Hyundai’s first performance car — Capable and then some

By Jim Prueter

(November 8, 2018) Just this last spring, Hyundai introduced the second-generation Veloster to the media in Austin, Texas, a city that takes colossal pride in proclaiming itself the weirdest city in the country. We came away overwhelmingly impressed with the ferocious new styling, the significantly upgraded cabin, advanced technology and standard safety features, and the more powerful 201-horsepower R-Spec turbo engine.

In fact, everything about the new Veloster was better in every way. The icing on the cake, however, was the promise that a more powerful 275-horsepower Veloster N would be introduced later this year.

I’m happy to say that time has come.

Meet the new Hyundai Veloster N: 250-horsepower (275-horsepower available) 260 lb.ft. of torque, twin-scroll turbo charger, rev-matching automatic heel and toe downshifting (you can turn it off and do it yourself — something I’ve never mastered) from a short-throw silky smooth six-speed manual transmission, 3036 pounds, and 2+2 seating.

It’s less than $28,000 to start, and less than $30,000 for the N Performance Package with 275-horsepower, larger 19-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero summer tires, larger front and rear rotors, variable exhaust valve system and N corner carving differential (limited slip differential with electronic control). But the brilliant, even revolutionary, thing it does is something that’s only revealed once behind the wheel. And there was no better place to experience it than at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Northern California, where Veloster N was introduced to the media.

Originally developed at Hyundai’s research and development center in Namyang,  South Korea, the N in the Veloster’s name is strongly linked to its true development site: Germany’s Nurburgring Nordschleife. Considered to be the benchmark for high-performance driving and testing, the Nurburgring is a 13-mile circuit with 73 bends, numerous elevation changes, and a reputation as the world’s most grueling and dangerous course, with bragging rights from auto manufacturers who set course lap records.

Similar to designations like Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Type R and Honda Type R, top-tier front-wheel drive performance trim levels, Hyundai’s N was developed by BMW M performance division’s Thomas Schemera and Albert Biermann, who ran their R&D before signing on with Hyundai.

While it certainly has moderate performance numbers when compared to the  BMW M, the Veloster N clearly marks a new era for the brand, signaling that Hyundai is more than just well-built family vehicles with long warranties at a bargain price.

Notably quirky, the N offers some surface excitement over the base Veloster: exclusive N-design front fascia with front air ducts for enhanced brake cooling; N-design rocker side sills with red accents, red brake calipers, and available lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels; a tricked-out larger N-design rear spoiler, rear fascia design with integrated diffuser and larger, high-flow dual exhaust.

We noted the absence of aggressive (offensive to some), ground-hugging lower rocker panel trim effects or bulging flared fenders, or a massive “race me” rear spoiler, the lack thereof giving the N a clean, attractive look from any angle and view point. This vehicle doesn’t need the exaggerated styling cues to give it the impression of going fast at sane speeds.

However, there was one affective auditory augmentation; an electronic sound generator enhances the natural powerertrain sound for a sportier driving resonance. While the sound wasn’t as aggressive as you would expect, I did like the backfire popping that sounded like the real deal.

Inside, front seats are cloth with extra bolstering for performance driving support. There are N-logo designs on the steering wheel, shift knob, instrument cluster, and doorsill plates. Veloster N models are available in four exterior colors: Ultra Black, Chalk While, Racing Red, and the N-exclusive Performance Blue (a very cool color) all accented with red trim on the lower front fascia and side rocker panels. A black cloth interior with blue stitching is the only interior color offered. I especially liked the light blue seat belt color.

Front seat space and legroom actually exceeds my requirements; at a tall 6-6, it was more than surprising. That can’t be said for the rear seat, however, where leg and headroom is nearly non-existent given the sloping roofline.

The folks at Hyundai arranged a menu of four different track day experiences for the media to test drive the N, including a street drive, auto cross, hot laps and plenty of time on the twisty high-speed track. I took ample advantage of the timed autocross, a short but twisty course, attempting to best the professional driver time of just a tick over 39 seconds.

My best time was mid 43 seconds, including some slight oversteer when over cooking tight corners, but zero understeer thanks to the vehicle’s exclusive N corner carving differential that electronically reduces slip and understeer, and the sticky 235/35 R19 Pirelli P Zero summer tires that makes it almost impossible to break traction on the street.

I’ve driven all of the competing vehicles the N will face, including the Golf GTI and R, Honda R, Ford ST, Subaru WRX, and easily confirm it more than holds it own against the competition.

Add it all up: the well bolstered and excellent seating position of the seats, the performance and smoothness of the excellent powertrain, the outstanding cornering achieved via the electronically-controlled torque-vectoring N Corner-Carving Limited-slip differential, multiple drive mode selection system, rev-matching, steering feel and yaw-control characteristics, heat-dissipating brakes, and Pirelli tires all at less than $30,000 makes it a small car with a feisty, lean, and taut feel that’s a hoot to drive around town and an absolute riot to drive on the track.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $28,000 - $30,000
Price as Tested: Not available
Powerplant: 2.0-Liter Turbo Charged 250-275-hp four-cylinder with a 6-speed rev-matching manual transmission.
Fuel Economy: 22-MPG City – 28-MPG Highway – 25-MPG Combined
Seating: 4

Crash Test Results: Not yet tested

Final Assembly Plant: South Korea

Competes With:
Ford Focus ST
Honda Civic Type R
Subaru WRX
Volkswagen Golf R

Fab Features:
Remarkable “on track” handling dynamics
Rev-matching transmission
Clever design choices: Colors, tires, styling, and performance