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Friday
Apr132012

2012 Hyundai Veloster: Lots of Promise, but…

By Christopher A. Sawyer

The Veloster frames Hyundai’s predicament rather well. It is bold, innovative (it has one door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger’s), well-priced, and full of features. In addition, the package is tightly drawn around the wheels and tires, and topped by a fast-sloping fastback that gives it a sporting feel from the driver’s seat. Oh, and it’s practical. The split-fold rear seat and deep cargo area mean you can carry a decent load of stuff under the glassy hatchback.

On the other hand, the Veloster never lives up to the image it projects. The engine is bereft of torque, road noise can get quite loud and annoying, the steering is — in a word — horrible, the suspension needs tuning by an experienced engineer, adults sitting in the back seat will need cooperative friends in the front buckets and will find entry and exit problematic, the clutch has little feel, shifts are as much by sound as feel, and — though this may have been a problem with this particular example — the engine management computer had a bad habit of dropping power just as the clutch was engaged.

What is the predicament? To put it simply, though the buyer is getting a lot of car for the money in terms of “stuff”, they’re not getting one that is fully developed. Over the long haul, the problems could rise to the level of annoyance. And there are not enough plusses in terms of driving fun, personality, exclusivity or capability to make an annoyed owner look beyond the foibles. Hyundai’s greatest hope is that its buyers continue to place their emphasis on its vehicles’ “bang for the buck” quotient, and ignore the items discerning drivers hold dear.

Outside

The Veloster is short, squat, and full of details that, if taken in isolation, would be jarring. However, even though the design is a bit fussy, it projects a sportiness and self-confidence that is endearing. It has styling like a two-sided clay model used for product evaluations, with a single door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger’s side. (This holds true in right-hand drive markets as well, meaning that Hyundai developed two unique bodies for this car.) You only need to spend a little time with the car to realize why it’s built this way.

The fast-sloping roofline would make it extremely difficult to enter the back seat if it was a more normal two-door coupe. Even the terminally short and slim have a difficult time getting into the back from the driver’s side, despite the fact that the driver’s seat slides forward to make entry easier. Adding a rear door cuts the aggravation, and makes it easier (note I didn’t say “easy”) to put a child seat in the rear. But, no matter which side you use, the low roof makes entering the back seat a task best suited to contortionists or those who jam themselves into fissures while exploring caves. It’s tight back there, and you’ll need cooperation from the front seat passengers to make ingress and egress easier.

Of course, that also depends on how your rear seat passengers like sitting under the glass hatchback. It’s pretty much a given that folks will crawl into the left seat from the third door rather than try and enter from the driver’s side, but taller folks may not like having their head inside the ring of the hatch and against the glass. It pays to have a lack of imagination when you look forward and see the trim around the hatch perimeter inches in front of your forehead. On the plus side, it’s unlikely that many adults will spend much time in the back as the Veloster is a sporty coupe for those with young families, and who only occasionally need the utility of a full back seat.

This is a young person’s car, and flash carries more weight than beauty with the target demographic. However, the driver’s side, with its more rearward B-pillar and less cluttered side panel, is its best side.

Inside

Plop yourself in the driver’s seat, and your initial impression is of a low-slung sporty coupe that promises tons of driving fun and exemplary dynamics. (You can even imagine what a killer two-door convertible could be made of the Veloster.) This is quite different from the feel you get when entering through the front passenger’s door, as the more forward B-pillar robs the passenger cabin of the raciness promised by the unbroken, sloping roofline on the other side of the car.

The instrument panel is typical Hyundai, and finished in an embossed hard plastic top that has a surprisingly soft feel when you run your hand across it. Kudos to whomever figured this one out, for the hard plastic could have been a deal breaker had it felt cheap.

However, cheap is the word that describes your initial reaction to the vertical hoop door pulls. Pulling on them makes the two-piece hoop squeak, and caused more than one passenger to ask if they would stay attached over the life of the car. Probably. Though the handle is attached only on the bottom, it feels substantial, and you get used to it in short order. Plus, a quick look at the sub-$20,000 price tag quickly reminds you that you are in a Hyundai, not a Porsche 911.

Angle makes door pull look like it attaches at top. It doesn't. The handle is free-standing.A bigger problem is the design of the door panel itself. It places the controls on a ramp-like piece between the door pull and the door, and this forces you to look at the widow and lock switches in order to activate the right one. And, since the curve of the door panel at this point is toward the floor, this means the in-door speakers are also pointed at the floor. As a result, the sound, unless you turn it up to teenager levels, is muddy and distant. A pair of tweeters mounted in the interior mirror caps would help this situation.

Over time the silver and (optional) piano black accents will go out of style, if they haven’t already. It would be nice to have the option of contrasting seat trim and body color or “graphic” accents throughout the interior. The sport coupe market is extremely fickle and driven by the latest styles and fads, giving Hyundai plenty of opportunity to cater to their tastes with different trim combinations in the future. Lord knows, it’s worked for Mini.

The standard high-resolution 7-in center touchscreen is from LG, and contains lots of options. These include an Eco minder that tracks your mileage on the fly and allows you to rack up “eco points”, and something called “Blue Max” (which, apparently, is not just a World War I movie starring George Peppard) that coaches you in 10-minute intervals to be a more efficient driver. Undoubtedly, this eventually will be ported to Facebook and Twitter so the terminally social can brag about their greater eco sensibility to their “friends”. However, the touchscreen in our tester had a few glitches. It never played the music selection (you have a choice of three) upon entering the car, didn’t show the correct welcome screen (it defaulted to a picture of the Veloster concept), and refused to initiate the screensaver mode.

Another disappointment was the steering wheel, which is overly styled (like the interior) and forces your hands above the horizontal spokes. (The spokes are thick and hooking your thumbs over them can become painful after a while. If Hyundai decides to take a look at Mini for interior options, it also might want to copy that car’s steering wheel, which is thick, easy to hold and covered in a rich, smooth leather.

On the Road

Driver's side looks sleeker, but access to the rear is much more difficult.I have said it before and I will say it again: Hyundai needs to retain a vehicle dynamics expert if it is going to challenge the big boys. Take, for example, the steering. The weighting ramps up dramatically just off center, has overly strong self-centering, and feels heavy and “sticky”. The feel is computer-generated, and is about as tactile and precise as the average Xbox hand controller. You can adapt to its foibles, but you shouldn’t have to, especially when these traits can be eradicated.

The suspension is similarly flawed. Travel over an uneven surface, and the body starts to oscillate in a lazy vertical circle, especially in the rear. Up front, the wheels often feel like flywheels moving up and down, underdamped by the springs and shocks. And that shock damping tends toward clamping down at the extremes, with too little damping through the rest of the suspension’s travel. Add to this tires that thump noisily on tar strips and similar irregularities, and you soon give up on handling that matches the Veloster’s sporty looks.

With a 138-hp 1.6-liter engine under the hood, the Veloster isn’t a rocket. However, its lack of excess weight doesn’t mean the car is going to be a dog; especially when you add in a six-speed manual gearbox. And it’s not, but power isn’t the engine’s problem, delivery of that power is. Unless you are working the engine hard, it feels listless, especially in the mid-range. Even more alarming is the fact that — occasionally, and randomly — the rpms would drop on the one-two shift, making it very difficult to move forward smoothly. Driving the car sedately from a cold start was especially exasperating, though it seemed to respond to greater revs and faster movement of the shifter between gears; this reducing the drop in rpm. Moving back to a more sedate style of driving then proved to be smoother, though the hiccups would reappear over time and do so inconsistently. It is possible this particular Veloster has a glitch in its engine control unit that caused this problem. On the plus side, it got great fuel economy, averaging 35 mpg.

TVD Rating: 2.75 out of 5

The Veloster is aimed directly at young males in the 18-34 age group, but promises enough utility to make it a real choice for those with young families. Though the styling is a bit over the top, the Veloster is a tightly packaged sport coupe with a unique third door and a sporty feel. Unfortunately, the driving dynamics are a major disappointment that would cause even a mildly sentient driver to look elsewhere.

 

 

 

2012 Hyundai Veloster

Pricing

MSRP: $17,300

Options: Style Package (18-in alloy wheels with P215/40R-16 tires; chrome grille surround with piano black highlights; front fog lights; panoramic sunroof; piano black interior accents; Dimension premium audio with 8 speakers, external amp and subwoofer; leatherette bolster seats and door inserts; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; alloy pedals; driver’s auto up/down window), $2,000.

Destination charge: Included

Price as tested: $19,300

 

Powertrain

Engine: Transverse 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder. Aluminum block and heads. Dual over head cams with continuously variable intake and exhaust valve timing, and four valves per cylinder. Gasoline direct injection.

Horsepower: 138 @ 6300

Torque: 123 @ 4850

Transmission: Six-speed manual.

EPA mileage rating: 28 city/40 highway/32 combined.

 

Steering, Suspension and Brakes

Steering: Electrically assisted power rack and pinion.

Suspension F/R: Gas-filled MacPherson struts, 24-mm anti-roll bar./Coupled torsion axle with coil springs, gas-filled dampers, V-beam 23-mm anti-roll bar.

Brakes F/R: 11.0-in vented discs/10.3-in solid discs. 4-channel ABS with electronic brake-force distribution.

 

Dimensions (in inches)

Length: 166.1

Width: 70.5

Height: 55.1

Wheelbase: 104.3

Fuel capacity (gallons): 13.2

Cargo capacity (cu. ft.): 15.5

 

Warranty

Anti-corrosion: 7 years/Unlimited miles

Powertrain: 10 years/100,000 miles

Vehicle: 5 years/60,000 miles

Roadside Assistance: 24-hour roadside assistance for 5 years/Unlimited miles.

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