Review: 2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec

Some years ago Hyundai launched a quirky little vehicle called the Veloster. Its claim to fame was its asymmetrical design. The driver’s side had coupe-like single door and passenger’s side had a sedan-like two door design, while the whole vehicle was a small hatchback. There was also a sporty turbo version but it never really developed a cult following. Unfortunately, the Veloster was rather forgettable until it quietly went away in 2017.
Then, at this year’s North American International Auto Show (a.k.a. Detroit) Hyundai double downed on the Veloster with an all-new 2019 model. And then they pulled a Steve Jobs’ “one more thing” and showed the 275hp Veloster N. Whaaaatttt?
I was intrigued if a bit skeptical. When introduced, the original Veloster was interesting; it was different, edgy. But this new Veloster looks almost exactly the same as the old one. And because it looks like the old one, it can no longer be different or edgy but rather more of the same. And then I got to drive it.

In person, no one will mistake the new Veloster for the old one. The new design is more polished, slicker looking. That’s quite an accomplishment because the vehicle has not changed much dimensionally. With the family design language no one will mistake it for anything other than a Hyundai. With its original body shape, no one will ever mistake it for anything other than a Veloster.
The rear passenger side door now seems more disguised than before. Comparing both sides from a distance it hard to tell the difference due to the similar window outline and black B-pillar on both sides. Up close the driver’s door is longer than the front passenger’s door, much like it was before. On the passenger side, the rear door handle is neatly molded into the upper door frame. One would really need to look hard to see that the front door handles and B-pillars are not in the exact same spot on both sides.
It might seem silly, but the three-door is in a way a no-compromise design. The driver gets the longer door and the ease of entry that comes with it. The rear door on the passenger side allows easier access to the back seat, be it for people or things, than a typical two-door design. The backseat is rather small, should be best described as an occasional or child use only. But if rear seat space is a major issue for the buyer, not only is this a wrong car, it’s a wrong class of cars – go buy a mid-size sedan. 

Hyundai kept the interior design clean and simple. Most importantly, the interior is ergonomically well designed. All the switches and handles are logically laid-out. There are easy to use knobs for audio and climate control, and the amount of buttons is kept to a minimum. The obligatory touchscreen is front-and-center, and it too is easy to use, and it supports Apple CarPlay. I’m no plastics expert but most of the materials are nice to touch, with the top of the door and dash being made of what can be called hard[-ish] plastic.
The R-Spec has simple but supportive cloth seats. The fabric is really nice, no one will be upset about the absence of leather on this model. If there is an issue it’s that of rearward visibility. The side mirrors are small and I could never adjust them just right. The C-pillars are big and the rear hatch window is small – watch your blind-spots.

The metal shifter, made by B&M, of the manual six-speed transmission is short, so short that I put it into third a few times from stand-still when I wanted first. The clutch, that’s a bit tricky. The point of engagement is rather vague, kind of like older BMWs with the delay valve in the hydraulic line of the clutch. At speed, shifting from second and higher is buttery smooth, dare I say similar to old school Hondas. But even at speed, dropping the clutch quickly feels… delayed.
The 1.6-liter Gamma engine produces 201hp at 6000rpm and a healthy 195 lb.-ft. of torque between 1500 and 4500rpm. And there is an over-boost function that raises the torque to 202 lb-ft. The engine is clearly tuned for low- and mid-range power, for the ease of daily driving. That is great, it is a powerplant that is easy to live with. But it kind of takes away from spirited hooning because the power drops off right after it peaks and the 6500rpm (-ish) rev-limiter hits quickly. I’d give up some of that low-end grunt for happy times at higher engine speeds. Perhaps that’s the point of the upcoming Veloster N.

Yet the biggest surprise on the Veloster is its chassis. Yes, it has an electric power steering, all cars do these days, and yes it’s slightly over-boosted, but it is quick and it’s direct. Meaning, even slight inputs translate into the wheel movements and road imperfections are relayed back to the driver. This something that Hyundai never got right before. And while this certainly doesn’t set the standards for anything, it is on par with cars like the VW GTI.
But wait, there is more! Like the GTI, the R-Spec has a system, call it fake LSD, that uses the brakes to control to reduce the spin of the inside wheel during cornering. I would even say that it might work better than the one on the GTI that I recently reviewed but that might be because of the tires. Hyundai didn’t go cheap on the tires for the R-Spec, wrapping each 18-inch wheel in excellent 225/40 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer performance tires. Overall, this thing is much more fun to drive than I expected. 

So the Veloster, at least this enthusiast-focused R-Spec version, it a pretty solid package. But as the guy in the infomercial says, but wait, there’s even more! The more in this case is less, as in the price. The nicely equipped, enthusiast orientated Veloster R-Spec, with the turbo engine and the six-speed manual (the only configuration available) is $22,900. And there aren’t any factory packages or options available, just dealer-installed accessories. That is a great bang-for-the buck, surpassed perhaps only by the Fiesta ST which is on death-row now. But the base Veloster 2.0 is only $18,500 and it comes pretty darn well equipped.
Hyundai vehicles, and their Kia partners, have really improved over the years. But the amazing thing is that they keep getting better not only with each model but also with each model year. The change isn’t always dramatic but often it’s the sum of the little things that makes a big difference. Hyundai started off with a quirky three-door asymmetrical car. They developed into a solid Volkswagen GTI contender. That’s some serious progress and everyone shopping should give them serious consideration.

[Disclaimer: Hyundai provided the Veloster for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018]

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5 responses to “Review: 2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec”

  1. Zentropy Avatar

    I am not a fan of the previous Veloster (in fact, I hate the ungainly thing). This one looks much better, especially from the rear 3/4, though it’s still a bit clumsy. Still too much C pillar for my liking. Bang-for-the-buck, though, is high, as you stated.
    What I don’t understand is: Why not just put the rear door on both sides of the car? Wouldn’t that make more sense, and make one body work for both LHD and RHD markets? The asymmetry seems like counter-intuitive marketing gimmickry.

    1. Kamil K Avatar

      The question is – why not?
      Why not be different?

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        I’d rather be practical than different. And if practical is different, then great.

    2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      The idea is that the longer driver’s door makes the pilot’s ingress/egress more convenient (especially for taller people who keep the seat all the way back) since that is the one position that is always occupied, while the two curbside doors make it easier for back-seat passengers.

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        I just figured since the tooling was obviously already available, why not do both sides? I’m 6’1″– not especially tall– but have never found coupes easier to enter than sedans.