by Frank A. Aukofer

If you’ve ever seen a three-legged cat, you have some idea of the 2019 Hyundai Veloster, except that this all-new Veloster is not handicapped in any way.

There’s nothing like it in the market today — a compact hatchback with a tailgate and three passenger doors. The third door is at the right-rear and opens conventionally. Except for earlier Velosters, the concept has not been seen since the 2001 Saturn SC, which had a rear-opening third door on the driver’s side.

VELOSTER TURBO-6571The Veloster shares its power trains with a trio of other sport compacts from South Korea: the Hyundai Elantra Sport sedan; Kia Forte5 hatchback; and Hyundai Elantra GT Sport hatchback. They compete against performance hatchbacks that include the Volkswagen GTI, Mazda3 and Ford Fiesta ST.

Tested for this review was the top-of-the-line Veloster, the Turbo Ultimate, which comes equipped with all available options except carpeted floor mats for $29,035. It is powered by a 201-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 195 lb-ft of torque. It gets its power to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode.

Zero to 60 mph ticks off in the mid-six second range, with a top speed of 135 mph. Moreover, you can enjoy the ride as raucous as you like it. Taking a cue from expensive performance sports cars like Porsche and Jaguar, Veloster turbo models, including the Ultimate, have different drive modes and can customize exhaust and engine sounds.

VELOSTER TURBO-6581Drive modes, controlled by a button on the console, are Sport, Normal and Smart. Sport is the most aggressive, holding shift points to higher engine revolutions and tightening up the steering. Normal is, well, normal and Smart moves the Veloster into economy leisure.

Go to the big center touch screen and you can choose how much exhaust noise reverberates through the cabin. The choices are Off, Minimized, Normal and Advanced, with the last the noisiest, especially under hard acceleration combined with the Sport drive mode.

It’s entertaining to switch among the choices when underway.

The Turbo Ultimate is the best equipped of five Veloster trim levels. Two entry-level versions, the 2.0 and 2.0 Premium, use a two-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that makes 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque.

VELOSTER TURBO-8848At $19,385, including the destination charge, the 2.0 comes with a six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed automatic is a $1,000 option. The $23,635 2.0 Premium comes only with the  six-speed automatic transmission.

Equipment on the tested Turbo Ultimate included the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, although it also can be ordered with the six-speed manual. Other features included adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, navigation system, head-up display, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, motorized sunroof, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, LED headlights and taillights — in short, almost everything any car buyer wants.

It also had a power lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, although the seat itself came with manual adjustments.

The Veloster’s 2019 styling is striking, with defined fender lines and an aggressive grille that attract immediate attention. Even given its hatchback design, it has a streamlined look that implies motion when it’s standing still.

VELOSTER-8950Unlike other hatchbacks, however, it makes no pretense of accommodating up to five passengers. There are seatbelts for four, with a small divider between the two back seats. They can be accessed from either side, though the easiest is through the right-rear door. Anyone getting in back from the other side must squeeze past the driver’s seatback.

Once inside, however, there is ample — though not generous — knee and headroom. The small hatch at the back provides access to a cargo area with 20 cubic feet of volume, which expands to 45 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

For all of the Turbo Ultimate’s virtues, however, the choice here — from an enthusiast’s and price perspective — should be the Veloster R-Spec version. It comes with the turbo engine but only the six-speed manual gearbox, which has such a slick linkage that it’s satisfying and joyful.

The R-Spec has cloth upholstery but no sunroof, heated seats, head-up display or charging pad. It does have18-inch alloy wheels, premium audio, SXM radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Like other turbo Velosters, it also has the customized exhaust sounds.

All that comes with a $23,785 price tag, a bargain for an exhilarating, sweet handling sports car disguised as a hatchback.

VELOSTER TURBO-8572Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate three-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,987 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/34/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,035.
  • Price as tested: $29,160.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

VELOSTER TURBO-6609Photos (c) Hyundai