The Hyundai Veloster earned a place in my heart when it debuted in 2011, even though it never quite had the bite to back up its quirky design's bark. That changed when Hyundai unveiled the dramatically improved Veloster Turbo earlier this year, and the proposition got even sweeter when the Korean automaker showed the sharper 2019 Veloster N. I was promised the N would be the most fun-to-drive Hyundai yet, and with its powerful, turbocharged engine, track-tuned handling and a laundry list of go-faster goodies, my interest was certainly piqued.
Earlier this year, fellow Roadshow editor Jake Holmes was able to put the Veloster N through its paces on the world-famous Nürburgring Nordschleife, reporting back that, "The Veloster N is wildly fun on the street and able to deliver serious lap performance on the track."
So it was with great excitement that I headed to Thunderhill Raceway Park in northern California, where I would finally get my turn in the racy Veloster N. The park's three-mile East Course features an interesting mix of fast, sweeping bends with odd apexes -- the perfect place to test Hyundai's hottest hatch.
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Trackside at Thunderhill
My example featured the optional Performance package, which builds on the standard model's 250 horsepower with software tweak that adds an additional 25 ponies. This brings the new total to a healthy 275 horsepower. The package also adds a variable exhaust that is louder and more angry-sounding in its sportiest setting, an "N Corner Carving" limited-slip differential for better power delivery around bends, larger 19" wheels shod with Pirelli P Zero performance tires and larger brakes. Hyundai estimates this package will only cost about $2,000, a steal when you consider that an aftermarket wheel and tire upgrade would cost that much alone.
Out of the pits, the Veloster N pulls hard, flexing all of its 260 muscular pound-feet of torque with immediacy. Even without engaging launch control, the N rockets off of the line, the steering wheel twitching slightly in my grip. I recall the briefing by Albert Biermann -- head of Hyundai's N line, and former head of BMW's M division -- explaining that a bit of torque steer was left in to give the driver a "feel for the power," and that, "it's not a problem, it's a feature." I originally chuckled when I first heard that last bit, and even now, as I work to keep the front end in line, I can't help but smirk.
A six-speed manual is the only transmission available, and a quick, automatically rev-matched shift to second is punctuated by the pa-pop of the performance exhaust. The turbocharged, 2.0-liter I4 climbs quickly to its 6,000-rpm power peak, where 275 horsepower are delivered to complement the hearty torque thrust. The Veloster N sounds and feels fantastic at full chat, with a meaty, deep exhaust underscored by the slight whistle of the turbo's spool. Power remains strong and unrelenting until it's time to pa-pop up to third and do it all over again.
Thunderhill's first four turns are pretty straightforward, so to speak, but they offer an excellent opportunity to showcase the grip of the performance pack's Pirelli P Zero tires, not to mention the added control provided by the adaptive damper suspension. Sensors in the wheels and chassis send signals to those dampers to help cancel out dive, squat and body roll, helping to keep the hatchback nice and flat around each bend.
Hitting Turn 3 with too much speed -- which I almost always do -- I find myself braking hard into a downhill, off-camber bend that has the N's stiffened and reinforced chassis nearly lifting a rear wheel. Weeee!
Turn 5 is tricky one, cresting a hill -- which leaves both the car and the pit of my stomach feeling light -- and then diving into a blind right-hander. This corner is, I think, particularly tricky for front-wheel-drive cars like the Veloster, since the transition from balanced to light to compression during corner entry can be a recipe for a surprise spin. Happily, the Veloster N handles the transition with admirable stability. It's still a pucker-inducing experience, but the N always feels playful and easy to correct as I explore its limits lap after lap.
I can take most of Thunderhill's middle section almost completely flat out, but it's time to clench for Turn 9, which is basically two corners in one: a hard left up a hill that hides a blind kink to the right. Then it's a downhill charge before getting on the brakes hard for Turn 10.
You'd think the Veloster N would be rocking a set of high-performance Brembos, but its stoppers are actually just Hyundai units borrowed from the Kia K5 -- what we know as the Optima -- loaded up with improved pads. This parts bin performance upgrade keeps costs down, and are aided by cooling ducts built into the N's functional aerodynamic upgrades, which keep them from getting too hot, mitigating fade.
As a brief aside, I'd recommend going with the performance package if you intend to hit the track often for two reasons: the limited-slip differential and brake upgrades. Without these upgrades, the Veloster N steps down to brake-based torque vectoring and smaller brake rotors. Trying to absorb more heat with smaller hardware on a demanding track seems like a recipe for fade after a few laps. Of course, I wasn't able to test the non-performance-pack version at the track, so I'm just going to say, "better safe than sorry."
As equipped, my performance pack model's brakes hold up well after a full day of lapping. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised -- what's good for the Nürburgring should be more than good for NorCal. The Veloster N is a true hot hatchback that feels approachable for novices, but with plenty performance to be explored as they grow into enthusiasts.
Dropping out of the "N Performance" mode into Sport, Eco or Normal settings transforms the Veloster from race car to commuter. The steering lightens up, the ride softens up and the powertrain simmers down.
On my performance pack model, the exhaust loses some of the pop and crackle around town -- and attracts less unwanted attention -- but I still found the deep droning on the highway to be just a bit fatiguing. The sport seats, which Jake criticized for being not supportive enough on the track, are pretty nice on a twisty road and comfortable in traffic. I also agree that the N suspension, though not harsh by any stretch, is still very stiff over bumps.
The rest of the Veloster N formula is standard-fare Hyundai stuff. The interior showcases the automaker's knack for creating a really nice cockpit out of inexpensive materials. It's a good looking, but economical cabin.
The standard eight-inch BlueLink infotainment and navigation system will not only help you get from A to B, but will display some cool N Mode performance information along the way. Standard Android Auto or Apple CarPlay integrations allow drivers to bring all the tech they need along with a single USB connection. There's not much more by the way of amenities or driver aid features beyond the standard rear-view camera.
A very sweet spot
Pricing hasn't been finalized, but Hyundai estimates the 2019 Veloster N will sit "under $28,000," with the performance pack model coming in "under $30,000," including destination charges.
In that range, the Veloster N is an interesting value proposition. It's less expensive than performance compacts like the Honda Civic Type R (which starts at around $35k), but will run circles around more humble enthusiast models like the 200-horsepower Civic Si.
For around the same price, a Volkswagen GTI SE is still a better overall pick with nicer creature comforts, much more driver aid tech and performance that's still pretty close to the Veloster N's range on the street. I'd chose to hit the track in the Hyundai, but I'd rather live with the VW day to day. Depending on how many track days and autocross events are on my calendar, though, I could honestly go either way.
Of course, that the Veloster N is such a tempting performance alternative to the current king of the hot hatchbacks (and our Editors' Choice) at all is very high praise.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.
The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.
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