 seconds, 0–100 in 14.0 seconds, and a best quarter-mile pass of 14.3 seconds at 162.0 km/h—a slight improvement over the high-desert results but still no match for the Civic Type R with its 5.0-second sprint to 60, and 13.7-second at 170.4 km/h quarter-mile pass. The Veloster N’s theoretical 0–160–0 km/h time computes to 18.2 seconds, whereas the Civic Type R does it in 16.3 seconds.
The next stop was our figure-eight course, orchestrated by testing director Kim Reynolds. He had a different take on the very same car. Kim said he observed “plenty of understeer, but also several tons of Velcro-like grip.” That’s a good start, and he added, “Power is good, torque is solid, shifter is short and precise (rivals a Miata for sure).” High praise, but he continued, “My only concern is that the brakes aren’t quite a match for the rest of it. I repeatedly overshot after what I thought was a sensible brake point. So I started to intentionally brake a little early.”
We see this sort of thing in some really fast sports cars; because they arrive at the left and right corners at such a high rate of speed, it feels like the brakes aren’t up to the task of slowing for the skidpad. I just checked the data, and Kim was going 71.4 mph before standing on the brake pedal. Any speed over 112 km/h is considered pretty exceptional. Kim concluded, “The mid-corner understeer is inescapable but probably safer for the average Hyundai road warrior.” For his efforts, the Veloster N generated a 24.9-second lap and left-right average lateral acceleration was 0.95 g. Again, that’s a slight improvement over its previous results but no match for the Civic with its 118.1 km/h V-max, 24.3-second lap, and 1.01-g lateral acceleration figure.
Heading out into the real world of L.A.’s freeways, city streets, and twisting foothills, we get a bigger picture of the Veloster N’s practicality, abilities, and liabilities. We appreciate the whimsy of an unconventional three-door body configuration, but the coolness factor went away as soon as four people wanted to ride in the car, one of whom had to crawl across the back seat. That slightly vague clutch uptake we noticed in testing became more problematic in bumper-to-bumper traffic, as did the shifter throws with wider-than-ideal gates. On the highway, tire and wind noise are well isolated, but so is the better-than-Civic exhaust note. However, roads we once thought smooth grew suddenly bumpier. Even in the softest, Normal mode in the Veloster N, there was too much vertical motion in the cabin. Neither car deals well with sharp tire impacts, but at least the Civic, also with multi-mode dampers, manages to better smooth ripples and undulations, remarkably well, in fact. Lastly, taking on any of the numerous squiggly roads that lead into the hills surrounding L.A. is always a joy in a sporty car—and so it was with the Veloster N. We appreciated the power, the steering, the brakes, and the grip, yet there was just something missing. It’s that sense of unique discovery, like you’re the only one who knows what a great car the Veloster N is. It’s really good, but it didn’t rise to the level of special or extraordinary in the way we had hoped it would. It certainly stands at the top of the Veloster pack, but not by as much as we’d expected it would or should. It turns out its biggest problem is not the Civic Type R, but the Veloster R-Spec.
What About the Veloster R-Spec?
At $23,785 USD, some $6,100 USD (or about 20 percent) below the price of this N, the R-Spec (pictured in red below) offers about 95 percent the performance of the supposed apex trim, rides far better, and has a more interesting interior. Also with a six-speed manual, the lighter, 201-hp R-Spec is about a half second behind in acceleration, stops just as short or shorter, is just 0.02 g below on the skidpad, and but 0.3 second behind on the figure-eight. It’s hard to justify the Veloster N when the R-Spec is nipping at its heels.
Then, obviously, the $5,710 USD (or about 20 percent) jump from Veloster N Performance Pack to a Civic Type R is equally big, and one could argue against it for the same reasons: Why get a Civic Type R if its performance isn’t that much better? The way it accelerates is similar, but it’s about a full second quicker across the board, which feels absolutely bonkers in a front-drive car. The Civic’s supercar-like lateral grip and 100–0 braking are noticeable, too, even to non-car people. And the Type R’s shifter, like the one in the long-gone S2000, is one for the ages. The difference is that the 306-hp Civic Type R is in an altogether different class of hot hatch. We’ve called it a game changer and still stand by that judgment.
|2018 Honda Civic Type R||2019 Hyundai Veloster N||2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec Turbo|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD||Front-engine, FWD||Front-engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4 alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.8 cu in/1,996 cc||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc||97.1 cu in/1,591 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||306 hp @ 6,500 rpm||275 hp @ 6,000 rpm||201 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||295 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm||260 lb-ft @ 1,450 rpm||195 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm|
|REDLINE||7,000 rpm||6,800 rpm||6,500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||10.1 lb/hp||11.1 lb/hp||14.0 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||6-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO||4.11:1/3.02:1||4.33:1 (1st, 2nd, R); 3.25:1 (3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th)/2.78:1||4.47:1/2.83:1|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks; anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks; anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.8-in vented, drilled disc; 12.0-in disc, ABS||13.6-in vented disc; 12.4-in vented disc, ABS||12.0-in vented disc; 10.3-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 19-in cast aluminum||7.5 x 18-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||245/30R20 90Y Continental SportContact 6||235/35R19 91Y Pirelli P Zero HN||225/40ZR18 92Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4|
|WHEELBASE||106.3 in||104.3 in||104.3 in|
|TRACK, F/R||63.0/62.7 in||61.2/61.6 in||61.0/61.5 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||179.4 x 73.9 56.5 in||167.9 x 71.3 x 54.9 in||166.9 x 70.9 x 55.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.5 ft||38.1 ft||34.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,096 lb||3,066 lb||2,817 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||62/38%||64/36%||61/39%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.3/37.4 in||38.1/35.9 in||38.1/35.9 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.3/35.9 in||42.6/34.1 in||42.6/34.1 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.9/55.0 in||56.0/54.3 in||56.0/54.3 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||25.7 cu ft||19.9 cu ft||19.9 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.1 sec||2.4 sec||2.2 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.4||2.7||3.3|
|QUARTER MILE||13.7 sec @ 105.9 mph||14.3 sec @ 101.0 mph||14.8 sec @ 95.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||99 ft||111 ft||110 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.01 g (avg)||0.95 g (avg)||0.93 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.3 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)||24.9 sec @ 0.74 g (avg)||25.8 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2,450 rpm||2,200 rpm||2,200 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$34,990||$29,885||$23,785|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles||5 yrs/Unlimited miles||5 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||12.4 gal||13.2 gal||13.2 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||22/28/25 mpg||22/28/25 mpg||26/33/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/120 kW-hrs/100 miles||153/120 kW-hrs/100 miles||130/102 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.80 lb/mile||0.80 lb/mile||0.67 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium||Unleaded regular|