I don’t know about you, but I love when a manufacturer takes a risk. I mean a real risk; a manufacturer slapping a “sport” logo on a vehicle and adding a stripe or to doesn’t count. Even sparkly rims on an otherwise garden variety model is a dime-a-dozen move these days.
It was with that in mind that I approached the Veloster N, the no-holds barred, race-bred N version of the all-new ’19 Veloster. Its arrival signals that of not just a new Veloster, of Hyundai’s N-Performance brand to North American showrooms. And that’s a very good thing, right? They must be serious…
Making a statement
By the looks of it, you can tell this version’s special. There’s the Performance Blue paint (one of three colours available; it’s joined by white and black, with the potential for a red down the road depending on that colour’s take rate in the US, where it’s already available), standard 19” black wheels hiding red “N”-labelled brake calipers, Pirelli P-Zero rubber and functional aero including roof spoiler, underbody diffuser, and different front splitter. It’s a serious, gutsy conversion from the outside and it’s not hard to see the influences of the race and rally cars that have hitherto been the main purview of N-Performance.
Inside, the theme continues with bespoke, deep-bolstered racing seats, thick-rimmed wheel, a handful of N badges and blue seatbelts; a single black interior colour is available. I was a little nervous when I first heard “deep-bolstered seat” as this tends to make things tough for the wider-hipped among us Luckily, the interior design team has found a bit of a sweet spot for its seats, which are comfortable, supportive and provide a nice seating position. Like the regular Veloster, however, the rear seats are not especially roomy, so I wouldn’t plant on shoehorning adults in there, third door notwithstanding.
That’s all great, but what’s really earned my respect here is how Hyundai’s managed to make the Veloster a properly performance-oriented vehicle. Power from the 2.0L turbo four is rated at 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, all fed to the front wheels through an electronic limited-slip differential (eLSD). The four-valve suspension is continuously variable, and can also be modified by the driver along with the steering, transmission and throttle response.
And oohh-wee, can you feel it.
Activate “N-Mode” by flipping the powder-blue button attached to a steering wheel spoke, and the engine comes alive – literally. In addition to adjusting all that stuff we talked about, N-Mode also changes the ignition timing and exhaust baffling so you get a louder exhaust note, yes, but also more backfiring on the overrun. Clearly, Hyundai wanted the Veloster N to sound as aggressive as it looks.
Coupled with that eLSD, the turbo four flings you down the road with gumption as soon as you sidestep the clutch; you don’t get quite the neck-snapping response you would from a VW Golf R, but it does a fine job for an FWD car. It feels as fast as a VW Golf GTI and almost as fast as the more powerful Honda Civic Type R, two vehicles whose MSRPs eclipse that of the Veloster N’s $34,999. That bargain price means the loss of pretty much every electronic driver aid you can think of (only the backup camera remains, because this is model year 2019, and it has to), to which I say an enthusiastic “Huzzahhh!”; this is a car built to perform, and you can check your own blind spots, thank you very much.
Instead, this is a car that asks for your commitment and, as we found out on the track at Thunderhill Raceway in California, for your trust that it can walk the walk. One of the main ways it pulls it off is the brakes; these are some of the more responsive binders I’ve sampled in this segment (a list that includes the aforementioned Golf and Civic), and while they did display some fade on some cars as the track day wore on, I move that they’ll be more than enough for most drivers.
The next item on the driver-confidence checklist is that eLSD; it helps to quickly pull you out of tight bends (as we experienced numerous times on the event’s autocross track) but it will also step in to scrub oversteer. On the autocross track, that means a faster time; on the big track at Thunderhill or on the open road, it could mean the difference between hitting your turn exit, or hitting the outside gravel. The bottom line is the eLSD does a fine job of neutralizing many of the foibles that are part and parcel of performance FWD cars. Thank goodness for the manually-adjustable dampers, though; these are incredibly harsh in N-mode, which renders that mode something reserved for the track.
Yes, the Civic feels faster and the Veloster’s somewhat rubbery shift action is eclipsed by the competition, but I wouldn’t call that a deal breaker by any means. I would absolutely call that price a deal-maker, however (there are no factory option packages), as I find it difficult to think of many cars this side of a Mazda MX-5 that can provide as much fun as the Veloster N does for that kind of money.