1. What’s new for 2015?
This sporty compact hatchback adds automatic climate control to its optional Technology package and makes 18-inch alloy wheels part of its Style package. Available with naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the front-wheel-drive Veloster is distinctive looking car. And it has three doors, thanks to a small “access door” on the passenger’s side for easier entry to the rear seat than possible in a traditional small coupe. Hyundai says the styling borrows cues from high-performance sport bikes. At the least, the look sets it apart from rival coupes and hatchbacks, including the Honda Civic, Kia Forte Koup, Scion tC, Volkswagen Golf and GTI, Ford Focus, and Subaru Impreza. It isn’t as enjoyable to drive as its competitors, even in its top turbocharged version. The limited-production RE:FLEX model accentuates Veloster’s visual uniqueness with cosmetic enhancements that include piano-black interior accents and leather seats. This remains one of Hyundai’s less-popular models, handily outsold by the more amenable Elantra compact and Accent subcompact.
2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?
Base prices range from $18,825 for a base model with manual transmission to $22,425 for the top Turbo version. (All base prices in this review include Hyundai’s $825 destination charge). That’s about average among mainstream compact cars, though it’s less than premium small sporty models like the GTI, Mini Cooper, and the Impreza WRX. According to Kelley Blue Book, substantial dealer discounts should be easily obtained, with a fair purchase price for a mid-range Turbo R-Spec version with an MSRP of $22,325 (including destination) estimated at $21,190 – that’s about $100 below the car’s invoice price.
3. When will the next big change be?
Veloster is tentatively due to launch its second generation with a major redesign for model-year 2017. But given its limited sales, some sources say Hyundai hasn’t yet committed to investing in a new version, especially since it would take up production capacity that might be better used for a more profitable vehicle. If there is a Gen 2, look for continued stand-apart styling, new features, and engineering upgrades designed to enhance the driving dynamics.
4. What options or trim level is best for me?
If you’re simply seeking a unique-looking compact, save your money and stick with the base version. It’s underpowered and uninspiring from an enthusiast’s view. But it is distinctive-looking and comes nicely equipped with all the basics, plus a rearview monitor and impressive array of connectivity and telematics features, courtesy of Hyundai’s subscription-based Blue Link system (six months of service is included). If you’re seeking a bit more pep, consider the Turbo or Turbo R-Spec versions, which add nearly 70 horsepower to the base model. Choosing the Style package adds a panoramic sunroof, upgraded audio system, and leatherette upholstery. The Technology package further includes a navigation system, push-button entry/start, backup warning sensors, automatic headlights, and automatic climate control.
5. What engine do you recommend?
Base versions are more show than go with an uninspired 1.6-liter 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It’s best enjoyed with the six-speed manual transmission. A dual-clutch six-speed automated manual transmission is optional, but it makes the car feel sluggish and in fact mandates a slight drop in engine power to 132 horses. We prefer the available 1.6-liter turbocharged and direct-injected 201-horsepower four-cylinder engine with that leaps off the line with somewhat more authority, though it hardly feels pulse-pounding fast in that regard; one plus is that unlike many higher-performance engines the turbo-four can run on regular-grade fuel. The turbo comes standard with a six-speed manual (also preferred), but also offers a conventional six-speed automatic transmission that shifts more smoothly than the automated manual with the base engine.
6. How does it handle?
Think of the base model as merely a more stylish and less practical alternative to any number of small sedans. Its electric power steering system feels numb, the ride is unrefined, and handling is lacking. The Turbo models deliver a bit more responsive cornering characteristics, thanks to a torque vectoring system that gently brakes the inside front wheel and sends a bit more power to the outside one in a turn. Unfortunately the car is still not particularly fun to drive, especially when compared to the best performing—yet still affordable–small cars on the market, most notably the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Si, and Volkswagen Golf GTI. Even base versions of other small cars like the Civic and Golf feel far more pleasurable to pilot for less money than the top Velosters.
7. How is the fuel economy?
The Veloster gets good, though not necessarily great, fuel economy. The base four-cylinder model is EPA rated at 26/35/30-mpg city/highway/combined with the six-speed manual transmission and a slightly better 28/36/31-mpg with the dual-clutch automatic. Models fitted with the turbo-four are rated at 24/33/28 with the stick shift and 21/31/27-mpg with the six-speed automatic.
8. Are the controls easy to use?
The Veloster’s nicely designed dashboard keeps things reasonably simple and easy to operate, with the center-mounted touchscreen display used mostly for audio functions and the optional navigation system. And at that it’s simpler to master than some of the complex multimedia systems offered in other small cars these days, especially the confounding MyFord Touch system found in most Ford models, including the compact Focus.
9. Is it comfortable?
In a word, no. Those seeking an accommodating cabin with a useable rear seat and substantial cargo space will need to look elsewhere. While the front seats deliver sufficient room for those of average build, taller riders will be pining for additional seat travel and headroom. Even with easier access to the back seat via the small third door on the passenger’s side of the vehicle, a dearth of leg room makes it best suited for small dogs, a child, or a few bags of groceries. Fortunately the rear seatbacks fold down to expand the smallish cargo area to reasonably useable proportions.
10. What about safety?
The 2015 Veloster receives a perfect five out of five stars for overall occupant protection in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), though this does include a four-star rating for frontal crash protection. It receives mixed marks in crash tests conducted by the insurance-industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It earns just a “marginal” score from the IIHS in its stricter “small overlap test,” which is designed to mimic what happens when a car’s left-front corner collides with a pole or other obstruction. It otherwise receives top “good” marks in the IIHS moderate-overlap frontal crash test and for roof strength and head protection, but only garners an “acceptable” rating for side-impact crash protection.
11. How’s the reliability and resale value?
The Veloster rates below-average in reliability, receiving just two out of five “Power Circles” in the latest long-term ownership survey conducted among owners of model-year 2011 cars by the influential market research company J.D. Power. It otherwise rates an average three circles in initial quality and performance/design, based on J.D. Power surveys of recent Veloster buyers. Expect the car’s resale value to be about average, with the automotive valuation experts at ALG giving the car a three- out of five-star rating in that regard. By comparison, the Civic Coupe receives a perfect five-star rating for resale value, with the Kia Forte Koup, MINI Cooper, Scion tC, and Volkswagen Golf/GTI garnering four-star ratings from ALG.
12. Is it better than the competition?
Veloster’s perhaps a worthy choice if you simply want a small and reasonably affordable car with styling that stands out in a crowded parking lot. Anyone else can find a better car for the money. The Civic, Mazda 3, and Golf in particular are far more fun to drive for the money. Other competing models bearing mention as worthy alternatives include, well, most other compact models on the market, with souped-up sporty small cars like the Civic Si, GTI, Focus ST, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and Impreza WRX versions being practical and entertaining alternatives to a sports car.