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Test Drive: 2012 Hyundai Veloster

PHOTOS BY SUSAN HOLT | The Daily Mississippian


Hyundai has had great success in recent years, in part because it has been willing to take chances on exciting, enthusiast-oriented vehicles while its Japanese counterparts have relied on more conservative designs and clinging to their reputation for value and reliability.

But the Japanese are slowly losing market share (especially to the youth market) to the South Korean automaker, and the Hyundai Veloster is a good example why. 

The Veloster garnishes plenty of looks thanks to its radical styling. The one thing that really throws people off is its three doors. But this isn’t a silly half door that can only be opened when the front door is ajar like the Mini Clubman. 

It is a conventional front-hinged door that can be opened independently.  

Even more confusing is that Hyundai did a great job of camouflaging the third door, and when you open it, people immediately walk to the driver side to make sure they didn’t miss seeing a back door on that side. Then they become perplexed about there not being another door on that side and ask you the inevitable, “Wait, that thing only has three doors?” 

But if the idea of only three doors seems weird to you, don’t fret, because Hyundai is slated to come out with a four-door version in the near future.

The rest of the exterior has a very fashionable design with flowing lines similar to a Mazda 3 and a sexy center exhaust. 

The interior has an overall functional design with everything within easy reach while driving. The dashboard in particular has a modern feel thanks to its waterfall like design. 

However, some things from Hyundai’s econobox days seem to creep into the interior like the plastic door pulls that seem more at home in Barbie’s convertible than an actual car. Of course, the silver plastic accents throughout the interior don’t exactly exude quality either. 

The test car came with the Style and Tech packages, priced at $2,000 each, and they are the only major options outside of the dual-clutch transmission.

The Style package equips the car with 18-inch wheels, chrome trim, front fog lights, an eight-speaker Dimension sound system, “leatherette” seats, fog lights, actual leather steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum pedals, auto-up driver window and a panoramic sunroof that spans from the windshield all the way back to the glass on the rear hatch that give the interior a more airy, open feeling.

One suggestion on the leatherette seats – stay away from the red ones that the test car came with. They just look lower quality, something the black seats don’t have a problem with. 

The Tech package adds navigation, automatic headlamps, pushbutton start and painted inserts on the wheels that match the exterior of the car. The inserts didn’t look bad on our black test car, but get the green Veloster and you might have doubts. 

The Tech package also includes rear parking sensors and a back-up camera, which proved quite useful given the bulbous rear end of the Veloster.

The Veloster comes with a list of neat standard features, including Bluetooth, an RCA cable so video can be played on the navigation screen (or radio screen if you don’t have the Tech package), USB and auxiliary inputs and even Pandora radio accessibility.

Outside of the red leatherette, the seats were great units, being both comfortable and supportive. 

The problem with the back seats was not the lack of legroom like most compact cars, but the lack of headroom with people over 5’8” feeling cramped. The unfortunate thing about the Veloster is that it is more fun to look at than drive.  This is due in part to the un-engaging, electronically-controlled steering.  It doesn’t have any feedback whatsoever and refuses to self-center. 

Also not helping in the fun department is the 1.6-liter direct injection four cylinder engine.   

Its horsepower isn’t too meager at 138 horsepower, but its low torque (126 lb-ft) peaks at a high 4800 RPM, which provides lackluster performance. 

It takes the Veloster 8.6 seconds to get to 60 mph and 16.7 seconds to travel a quarter mile. 

That’s 1.3 seconds slower to 60 than a Ford Focus and a full second slower than a Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

But what the Veloster lacks in performance it gains in fuel economy with an EPA rated 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway for our manuallyequipped car, while the dual clutch transmission gets 29/38 mpg city and highway, respectively. 

To illustrate how serious it is about fuel economy the Veloster comes with a little video game that scores you on how economical you drive. I must admit, it was quite addicting.

The 6-speed manual is by no means a Honda gearbox, but it was precise and easy to use. 

The base price of the Veloster is $18,060, and when you add in the Style and Tech packages with a few small dealer add-ons our as-tested price swells to $22,350. 

While there are no other cars on the market with three conventional doors, the Veloster has plenty of competition in its price range – like the Ford Focus, which offers better performance, equal fuel economy and a more fun driving experience.

The Veloster is a novel concept that could have been executed a little better. 

But unlike other economical cars, it doesn’t look like it belongs in a rental fleet and you won’t feel embarrassed when have to pick up a date.

The test car was provided by Pride Hyundai in Batesville.