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TorqueNews review of the innovative 2012 Hyundai Veloster

Hyundai’s goal with the new Veloster was to create a fun-to-drive hatchback that offered incredible fuel economy and a truly unique design, with two doors on the passenger side while just a single door on the driver’s side – and the result is a sporty 4-door hatchback that gets an impressive 40mpg on the highway that also offers easy access to the rear seat thanks to the “extra door”.

Let me begin my review of the 2012 Hyundai Veloster by saying that everything “wrong” with the unique 4-door hatchback will likely be fixed with the upcoming Veloster Turbo that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show. Hyundai reached their goals of making the Veloster aggressive and sporty looking along with hitting the fuel mileage benchmark of 40mpg but the company admits that the single engine choice comes up a little short on the “sport” end of things. While the Veloster is indeed fun to drive and it handles like a dream, the 1.6L Gamma 4-cylinder’s 138 horsepower and 123lb-ft of torque is a little short on power but again, that is a problem that will be quickly solved when the new Veloster Turbo hits the streets with 201 horsepower and 195lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged version of the same 1.6L engine. If you began reading this review hoping to hear me bash the Veloster, “a little short on power” is as bad it as it’s going to get as I enjoyed pretty much every other aspect of the innovative hatchback.

The Design
The 2012 Hyundai Veloster follows in the basic design direction of the rest of the current Hyundai lineup, with aggressive lines from front to back and a truly distinct “face”. For many, the current look of the Hyundai brand is a “love it or hate it” situation and honestly, I am especially a fan of the Hyundai design on this sporty little hatchback. In a segment where many automakers happily blend into the crowd with their styling and rely on their fuel economy ratings or other aspects to stand out – the Veloster proudly stands out with a design that not only makes the car unique, but it also offers excellent aerodynamic properties to improve fuel economy and performance.

The 2012 Hyundai Veloster page on the company website (for the USA) boldly states “like nothing else” and that is very true. Aside from the fact that the front and back of the Veloster don’t look like anything else on the American market right now, there is the unusual door layout with one driver’s side door and two doors on the passenger’s side. This allows a driver easy access to climb in and out of the cockpit with a larger door on the driver’s side while the passenger’s side front door is shrunken a bit to make room for the unique rear door. The passenger front door is smaller than the driver’s side opening but it is subtle enough that most people don’t even notice the difference and that unique rear door is integrated well enough that many people don’t notice that there are two doors on the passenger side. However, that second door makes a gigantic difference in accessing the rear seating area – both for rear riding passengers and for loading or unloading cargo.

Anyone who has owned a 2-door car (or a 3-door hatchback) with a rear seat knows how hard it can be to load passengers into the back. If you are loading a person into the back of a 2-door vehicle, you likely have at least three people with you (including the driver) so getting someone into the back turns into a production. You have to pivot the front seat forward to make room for the person climbing into the back, hoping that the seat moves forward far enough to make climbing into the back comfortable, which it is often not even when the front seats are moved all the way forward. Then, once you get where you are going, if you want to let someone out of the back seat that entails having one of the people in the front seats get out so that the seat can be moved forward as the rear passenger climbs up and out of the back.

None of that comes into play with the 2012 Hyundai Veloster thanks to the rear passenger door. Even though the opening is smaller than a “normal” rear door, there is plenty of room for passengers to climb in and out of the back seat without the front passenger or driving having to do anything shy of unlocking the doors. This rear door also makes for easy loading and unloading of cargo, while also removing the concern of having to wrestle something like a large box over the front seats or having to lean in awkwardly to pull that same box back out of the car. Those who have small children will also find that not only does the Veloster make loading the kids in and out of the car easier, but for what is essentially a compact 3-door hatchback; there is lots of room in the back for the kids. The overall design of the Veloster also makes for easy loading and unloading into the roomy “trunk” area under the rear hatch, with a massive opening that realistically allows you to load items into the Veloster that wont possibly fit with the hatch closed.

The interior of the 2012 Hyundai Veloster continues the sporty theme with sharp angles throughout the dash, door panels and steering wheel. The dash cluster features gauges that are large, bright and easy to read and the multimedia touchscreen display offers simple control of the navigation and sound system at your fingertips. There are also controls for the stereo, phone system, cruise control and trip settings on the sporty steering wheel so for many interior functions; the driver won’t even need to remove his or her hands from the wheel. Considering the low price of the Veloster, the interior is very nicely packed full of features once reserved for far more expensive vehicles.

The Drive
My 2012 Hyundai Veloster test car was equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission although a 6-speed dual clutch automatic with paddle shifters is also available. That being said, as a lover of rowing my own gears, I would strongly recommend the manual transmission even for someone who isn’t well versed in the wonders of the clutch pedal. This is a manual transmission that is very forgiving and easy to get the hang of so for someone who wants to get into a stick shift car, the Veloster could be a good learner vehicle. The shift pattern is nice and tight; the gears are easy to find and the clutch is very user friendly – making for a very pleasurable drive. As I said in the beginning of this review, the Veloster’s sporty aspect would benefit from some more power but in standard form, the 1.6L engine provides more than enough power to keep up with traffic and even tickle the triple digits on the open road. More importantly (to some), is the fact that while driving the Veloster I consistently averaged better than the 32mpg combined figure issued by the EPA – with my best tank bringing me 34.3mpg over the course of about 35% highway driving and 65% “city driving”.

The 2012 Veloster is not a car that is going to win a whole lot of races at the drag strip but around town, the Veloster is fun to drive with the real performance attributes making themselves known when you hit the twisties. The steering system of the 2012 Veloster is tight and precise, offering a great turning radius in tight spaces while also responding quickly to driver inputs when breezing along a curvy country road. The suspension is stiff enough to offer a great feel for the road on tight corners and long, sweeping corners alike but that handling does not come at the cost of a smooth ride. The Veloster rides “like a sports car” but it is not a vehicle that will shake your teeth out on the highway when you hit some uneven seems like some modern compacts. Hyundai really did a very nice job of balancing ride quality and handling so that someone who wants a sport compact that can handle the turns can also enjoy a cruise along some of Detroit’s less-than-perfect road surfaces.

The Final Word

Hyundai is marking the 2012 Veloster to younger buyers who want something sport and efficient while also being able to fit cargo and people easily into the car…and the Veloster hits on all of those points very well. With fuel economy figures topping the 40mpg mark on the open road, easy seating for four adults (albeit a little tight in the back if you have four tall adults) and a sporty attitude that can be backed up both in looks and handling properties, the Veloster is a great low-priced alternative to the many uber-vanilla compact models in dealerships today. If it is bigger power you are after, you may want to wait for the Veloster Turbo but if you are in the market for an affordable, efficient and fun to drive compact – the 2012 Veloster might be the car for you.