When the original Hyundai Veloster debuted in 2012, I was an instant fan. I loved its commitment to originality -- the Veloster's funky styling may be a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but at least it's unique. And I didn't mind the Veloster's pokey powertrain or the just-okay driving dynamics because I knew a better Veloster was on the way for 2013 -- the performance-oriented Veloster Turbo.
Well, now that I've driven the 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo, I'm not the fan I once was.
Where the Veloster Turbo is different
Let's start by talking about what Hyundai changed. The most obvious upgrade is the engine: The 1.6 liter four-cylinder gets a turbocharger that boosts its output to 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, up from 138 hp and 123 lb-ft in the base car. Transmission choices are a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic, the latter a conventional torque converter/planetary unit rather than the twin-clutch transmission in the non-turbo Veloster. (Smart choice -- twin-clutch trannies don't allow the engine to rev much from a dead stop, so they dampen the response of turbocharged engines.) The engine seems to pick up late; most turbos start to cook around 3,000 RPM, but the Veloster's 1.6 doesn't surge ahead until closer to 4,000. It certainly feels a lot quicker than the base Veloster; then again, so does a transit bus. My internal accelerometer (the "butt dyno") puts 0-60 acceleration in the low-seven-second range, so owners may at least take heart that they can beat a Toyota Camry away from the lights, as long as it's not a V6. Or a hybrid.
The Turbo's one saving grace is it favorable fuel economy: 26 MPG city/38 MPG highway with the stick-shift and 25/34 with the automatic transmission. The good news: The Veloster Turbo runs on regular 87 octane fuel; lots of hot-rod turbo fours require premium. The bad news: When was the last time you heard a Volkswagen GTI owner brag about his gas mileage?
Outside, the Veloster Turbo gets a mean-looking front fascia with a blacked-out grille, a more pronounced trunk spoiler, LED taillights and big round tailpipes, all of which give the Turbo a meaner, more purposeful look; unfortunately, the base model's nifty color-keyed wheels are not offered, and the chrome-trimmed 18" rims look boring by comparison. Optional is the very cool matte-gray paint shown here, for which you'll pay an extra $1,000 and sign a waiver saying you understand what a pain in the butt it is to take care of (hand-wash only, otherwise the flat finish goes shiny). Inside, the heated leather seats come in black with either silver or ridiculous-looking blue accents, while the "dark graphite" trim that replaces the regular Veloster's brushed-chrome brightwork makes for a gloom that not even the standard panoramic sunroof can penetrate.
Where the Veloster Turbo is the same
What about the chassis and suspension tuning? The Veloster Turbo gets bigger front brakes and steering with a quicker ratio and heavier effort that supposedly makes the car more responsive (but in reality requires a lot of effort when cruising down the highway, which I found annoying). As for the suspension, Hyundai has changed... nothing. Bugger all. Nada. Not a sausage.
And that's a real shame, because while the base-model Veloster's handling is perfectly acceptable for its econo-sport mission, that wasn't what I was expecting for the Veloster Turbo. I'm not saying the handling is bad; it's just not spectacular.
"Not spectacular" might be okay if Hyundai were charging a grand or so more for the Turbo, but they are not: The Turbo is priced at $22,725, which is $4,500 more than the base Veloster, although once you factor in the equipment that comes standard on the Turbo, the price difference is $2,500. It's still too much -- the Veloster Turbo is in a different price class than the base Veloster, but it's not a different class of car.
Bottom line: No sale
At $23k, the Veloster is about two grand cheaper than cars like the Scion FR-S, MINI Cooper S, and Volkswagen GTI -- not to mention Hyundai's own rear-drive Genesis Coupe. Are these cars worth the extra money? Hell yes, they are! I'd definitely spend the extra cash for any of them. I'd also spend the extra $1,540 for a Mazda Miata or the extra $275 for a Honda Civic Si. And if money was an issue, I'd go for a Chevy Sonic with the 1.4 liter turbo engine -- it delivers more smiles in the curves and costs almost $5,500 less than the Veloster Turbo.
Maybe I'm being a bit unfair to the Veloster Turbo, but with the extra power and mean-looking body kit, I was expecting a lot more thrills. The modified steering and brakes point to a half-hearted effort, so why in the world didn't Hyundai go all the way and give us a tighter, better-balanced chassis? Why not something that delivers the fun of a GTI, or an FR-S, or at least a Sonic Turbo? I know Hyundai can do it -- I've driven the Genesis Coupe. All the Veloster Turbo is, is the car the original Veloster should have been -- a sporty economy car that delivers acceptable acceleration and good fuel economy. I understand the marketing strategy and I'm sure the Veloster Turbo will sell just fine, but I for one ain't buying it. -- Aaron Gold
What I liked about the 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo:
- Mean-looking styling
- Matte gray paint looks extremely cool
What I didn't like about the 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo:
- Acceleration isn't particularly thrilling
- Blue interior trim looks horrible (thank goodness it's optional)
- No more fun to drive than the base-model Veloster
- Veloster Turbo is the hotter Veloster, with more power, bigger brakes, faster steering, but no suspension changes
- Price range: $22,725 - $27,225 / Price as tested: $26,225
- Powertrain: 1.6 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder/201 hp, 6-speed manual or automatic, front-wheel-drive
- EPA fuel economy estimates: 26 MPG city/38 MPG highway (manual), 25/34 (automatic)
- Best rivals: Scion FR-S, Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Disclosure: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. Accommodations, meals, vehicles and fuel were provided by Hyundai. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.