Three doors down: 2021 Hyundai Veloster moving to a better neighborhood

By Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview staff

2020 Hyundai Veloster

What changes will make the 2021 Hyundai Veloster different?

Freshened styling and perhaps wider availability of safety and convenience features.

Expect the most noticeable appearance changes to be to the nose, with likely an even larger grille and more angular headlamps. A hoped-for safety upgrade would be to extend blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection to all 2021 Veloster models.

This sporty compact hatchback with the unusual name – “Vel-ah-ster” – also has an unusual arrangement of doors — two full-size fronts and one rear half-door on the passenger side.

Hyundai launched this front-wheel-drive four-seater for the 2012 model year. That first-generation Veloster won a small but loyal following among folks who fancied something other than the usual Honda Civic, Mazda 3, or Volkswagen Golf, while the spicier Veloster Turbo gave them an alternative to the Civic Si and Golf GTI.

Today’s all-new second-generation Veloster debuted as a 2019 model. The quirky styling was evolutionary but handling and comfort were upgraded. Economy-minded Base and sporty Turbo versions returned, accompanied by a high-performance N variant that’s a less expensive foil for Civic Type-R and Golf R.

Other than the limited-availability Nexo fuel-cell crossover, the ’21 Veloster should remain this South Korean automaker’s lowest-volume U.S. nameplate. Nonetheless, it’s one of the few Hyundai vehicles to record a sales gain in calendar 2019, up nearly 24 percent through September.

Should I wait for the 2021 Veloster or buy the 2020?

2020 Veloster

Wait for the ’21 if you want a Veloster with the most up-to-date styling. Otherwise, the 2020 model will continue to deliver a satisfying driving experience with a solid array of features at a reasonable price. It’ll have the same interior and exterior dimensions as the ’21 model, and mechanical specifications won’t change. Plus, discounts should become readily available as dealers clear inventories ahead of the facelifted 2021 models.

Expect the 2021 Veloster lineup to be a repeat of the 2020’s. It’ll begin with 2.0 models in Base and Premium trim. Next up would again be the Turbo in R-Spec, base Turbo, and Ultimate trims. The Veloster N would return as the flagship.

Will the styling be different?

2020 Veloster

Yes. The most dramatic change will likely come at the front. Anticipate a grille with the same basic, hexagonal shape but larger and trimmed in gloss black plastic. The headlights will shrink into a more angular form, similar to those on Hyundai’s Elantra compact sedan. The N will return with specific styling cues, such as large front air ducts designed to improve brake cooling, contrasting color trim pieces around the lower front fascia and side skirts, and a prominent spoiler atop the liftgate.

The ’21 Veloster’s profile won’t change, and the tail should look almost the same, too. Expect the 2.0 and Turbo lines to again have exhaust outlets exiting from the center of the rear bumper while the Veloster N keeps its corner outlets.

2020 Veloster N interior

Interior changes are likely to be minimal. A flat-bottom steering wheel, like the one in the GTI, might make the N model seem even sportier. Otherwise, the ’21 Veloster’s cabin should again present Hyundai’s clean, functional layout. Large controls clearly marked and easily accessed, along with gimmick-free instrumentation should return. The tablet-like infotainment touchscreen should again be mounted for optimal viewing and reach but look more tacked-on than most. Expect the 2.0 Base model to continue with a 7-inch screen and all other ’21 Veloster with an 8-incher.

On the ’21 Veloster N, the screen will again provide the driver access to engine, transmission, limited-slip differential, exhaust, suspension, steering, and traction-control behavior individually or among presets. Maximum performance settings will again be available with a single press of the “N-Mode” button on the steering wheel.

No reason passenger room shouldn’t remain fine up front, with good legroom a highlight. Tall folks might find headroom a little tight because of intrusion from the housing for the sunroof standard on the 2.0 Premium, base Turbo, and Turbo Ultimate models.

As for that odd, three-door configuration: the back door opens conventionally to make rear-seat entry and exit far easier than on most cars of this size with just two doors. Still, room and comfort for adults will remain in short supply and, front or rear, the car’s low stance make getting in or out a chore for all but the young and limber.

Cargo capacity will remain decent at 19.9 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 44.5 with them lowered. However, the cargo area is rather narrow. A full-size golf bag won’t fit, not even diagonally, unless you fold one of the rear seatbacks. The ’21 Veloster should retain its spacious cubby under the climate control stack, nicely sized center console, and large glovebox and door pockets.

Any mechanical changes?

2020 Veloster N

Nothing major, although odds are Hyundai will stop offering the entry-level Veloster with a manual transmission.

The 2021 Veloster 2.0 Base and 2.0 Premium models will again have a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Chances are good the 2021 2.0 Base model will no longer come with a six-speed manual transmission and instead adopt the previously optional six-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0 Premium will continue with the automatic as its sole transmission. The 2.0 Velosters share their engine with the Elantra and accelerate with the laid-back progress of car that prioritizes fuel economy over performance. By one only if you can’t live without the Veloster’s styling.

If your budget allows, consider an R-Spec, Turbo, or Turbo Ultimate. They’ll return with Hyundai’s corporate 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Look for the R-Spec to again come only with a six-speed manual transmission and the Turbo and Ultimate to come only with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. With either transmission, these turbocharged Velosters are enjoyable to drive. They can’t quite match the athletic balance of a Civic Si or a GTI, but furnish peppy acceleration, good grip in fast turns, and a surprisingly compliant ride.

2020 Veloster

The line-topping 2021 Veloster N, however, will again threaten the more established sport compacts. It’ll return with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque as standard and 275 horsepower at the same torque with the optional Performance Package. A six-speed manual is the N’s only transmission. The Performance Package also adds 19-inch wheels (18s are standard) on summer-only tires, a performance exhaust, larger front and rear brake rotors, and an electronic limited-slip differential.

Surprisingly, in most driving, the N feels only marginally quicker than the R-Spec and Turbo Velosters. But its handling is superior, especially with the Performance Package’s stickier tires and limited-slip differential. The larger brakes provide outstanding stopping power. Put the car in “N Mode,” and the sports exhaust produces delightful pops when you change gears or let off the throttle.

Still, Hyundai has an opportunity to fine-tune the 2021 Veloster N to achieve that last degree of sophistication found in the admittedly more expensive Civic Type-R or Golf R. Room for improvement is most noticeable in two areas. First, the transmission’s shift action is very notchy, which frustrates in traffic and in sporty driving. And the addition of an “Auto Hold” function that prevents the car from rolling backward on an incline would be nice. The second deficit that keeps the N from equally the daily usability of the Golf R in particular is ride quality. This Veloster’s suspension is very firm in its default Normal setting and buckboard stiff in N mode.

Will fuel economy improve?

2020 Veloster

Don’t count on it. The expected styling changes aren’t apt to impact fuel economy, so the 2021 Veloster’s EPA ratings should repeat those of the 2020 model.

If Hyundai continues to offer it with the manual transmission, the 2.0 Base would again rate 25/33/28 mpg city/highway combined. EPA ratings for a 2.0 Base or Premium with automatic transmission would repeat at 27/34/30 mpg.

Expect ratings of 26/33/29 mpg for the manual-only Turbo R-Spec and 28/34/30 for the dual-clutch-only Turbo and Turbo Ultimate. Our Turbo Ultimate test car averaged 29.0 mpg in mixed suburban and highway driving.

The 2021 Veloster N should repeat EPA ratings of 22/29/25 ratings of mpg city/highway combined. Our N review sample averaged 25.1 mpg. The 2021 Veloster 2.0, R-Spec, and Turbo models would continue to use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline while the N will agian require 91-octane premium.

Will there be new features?

Maybe. For 2020, Hyundai expanded availability of blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, making it standard on all but the 2.0 Base and N models. Perhaps for ’21, at lest the N will get these assists.

Other available driver aids should include forward-collision warning, with Turbo Ultimate models gaining pedestrian detection, drowsy-driver alert, and lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction. Adaptive radar cruise control that maintains a set follow distance from traffic ahead will likely remain exclusive to the Turbo Ultimate.

All ’21 Veloster models should reprise standard support for CarPlay and Android Auto and two front USB charging ports. The 2.0 Premium and Turbo Base would add blind-sport alert, rear cross-traffic detection, power sunroof, automatic climate control, upholstery trimmed in a cloth/leatherette blend, heated front seats, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, 8-inch infotainment screen with upgraded Infinity-brand audio system, wireless smartphone charging pad, and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics.

Velsoter head-up instrument display

Turbo Ultimate grades would add rain-sensing windshield wipers, leather upholstery, head-up instrument display, and imbedded GPS navigation that doesn’t require a connected smartphone.

The Turbo R-Spec is a de-contented base Turbo, lacking the latter’s auto climate control, and wireless smartphone charger. The N largely matches the Turbo Base for equipment but does not include heated front seats.

Perhaps for ’21, the N will receive heated front seats. A power-adjustable driver’s seat is not available on any Veloster. We’d like to see Hyundai offer one, at least on the 2.0 Premium, Turbo Base, and Turbo Ultimate.

Will 2021 prices be different?

2020 Veloster

Expect them to go up. Our base-price projections include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $920 on the 2020 Veloster.

Estimated base price for the 2.0 Base is $20,000 if manual transmission is again standard. Add another $1,000 for one with automatic. Expect a base price of around $24,000 for the ’21 2.0 Premium.

The 2021 R-Spec, Turbo, and Turbo Ultimate should remain the best overall values in the Veloster line if you’re also shopping cars like the Mazda 3, Civic Si, and Golf GTI.

The R-Spec should start around $24,500, the Turbo around $26,750, and the Turbo Ultimate around $29,500.

The 2021 Veloster N will probably be priced from around $29,000. Its only factory option will remain the N Performance Package, which should cost $2,100. While an N with Performance Package might seem pricey at a shade over $31,000, that’s some $5,000 less than a Civic Type-R and more than $10,000 less than a Golf R.

When does it come out?

2020 Veloster

Look for a 2021 Hyundai Veloster release date in fall 2020.

Best competitors

Honda Civic hatchback, Mazda 3 hatchback, Mini Cooper, Subaru Impreza hatchback, Toyota Corolla hatchback, Volkswagen Golf and GTI

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]