When you see a Hyundai Veloster down the road, what is your first impression?
Is it a small sports coupe that sometimes act as a commuter? Or, could it be the most practical autocross and track weapon that you could drive daily?
Last year, Hyundai threw down the gauntlet in the TCR class of IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge series. Through Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian, they sent down a team of Veloster Ns on some of the most challenging racing venues in this country. The result is a class championship, a driver championship, and a team championship in a strange 2020 season.
Perhaps it was fitting that a “strange” sports coupe would bring home the trophy in a “strange” season.
However, I am here to argue that there is nothing strange about the Hyundai Veloster N. After my turn in a 2021 model, the conclusion is clear: This could be your next “affordable” performance coupe.
A bit of some background is necessary. Hyundai was looking for a performance sub-brand to enter into motorsport, as well as to engage a new generation of enthusiasts. They worked on pushing out more performance from their smaller vehicles – namely the Veloster and the i30 (formerly known as the Elantra GT in North America). They did so by testing these vehicles and benchmarking performance levels at the Nurburgring in Germany and at another venue in the Republic of Korea called Namyang.
The result is a new letter for performance: N. N as in…you guessed it…Nurburgring and Namyang.
I always ask what goes into a letter on a performance car. Letters, such as F, R, M, AMG, and so on. Letters that have their own meaning in terms of driving dynamics and all out engineering. In Hyundai’s case, their letter – N – seems to fit.
That letter fits perfectly in the Veloster.
Having driven the current generation model a few years ago in Detroit, I experienced the potential for a higher performance Veloster. One that could be in the same conversation as the Honda Civic Type R, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Golf R, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and Ford Focus RS. The sad news is that several of these vehicles are no longer offered – one of them has been put on ice pending a new version looming sometime whenever they feel like it.
Which puts the Hyundai Veloster N in the spotlight. Given its motorsports credentials and the work that went into this coupe, does it really deserve the spotlight.
If you get behind the wheel of one, that answer should become obvious.
First off, just look at it. The Veloster itself is both strange and compelling at the same time. The three-door configuration should be familiar by now, as it appeared in the original Veloster ten years ago. The third door – on the passenger side – creates access to the rear seats. It also serves as an additional access to the cargo hold when those rear seats fold down for longer items.
On the driver side, you have one long door to get in and settle into the racing-type seats of the Veloster N. As much as I love coupes, I hate having to negotiate my tall and somewhat wide body when some fool decided to park next to me giving me a slither to get inside competently.
As for the rest of the Veloster N, I love how Hyundai transformed this meek commuter coupe into an unassuming athlete. The ground effects add air management below, as well as a subtle extension of the rocker panels and front clip. The wing perched on top of the hatch is not subtle, however. It adds character and some downforce at the same time.
The 19-inch alloy wheels may seem too big for the Veloster, but it does wear some serious rubber – a set of Pirelli P Zeros. Wait…I thought it won the Michelin Pilot Challenge? Should it wear some Pilot Sport 4S or Pilot Sport Cups instead? Not that it matters…
Below the wing is an aggressive diffuser on the lower bumper flanked by two big exhaust caps. There is a sound that comes from those exhaust caps. They sound like they want to race at Brainerd or Road America.
You could say that the Veloster N looks like a mad concoction of add on racer parts onto a strange-looking commuter coupe. If you think that way, you are clearly missing the point.
Getting inside is a treat for the senses. You are immediately drawn to the seatbelts in Hyundai’s N-specified Performance Blue. They greet you when you jump behind the wheel by an extension from the B-pillar. The racing-style seats are in cloth with that Performance Blue striping down the spine. In the middle of the satin chrome trim on the seatbacks, the N logo lights up. You are also reminded on the N branding on the floormats, the steering wheel and the tachometer.
Ergonomically, it is right on for the enthusiasts. The instruments are analog, save for the digital TFT center screen. The center console serves you your shifter right where your hand needs to be. You have the right set of switches on the thick-rimmed steering wheel, including the key drive mode selectors.
One big update Hyundai did for 2021 was to the eight-inch touchscreen perched baive the center stack. The screens now conform to the newest Hyundai models – namely the Santa Fe, Tucson, Elantra, Kona, and Sonata. The home screen gives the Veloster N an upmarket feel. The radio screens with the tube-like digits turn the coupe into a fun place to jam in. It helps to have smartphone integration on top of all of this. Plus, the eight-speaker Infinity sound system adds to the party atmosphere of this performance coupe.
The front N Light Sport bucket seats were spot on. I found both comfort and support towards being present behind the wheel. The rear seats could be for adults, which is one of the attractions to the Veloster over the past ten years. There is a center area for cupholders, so you might call this either a four-seater or a 2+2.
Cargo space begins with a deep area measuring at 19.9 cubic feet. It is very secure, especially when fitting luggage into it. You can fold down the rear seats for a space up to 44.5 cubic feet.
The main attraction to the Veloster N is underneath its hood. It is a version of Hyundai’s Theta II 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, tuned to 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque to throw 3,247 pounds of three-door coupe around a track – or around town. It is very responsive and loves to fly off of the mark. It also has a sense of control, with a light throttle that gives a mature outlook for being a small race-bred car.
New for 2021 is the availability of an eight-speed wet dual clutch transmission on the Veloster N. Rest assured, you can still get this with a six-speed manual transmission. However, you may find the DCT pretty fun to drive. In every drive mode you select, the DCT offers quick shifts and easy access when you need to engage the paddles behind the steering wheel.
Let’s talk drive modes for a moment. Normal gives the Veloster N an everyday feel that some performance cars do not give their drivers. Sure, it has a quick throttle and lots of power to send down to the front wheels. Yet, it can be a well-behaved boy racer when it wants to be. \
Put the left button on the steering wheel into Sport and you are invited to interact with the car more. The shift points rev higher, but you can cruise competently without having to play with the paddles.
The button on the right side of the steering wheel – the one with the checkered flag on it – is for the N modes. That raises everything to race mode. You do have a Custom mode where you can set up your Veloster N the way you want it. If you really want to push things, the NGS button makes you work the paddles for the kind of engagement the Veloster N wants you to do. At that point, you have to hear the revs to make your gearchange – just like they used to do some decades ago.
At a recent event, an enthusiastic Veloster N owner spotted the tester and got real excited about seeing it. One comment this owner made was that they did not buy one for fuel economy. Since it is my duty to report it, I averaged 28.6 MPG.
As I expected, the ride quality was firm. Not that it’s a bad thing, but when you hit some bumps – especially at some bridge crossings on the highway – you will feel it. I would rather have this suspension set-up than something softer.
The firm suspension set-up comes into play when it comes to handling. It was designed for quick moves and near-flat cornering. In all, the Veloster N managed the turns and evasive maneuvers with a sharp feeling and response.
In Normal mode, the steering is very balanced, with superb on-center feel. Switch into Sport model and the N modes, then the steering action is heavier, which is perfect for greater control at the wheel. I found the turning radius on the wider side in Normal mode. However, I can still point the Veloster N perfectly into a turn.
The brake pedal feels sure when I press it. I experienced great stops in normal and panic situations. There’s nothing like stopping a performance car without having to adjust my foot on the brake to make it happen.
A performance coupe should not have to be so expensive, right? The good news is that my tester came with a sticker price of $34,745. That is including the new dual clutch transmission. The base price for the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N is $32,250 with the manual gearbox.
While some first impressions could yield some bias based on looks, in the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N you learn quickly to never judge a book by its cover. You just have to get behind the wheel, start it up, go through the drive modes, throw it into a forward gear – and drive.
At that point, you begin to understand why Hyundai went into a lot of effort to push their brand forward through the N Performance program. You also acknowledge their triumphs in IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge. Then, you make your own conclusion.
The Hyundai Veloster N is swift and rapid. It is a track weapon for those who need something smaller, lighter, and smile inducing. It is a commuter car that makes your routine much more enjoyable.
It is simply a hoot to drive.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Hyundai Motor America
All photos by Randy Stern