The hot hatchback segment has seemingly been divided into two groups: your regular, everyday hatchback with zesty performance and the insanely powerful ones that make old supercars look dull. Things like the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R, and Veloster N make up the latter group. The first category has far more useable, not as crazily styled vehicles like the Golf GTI, Mazda3 Turbo, Mini Cooper S, and Hyundai Veloster Turbo. Raw horsepower, track performance, and styling are the main differences between the two, and of course, pricing plays a large role.
You see, while the Veloster N is one heck of a hot hatchback, few owners will actually use the car to its full potential and the majority would rather save $4,150 by going with the cheaper Turbo trim. Sound logic if you’re being brutally honest with yourself. Save some money and get a vehicle with nearly 80 percent of the same performance? That sounds like value.
The Veloster Turbo might seem like the obvious value choice, but you’re still getting something with character – gasp – and two usable rear seats. The Veloster Turbo Ultimate trim we tested certainly wasn’t cheap at $29,425, but it has all of the criteria to be a hot hatch. There’s the turbocharged engine, dual-clutch automatic transmission, useful hatchback cargo area, and taught handling. Think of the Veloster Turbo Ultimate as a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Ones that are oddly shaped and a tad too sweet.
I’ve raved about Kia/Hyundai’s 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine before and I’m going to sing its praises here. The little motor is a powerhouse, cranking out 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Modest figures compared to the hot hatches that belong to the insanely powerful group, but plenty for the every-day category. It’s also the way the engine makes its power – in one massive lump toward the middle of the range that results in hilarity. The power delivery goes something like this: nothing, nothing, POW everything, little something, nothing.
You’d better be holding the steering wheel tight when the power comes on. If not, torque steer will yank it out of your hands and send you into a hedge mercilessly as the tires chirp. It’s a riot.
While the engine is full of character, the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) is a massive letdown. This is the best implementation I’ve tested of this DCT, but it still needs to be refined. Slow upshifts, jerky motions when starting from a stop, and odd power delivery, the DCT brings out all of the bad things of a gearbox that’s supposed to be great.
Luckily, you don’t really need to shift gears all that much when you’re going through corners. You’ll mostly use second on really windy stuff and get into third occasionally. The Veloster Turbo’s chassis is so buttoned down that’s there’s nearly zero body roll. The hatchback certainly doesn’t feel light, in fact, you can feel the heft during consecutive corners, but it’s certainly capable around turns and a hell of a hoot.
Choosing “Sport” mode results in better throttle response and slightly quicker shifts, but the trade-off comes with extremely heavy steering. Like, it’s seriously way too heavy. It’s easy to make fun of BMW for offering hundreds of different configurations, but having a way to keep the steering in “Normal” and the rest of the powertrain in “Sport” would be perfect.
The Veloster Turbo is a genuinely fun hatchback, but it’s hampered by its all-season tires. They can’t exactly handle all that torque in a manner that’s halfway decent and when pushed hard, squeal in agony. If you’re looking for a really enjoyable hot hatchback to drive, may we recommend the Turbo R-Spec instead of the Ultimate? It has a six-speed manual and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. Those two things alone would change the worst aspects of the Ultimate as far as handling is concerned.
The Veloster is the answer to a problem that only a few will appreciate. Two-door sports cars with four seats are a pain, because you have to be a contortionist to get in the back. Why don’t people who need four seats just go with a sedan? You got me there and that’s exactly what I would recommend. But if you’re really against that sedan life and want the look of a sporty two-door with four seats, you’re only left with the Veloster. Like I said, an answer to a question that only a handful of people were really asking.
To make life easier for the passengers that are relegated to the back, the Veloster has a rear door on the passenger side. It’s much more convenient than having to squeeze behind the front seat and gives the Veloster a funky, asymmetrical design.
Get past the whole three-door design, and the Veloster is funky everywhere else. That gaping front grille, central exhaust system, and two-tone paint scheme really make the Veloster Turbo look different from the sedate hot hatch crowd. The wheels are also dynamite.
That odd asymmetrical design carries to the interior where the driver’s side and passenger’s side of the vehicle are different colors. The driver’s side has a black door and dashboard, while the passenger’s side is tan. It’s so peculiar that it’s hard to unsee it after you notice it for the first time. It’s certainly quirky and unique, but the jury’s still out on whether it’s attractive.
There’s nothing that stands out in the way of sportiness or boasting of the “Turbo” trim beyond the red accents and the word “Turbo” embossed in the seats. It’s like Hyundai is constantly whispering to you that this is the Turbo.
For the most part, the Veloster Turbo’s interior is fine. There are a lot of plastics, some of which, like the dashboard, are truly horrible, but it’s a quiet, comfortable, and versatile (thanks to the rear seats and the spacious cargo area) hatchback. The rear seats are a squeeze for an adult, but they’ll work in a pinch. The front seats lack the proper bolstering for really spirited driving, but as a whole, you’ll probably slide into the seat and feel like you’ve made a good choice when you head off to work.
If it weren’t for a few things, the Veloster Turbo would be an excellent hot hatch. It’s more Ford Focus ST instead of Focus RS, which I think will appeal to a lot more people. It also has something few new cars do – personality. It’s quirky, unique, and fun, things other modern cars struggle with.
Time for some buying advice. If you really want a sporty Veloster, but aren’t interested in the ultra-spicy Veloster N, the Veloster Turbo R-Spec is the one to get. You see, the Ultimate trim adds a lot of things that aren’t necessary. The leather seats, DCT, great Infinity audio system, heads-up display, larger touchscreen with navigation, they aren’t needed and dull the driving experience, which should come first with a hot hatch. Without driving the R-Spec, I’m almost 100-percent positive that stickier tires, a proper manual transmission, and a no-frills cabin with cloth upholstery will appeal to those actually looking for a true hot hatch experience.
If you’re willing to trade a pure driving experience for comfort and having more features, by all means, the Veloster Turbo Ultimate is a fine choice. It offers more value than nearly everything else in the class and has a unique design that’s unlike anything else. It’s also a hot hatch that manages to be both comfortable and sporty. That alone makes it worthy of praise.