The Hyundai Veloster has been around since 2011, but in that time, it’s never really reached its true sport potential. The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N is a whole new ballgame. It’s the perfect weapon for track days, autocross and commuting, all wrapped into one super well equipped car, at a price that makes a lot more sense than the competition.
When it was introduced in 2011, it came through with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 138hp. In 2012 a turbo arrived with 201hp, but that was about as far as it went in terms of performance. It was a sort of fun, weird little car that appealed to a tiny segment of drivers. On average, Hyundai dealers sold around 2,000 Velosters a month.
That doesn’t sound too bad, but this isn’t like the VW GTI. The beauty of the GTI is that while it sells in the same kind of volume as the Veloster, it costs Volkswagen essentially nothing to build it because it’s just hanging different parts off of a car that has the potential of selling at a rate of 6,500 to 8,000 units a month.
The Veloster is a unique bodystyle. It shares a bit with the Hyundai i30 and the Kia Cee’d available in the rest of the world, but even then, it’s a completely unique, three-door hatch body with a panel on the passenger side for access to the rear seating area. You’ve got to be able to sell at some kind of volume to make it work, and for young people buying their first car who wanted a bit of performance, the Veloster just didn’t have it all in one package.
For 2019, the Veloster line-up definitely does. There are four trims available: The Veloster 2.0 at the base level, the Veloster Turbo, the Veloster Turbo R-Spec, and the all-new Veloster N, the car we went to America’s longest road course, Thunderhill Raceway in wide open Willows, California, to wring out in the environment for which it was intended.
Hyundai is more than honest about the Veloster N’s performance potential. Nobody we talked to seemed interested in its lap time at the Nürburgring, its zero to sixty or quarter-mile times. What was key Albert Biermann — president and head of Performance Development and High Performance Vehicle Division, Hyundai Motor Group — reiterated several times in our introduction, was how this car felt in the seat the pants, not just on the track, but in every driving situation. He explained that it was more about heartbeats per minute (BPM) rather than engine RPM: “Veloster N takes Hyundai to a new level of purchase consideration for true driving enthusiasts in the U.S. market,” he said.
If that’s the goal, the Veloster N is a smashing success.
Hyundai — up until this point, anyway — hasn’t been what you’d call a performance brand. There are a few cars that have hinted at performance here and there, mostly when Genesis was a model and not an entirely separate brand. But at the entry level, Hyundai has worked hard over the last 20 years to build its reputation as a builder of reliable, affordable, value-driven automobiles.
That’s all true of the Veloster N, but what’s different is the performance part of the equation. It’s the first car featuring Hyundai’s “N” branding, and it hints at the performance potential of many of the other products in Hyundai’s lineup.
For starters, engine power gets a significant boost. The Veloster N is powered by a 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder. In base form, it delivers 250hp, but we drove the Veloster N with the optional performance package. It boosts engine power to 275hp, but more importantly, adds an electronic limited slip differential that helps put that power to the front wheels. The performance package also includes 19-inch wheels and specially designed Pirelli P Zero tires. There’s also a set of Nitto track tires available from Hyundai retailers.
Every Veloster N features a six-speed manual transmission. It’s rare to offer a manual to begin with, let alone making it the only transmission, so tip your cap to the gearheads at Hyundai for that alone. As a bonus, as standard equipment Hyundai includes a rev matching feature for drivers that haven’t quite yet mastered the art of heel-and-toe shifting. It works amazingly well and you’ll sound like a pro whether you’ve mastered the two-footed dance or not. When you have, you can turn rev matching off with a simple button on the steering wheel.
The transmission itself is going to make you feel like a better driver. It has carbon-coated synchro rings and gear material reinforcement for smoother operation and lower overall shift force. What the engineers were going for was positive engagement feel, and it works.
You might be tempted to roll your eyes when you see the Veloster N’s “N Grin Control System,” but the proof here is definitely in the pudding. The drive mode selection system includes Normal, Sport, N, Eco and N Custom, which allow a range of engine throttle response, engine speed rev-matching, exhaust note, active differential tuning, suspension damping rates, steering feel and yaw-control characteristics.
The Veloster N’s exhaust is unique, a multi-mode, high-flow active sport tuned system with a variable exhaust actuator. In N mode, this system — enhanced by an electronic sound generator — delivers a cackling engine over-run note that must be just this side of legal. You won’t care how it’s done the first time you hear it. It sounds great.
The suspension difference between a standard Veloster N and a performance package-equipped car is negligible. Both cars have electronically controlled MacPherson struts up front and an electronically controlled multi-link suspension in the rear with a 19mm rear anti-roll bar. The standard anti-roll bar is 23mm, while the optional bar shrinks to 21mm.
What are pretty amazing are the brakes. Hyundai opted to keep the Veloster N’s fully equipped price low — as yet unreleased, but promised at under $30,000, including freight — so inviting bigtime suppliers like Brembo along for the fun was out of the question. Standard Veloster N buyers get a 13-inch rotor up front with 11.8 inch discs at the rear. The performance package includes 13.6-inch rotors in the front, and 12.4-inch rotors in the rear. The calipers are painted red, but they’re not a whole lot different than those found in lesser Velosters. Nevertheless, they are amazingly good stoppers. We flogged the Veloster N on a speedy autocross course, as well as on the race track and after all day out there, the cars never exhibited any brake fade or fluid issues, and hauled these cars down to a stop with authority.
Outside, the 2019 Veloster is still has the outgoing car’s squat profile, but it’s a much more aggressive looking car, and the Veloster N features a load of N-specific details including a unique front fascia design, a larger N-design rear spoiler, rear fascia with an integrated diffuser, larger diameter exhaust outlets and LED taillamps.
For the additional money over an R-Spec, Veloster N drivers get N-design front cloth sport seats with performance-focused bolstering, an N-design steering wheel, shift knob, door sill plates, and a special electroluminescent instrument cluster. The center cluster features a progressive sequential shift indicator that alerts the driver to shift at the point of maximum acceleration potential.
The laps at Thunderhill’s road course showed how stable and fun the Veloster N is at speed, and it shows its potential for buyers who are thinking about their very first track days. But where the Veloster N really showed its true colors was on the autocross course. Get it into second gear as quickly as possible and leave it there. The steering offers amazingly quick response and direct on-center feel.
The suspension uses a load-transfer control system that reduces dive during braking, enhances roll control in cornering and reduces rear suspension squat during hard acceleration, all of which makes the Veloster N such a blast on the autocross course.
Where we really felt the value of the performance package was in one corner, a hairpin turn that required hard braking and patience with the throttle, and a full application of the gas at about three quarters of the way to the exit. The optional electronic limited slip differential helped reduce understeer from acceleration slip, allowing the Veloster N to exit corners as quickly as possible.
Which is all terrific for those days when you’re autocrossing, but too often, that translates into a car that’s just awful to drive to work every day. In Normal Mode, though, the Veloster is a completely pleasant car to drive, with tons of passing power on tap for spirited driving on your daily commute.
The target customer here isn’t someone who’s obsessed with specifications and numbers. It’s a young person who may be buying their first new car, who needs basic transportation, but also hopes to find some way to realize their car’s performance potential on the weekend. And with a back seat, there’s plenty of room for a week’s worth of luggage, gym bags and even a friend or two.
It’s easy to think that the automotive industry has completely shifted its focus to high-end, wildly expensive cars when something as simple as a Mustang pretty quickly runs into $40,000. The Veloster N bucks that trend, offering a true performance car for under $30,000 delivered. A fully equipped VW GTI starts at $35,999 and only offers 225hp. The Veloster N is a performance bargain, provided you don’t need much in the way of rear seat room.
You wouldn’t be wrong to make some comparisons between this car and the Honda CRX Si. You’re not going to get the CRX’s Si’s just over-2,000 pound curb weight, but you more than make up for that with 275 hp to the CRX Si’s 105. You’ll definitely have that car in mind, though. It’s as close to that “Pocket Rocket” as any car built in the last 30 years.