Now fielding the 2019 Veloster N, Hyundai could be whistled for encroachment.
It has happened before. The South Korean manufacturer has been steadily and successfully insinuating its products into almost every space in the automotive firmament: sedans of various sizes and power trains, crossover sport utility vehicles and even luxury cars. The last, Genesis, became its own luxury brand.
Now Hyundai is intruding into the small but image-important “hot hatch” group of relatively inexpensive high-performance hatchbacks. There are only a few, the most familiar of which is the Volkswagen GTI, with competition from the Honda Civic Type R and the Ford Focus ST.
What these machines have in common is that they are based on practical runabouts for people on tight budgets. Emulating the kids who buy old Honda Civics and hop them up to be faster and more agile, the automakers do the same to create new excitements.
The GTI, for example, is based on the ubiquitous Golf, Volkswagen’s entry-level U.S. offering. Similarly, Hyundai already marketed the Veloster, a compact hatchback with two conventional doors in the front and a single third door in back on the passenger side. Despite its unusual layout, it has been reasonably successful, though slipping lately with 12,658 sales in 2017 and running at an annual rate of 10,581 in 2018.
Now it should get a boost as it vies for the “hot hatch” title with the N, which stands for Namyang, the site of Hyundai’s technology center in South Korea. The N also obliquely refers to the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the famed test track in Germany where some of the N’s development was carried out.
Under the tutelage of Albert Biermann, Hyundai’s head of vehicle performance, the Veloster was not simply given additional power. Biermann, formerly chief of BMW’s M performance group, took a holistic approach to give the Veloster a stiffer chassis, sophisticated racing suspension system, more accurate steering with enhanced feedback, tires with more grip and, of course, robust power.
The goal, Bierman says, was to give the Veloster “real racetrack capability” in a machine that is easy and entertaining for novices to drive on the track and in everyday environments.
Power comes from a gasoline direct injection, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 250 hp with 260 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. A six-speed manual gearbox — the only transmission available so far — sends the force to the front wheels.
To make things even easier for inexperienced drivers, the transmission comes with automatic rev-matching. On downshifts, the system raises the engine revolutions to match the speed of the car—particularly useful during braking on racetrack corners. Launch control also is included, which minimizes wheel spin on acceleration runs. Hyundai doesn’t publish zero-to-60 miles an hour times, but an educated estimate is in the five-second range.
Overall, the stick shift is delightful, with easy, short throws of the shift lever on both upshifts and downshifts. The rev-matching eliminates jerkiness from sloppy shifting. Along with brake-induced torque vectoring to hasten maneuvers around corners, the system infuses the N with forgiving and delightful manners on a road-racing course.
Biermann says that’s what the Veloster is all about. He calls it accessible and affordable high performance for average drivers. To keep the cost reasonable, the N uses in-house brakes instead of something like Brembo racing brakes, although high-performance brake pads are available for serious racers.
Base prices for Veloster N will start at $27,785, including the destination charge. A special performance package tacks on an additional $2,000 and bumps the horsepower to 275. It includes a special “corner carving” differential, 19-inch alloy wheels, Pirelli P Zero performance tires, larger brake rotors and variable exhaust valves.
Standard equipment on all Velosters includes full modern safety equipment, 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Super Sport tires, LED headlights and taillights, automatic climate control, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, and premium audio with SXM satellite radio.
So no enthusiast will mistake the N from its lower-performing siblings, it comes with exclusive styling of the grille and front fascia, as well as special rear treatments, including a spoiler with brake light.
N prices are lower than those of the 306-hp Honda Civic Type R and the 220-hp Volkswagen GTI Autobahn, both of which have prices in the mid to high $30,000 range. More comparable to the N is the Ford Focus ST, which starts in the mid-$20,000 range.
- Model: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N three-door hatchback.
- Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 275 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Six-speed manual with rev-matching and front-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet.
- Height: 4 feet 7 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,117 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/28/25 mpg.
- Base price, including destination charge: $27,785.
- Price as tested: $29,885.
Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.
Photos (c) Hyundai