Just like in any industry, there are sad days in the automotive industry. I’m not talking about anything related to sales figures, accident stats or what have you – not even talking about the death of the manual transmission, though you will see a bit of that here – I’m talking about when we have to bid adieu to a model, as we had to do for the Hyundai Veloster – sort of — after the 2020 model year in Canada. The funky, three-door hatch with punchy turbo power was eschewed from the line-up as Hyundai turned its focus to developing and building more Konas and Venues, etc.
Except…the Veloster isn’t actually dead; not fully, anyway, because the N model you see here will find its way to Hyundai showrooms for the 2022 model year, and hopefully for all the gearheads out there, many years hence. Hyundai is bully about its N performance division and is treating it as a pillar of its brand going forward. So, the Veloster, which pioneered the N brand in Canada for the 2019 model year, soldiers on.
Which is a very good thing, because on paper, this is one heck of a hot hatch.
Power from the 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine is rated at 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, sent to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is what we have here today. There’s also an electronic limited-slip differential for that extra boost as you pull out of corners or need to scrub off some understeer, often a FWD bugaboo.
Styling-wise, the most eye-catching detail is the paint, which is something called “Shooting Star Metallic”; not sure what that means as I’ve never seen a shooting star up close, but its matte look is a nice fit for a vehicle of this type. The red highlights on the rocker panels and over parts of the lower front splitter shine brightly against the backdrop, and have a day-glo quality to them. Add the two-tone alloy wheels, red brake calipers, and nicely aggressive roof spoiler, and you have a compact that punches above its weight class when it comes to presence.
Inside, it’s not quite as flashy – it’s actually surprisingly toned-down – but there are powder blue highlights on the seats, seatbelts, gearlever, drive mode buttons, and even ‘round the engine start-stop button to add some “N” flare to the proceedings.
The Veloster’s interior digs may be tame on the surface, but it makes up for it by providing a very cool infotainment system with slick graphics, a selection of themes but most of all, one of the coolest drive mode screens you’ve ever seen. What looks like a g-meter is actually a menu for the various systems you can modify – engine, transmission, e-LSD, exhaust sound (!), ESC, steering and suspension – and it starts to make sense the more you play with it. I actually rather like the visual way it does its thing, as it’s a refreshing departure of the lists and scroll-through menus typically seen.
You can choose from pre baked-in drive modes, or do as I did and make your own mode, accessible via the powder blue-coloured “N” button found on the steering wheel. I kept most of the systems in the second most aggressive mode, but cranked the exhaust note and transmission all the way up to 11, as it were. The exhaust note is a really, really good one that while artificially boosted, doesn’t sound fake and the DCT is so darn responsive that you’d hate to neuter it by having it in one of the “tamer” exhaust modes. Not I, dear friends; I wanted the full on touring car blat the exhaust can provide, and that feeling of instant thrust you get every time you swap a cog by flipping the wheel-mounted paddles. It is so good that having driven both – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – I think I’d have the DCT over the manual. It is worth noting, however, that vehicles equipped with the six-speed manual should get better fuel economy, according to Hyundai’s claimed figures.
Of course, we can’t just lay all the credit for the zippy acceleration you get at the feet of the transmission; that 2.0 L four-banger is a real peach, with fantastic midrange torque that both helps you get off the line quickly, but still get you the oomph you need to add that extra little bit of speed during higher speed moves on the highway (or the racetrack). Not only that, but if you really want a boost, you can get one – literally – by pressing a wheel-mounted button marked “NGR”.
That stands for “N Grin Shift” – ok, then – and adds an extra 10 hp boost for 20 seconds once pressed. That is a darn cool feature the likes of which has hitherto been reserved mainly for much higher-end cars. Or video games.
Believe it or not, though, as good as the acceleration and powertrain is, it’s actually equalled if not beaten on the Veloster N highlight reel by the chassis. It starts with the e-LSD (which, admittedly, has a foot in both the powertrain and handling camp), which you can really feel doing its work as it pulls you out of turns and helps you rotate through them. I did, however, find the max e-LSD level a little extreme; leaving it on the middle setting provided a good mix of performance and comfort.
After all that, it’s all about the steering rack and dampers, both tuned to provide instantaneous response and through doing so, inspiring a level of confidence in drivers. This is a car you can take from apex to apex with a level of assuredness not easily found in this segment. In addition to the responsiveness, there’s a feeling of solidity and quality through the steering rack; very little vibration, very little nervousness over repeated bumps or undulations. That’s what you want from your performance car; the knowledge that very little energy is wasted through unneeded vibrations or system shocks.
That Hyundai has managed to build a hot hatchback that can hold its own amongst the traditional leaders in the segment while hardly breaking a sweat really is one of the great modern fun-car stories. As a brand, Hyundai has excelled in the SUV/CUV and hybrid/EV worlds, and the Veloster N is proof that even through all that, they’re allowing themselves to let their hair down a bit and to design some bang-up performance cars in the process.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.