Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hyundai has recently taken notes from Honda's playbook — at least, before Honda turned its back on rear-wheel drive and fun-to-drive cars.
The Korean automaker's own take on the CR-Z — the feathery Hyundai Veloster — beat Honda at its own game, as seen by the sales numbers: monthly sales hover around 250 units for the hybrid CR-Z sold, whereas Hyundai's asymmetrical hatch moves almost ten times that amount at 2,000 units. Not to say the base Veloster was a great car; its tepid acceleration and clunky suspension threw a wet blanket over any aspirations of canyon-carving fun. But Hyundai has righted most of those wrongs with the 2013 Veloster Turbo, especially with the new turbocharged engine.
More egregious than Hyundai's inflated mpg figures was the base model's seemingly overrated powerplant, which felt more like 100 horsepower than 138. Thankfully, you'll no longer stomp on the gas in frustration with the boosted Veloster, and it responds more naturally. But there's noticeable turbo lag below 2500 rpm, and the 1.6-liter turbo has the most punch in the 4000 rpm range. Inexplicably, in a couple instances the Veloster bogged while powering out of a turn, with stability control completely off. The engine's paired with a satisfying six-speed manual transmission that's soft enough for a commute, yet adequately grabs for quicker shifts. The chintzy shift gate clicks with a hollow ring, however.
The biggest drawback to the Veloster Turbo is the suspension; Hyundai somehow thought the sloppily stiff setup from the base model would suffice, so it's just as crude. The tail can feel loose, not because the rear loses mechanical grip before the front, but because the wheels tap dance over rough surfaces like an old horse carriage. And not even over giant pot holes, but from amber road markers. If you opt for the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup Tires there's grip to spare, so it's a car most enjoyed at 8/10s its limit.
And that simplicity has its advantages. Whereas the CR-Z feels like being a kid in a candy store stocked only with prunes, the unrefined pep of the Veloster is like a candy store chock full of Pixy-Stix and Fun Dip; it may lack substance but there's a youthful eagerness to it missing in more polished and mature cars. The sheetmetal, which still looks like a space-aged insect, playfully eschews styling convention and still has the rear visibility of a loaded cargo van. Inside, there's a splash of metallic accents and blue inserts, which tart up the budget-grade finish of the base model. And it's nice to have navigation that doesn't indignantly fight you over every turn.
Most alluring is its pricepoint: starting at $21,950, the Veloster Turbo is one of the cheapest 200-hp compacts on the market. A fully-loaded trim dims that allure: the price jumps up to $25,395 (tacking on the sporty Michelin rubber adds another $1,200), which pits it against the hot Subaru BRZ. Still, there's nothing quite like the quirky hatch — until Honda finally spices up the sleepy CR-Z.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

CLASSFour-door hatchback
ENGINE1.6-liter inline 4-cylinder turbo
TRANSMISSIONS6-speed automatic or manual
POWER201 horsepower
TORQUE195 ft.-lbs.
WEIGHT2740 lbs. (manual); 2813 lbs. (automoatic)
0-60 MPH6.5 seconds
EMISSIONS5.3 tons CO2/year
MILEAGE24/35 mpg
PRICE RANGE$22,100 to $25,395
CONSStone-age suspension, turbo lag
PROSPeppy engine, bang-for-the-buck


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