Vehicle styling is about as subjective a subject as they come, but it's impossible to discuss the 2012 Veloster without addressing its looks and oddball design.
Up front, the Veloster's face is a complex mix-up of overlapping panels, large windswept headlights (with LED accent piping, of course), and hood vents. There's a lot going on here and the overall appearance is of a wild-eyed, buck-toothed cybernetic chipmunk. This is not the Veloster's most flattering angle, but if I'm honest, I still like it.
Working your way back down the driver's side of the car, the Veloster's low flat roof and deeply creased door shout "sport," and the wide rear fenders and high beltline echo that pretense. If the Veloster has a best angle, it's the rear quarter, where the center exhaust and insect-like rear lights enhance the visual width.
As you make your way back toward the front of the car on the passenger side, you may miss the Veloster's greatest trick and most subtle styling cue. Go ahead, take a second look at the passenger side doors, I'll wait. That's right, I say doors because while the driver's side of this hatchback only has one door, there are two shorter doors on the passenger side. Hyundai has done a darn good job hiding this third door by integrating its handle into the nook where the C-pillar meets the glass. In fact, most passengers and observers didn't even notice the asymmetry--including the CNET parking attendant who sat in the car every day for a week!
Why would you want an extra door on one side of the car? For starters, it helps in getting into and out of the rear seat (which offers a reasonable amount of leg room), while still giving the most important passenger--the driver--the largest possible opening to enter and exit. Additionally, the two smaller doors protrude less than the one long door, allowing the Veloster to be parked closer to obstruction on one side (for example, parallel parking against a wall in an alley) without seriously hindering the movement of these doors. Plus, it's just sort of cool.
Under its quirky skin, the Veloster is remarkably similar to Hyundai's other compact hatchback, the Accent. It features the same 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine that puts power to the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual gearbox. However, as we'll soon learn, the Veloster's manually shifted variant is not limited to the most basic, no-tech trim level.
Additionally, the Veloster is built on the same platform and features a similar MacPherson strut suspension on its front axle and torsion beam linked rear axle. A Honda Civic killer, this is not. In the pursuit of sportiness, the Veloster's suspension has been stiffened at all four corners, its track widened by 3 inches, and its wheelbase stretched by about the same. At the same time, overall vehicle height is lower by 2 inches. The result is a vehicle that appears to be slung wide and low across its optional 18-inch wheels and that should hug the road more tightly and deliver more driving thrills than the more pedestrian Accent.
Unfortunately, it simply doesn't--at least not appreciably. Although we were able to appreciate the Veloster's claims of improved road holding over smooth asphalt, the vehicle's engine just wasn't able to produce enough thrust to actually make driving the Veloster a truly enjoyable experience. The engine didn't generate enough thrust to accelerate from a stop without either bogging the engine or running up the revs and slipping the clutch for the first few feet. Once in motion, there's simply not a tremendous amount of thrust generated until high up in the powerband. Unfortunately, each shift drops the revs just below that meaty power sweet spot, making it difficult to keep the engine boiling during enthusiastic driving. Tackling a winding back road becomes an exercise in momentum conservation and speed management--which I'll admit can be fun in its own right--but around town the bright orange hatchback got its wide-bodied rear end handed to it by Toyota Yarises and Prii at stoplight after stoplight. How embarrassing!
And while the suspension was capable of delivering joy on a smooth and sweeping back road bend, around town, amid the potholes and uneven pavement of San Francisco's streets, about the only thing the Veloster's stiffer suspension seemed to accomplish was to annoy our editors with its jarringly stiff ride and tendency to wander over midcorner bumps. This is likely because of the inherent limitations of that torsion beam rear axle, but those huge 18-inch color-match wheels with low-profile tires likely also contribute to the harshness of the ride.
While I was alternately playing fuel economy games (more on this later) and trying to wring something resembling a fun drive out of the Veloster, the hatchback's engine was sipping fuel at a rate of 24.6 mpg. That falls significantly below the EPA's estimates of 28 city mpg and 40 highway, but if experience has taught me anything about three Car Tech editors sharing a car that claims a sporty pedigree, it's that our observed fuel economy is usually something of a worst-case scenario.
If I had to guess why the Veloster's performance impressed me so much less than the similar Accent, I'd blame three factors: more weight, oversize wheels, and transmission gearing. The Veloster doesn't output any more power than the Accent, but it does weigh 150 pounds more. Additionally, it's got larger, heavier wheels. Larger wheels look great, but they also change the final drive of the vehicle, resulting in a taller final drive, which hurts performance at low- to midrange engine speeds. Factor in the increased rolling resistance of the wider tires and you have car that not only weighs more, but also has to work harder to get going. It appears that Hyundai attempted to address this change in the final drive by adjusting the gear ratios of the manual transmission, but what the Veloster need is simply more power. Fortunately, a 1.6-liter 200-horsepower turbocharged variant is due for the 2012 calendar year. I think that will be the Veloster variant to watch.
New BlueLink tech package
The Veloster builds on Hyundai's already much-praised cabin technology package with the addition of its BlueLink telematics system. Think of it as Hyundai's version of OnStar and you'll have an idea of what to expect here. Depending on the tier of service selected, BlueLink can include features such as emergency crash response, remote start and door unlock, or online Eco-Coach.
At the base level, there's the BlueLink Assurance package, which includes automatic collision notification; emergency SOS assistance; roadside assistance; and monthly vehicle reports. Stepping up to the Essentials package adds a variety of features, including remote door unlock; horn/lights; and start, location sharing, geofencing, stolen vehicle slowdown and immobilization, and vehicle diagnostics, which can be accessed online or via a smartphone app. The top-tier Guidance package adds BlueLink turn-by-turn navigation with traffic and voice search for destinations, as well as an Eco-Coach function that helps drivers to maximize fuel economy. These packages will run you $79, $179, and $279 annually, respectively; three months of trial to the full package (and an additional three months of Assurance level) is included with a new purchase.