Car companies spend a lot of time talking to young people. They aim ads at them, target jingles at them, even go so far as to build entire cars for them. From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense — get someone young, latch your hooks into them, hang onto their business forever.
Problem is, young people don’t always know what they want. (Full disclosure: At time of publication, the author of this review is 30, which makes him neither young nor old but still losing hair at an alarming rate. Also, it makes him really uncomfortable when he refers to anyone as “young people,” as he sounds like a senile Amish grandmother.) Building cars for this crowd is a mixed bag — you have to balance appealing to a short attention span and fad-friendly taste with actually building a consumer good worth a damn.
In the best of all worlds, you end up with a good car that happens to be charmingly different. (See: Honda CRX.) In the worst, you end up with a rolling, trend-happy gimmick that no one over the age of 25 would be caught dead in. (See: Any Scion loaded down with tasteless dealer “aftermarket” options.) Either way, you’re treading a fine line between genuine style and cynical marketing, one that even the dumbest of admen won’t pretend to understand.
Car magazines will tell you the Veloster’s unique parts are important, that they herald the arrival of something new, or perhaps Hyundai brewing up some kind of secret engineering plan. No matter. All you really need to concern yourself with is how the Veloster drives. And it drives impressively.
What, then, to make of the three-door, uniquely shaped 2012 Hyundai Veloster? Hyundai launched this oddball in Portland, Oregon, city of hipster progress. Company execs hoped the city’s fixie-forward crowd and put-a-bird-on-it culture would rub off, or maybe just remind journalists of who they wanted to buy the car. Either way, the Veloster looks like nothing else on the market.
Let’s take inventory: A hatchback. Three doors, four if you count the rear hatch. A 28/40 city/highway EPA fuel-economy rating, and a 138-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder powering the front wheels. MacPherson struts up front, a non-independent torsion beam — think old Volkswagen or Honda Civic here — in the back. You get your choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed, dual-clutch transmission (the latter is Hyundai’s first), as well as a shockingly low curb weight of 2,584 pounds with a manual transmission. Funky 1970s stick-on body stripes are optional, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this means something. Perhaps that funky 1970s stick-on body stripes are currently hot in South Korea. Here, they just look a bit too Starsky and Hutch.
Hyundai is cagey on the Veloster’s mechanical origins, insisting only that its chassis is largely new, albeit peppered with a few Accent and Elantra parts. This is odd for a small, inexpensive ($18,060 base) economy car, in that most machines of this nature share a platform with something else in order to keep costs down. Car magazines will tell you the Veloster’s unique parts are important, that they herald the arrival of something new, or perhaps Hyundai brewing up some kind of secret engineering plan. No matter. All you really need to concern yourself with is how the Veloster drives. And it drives impressively.
This is not a sports car. Sixty mph comes up in 8.5 seconds, or just fast enough that you don’t find yourself getting run over by traffic during merges. The chassis is astonishingly rigid and free from scuttle shake or resonance; a Toyota Camry and Honda Civic driven on the same day felt limp and noodly by comparison. The steering offers little feedback, but decent feel and resistance. The chassis is nimble without being twitchy, which means it essentially fades away in traffic, the car shrinking around you. Winding roads are dispatched competently but without any real sense of fun; the engine drones a little at high rpm, but both transmissions work relatively well when pushed. Around town, the twin-clutch box actually falls down compared with the manual — it seems sluggish and jerky.
Oh, and that third door: It actually makes getting into the back seat easier. There’s room back there for a grown man, but the car doesn’t look big or bulbous in back. This is significant, as it’s almost unheard of in a car this size.
Regardless, what counts here is what you get for the price. In addition to standard Bluetooth with voice recognition, an auxiliary and USB input jack, Pandora/iPhone compatibility, you also get optional park-distance sensors, a panoramic glass sunroof, a rearview camera, navigation, and pushbutton start.
The Veloster looks great, it offers a crazy amount of positives for the price, and chiefly, it’s stylish without being faddish. It oozes that most ethereal of consumer-good qualities: cool.
In other words, young people will probably flock to it in droves. Which is good, because it means they’ll be out driving their new car and will likely stay off my lawn.
WIRED Looks the business. Implies you know something everyone else doesn’t. Reminds you of the legendary Honda CRX. 40 mpg paired with sheet metal that doesn’t make you feel like a heinous dork.
TIRED Still drives like an economy car, albeit a very good one. Dual-clutch transmission feels unfinished. Cargo area is a bit tiny with the seats up.
Photos by Sam Smith/Wired