2021 Hyundai Veloster N Review: One of the best sports cars at any price
Forget price - it's hard to have more fun on four wheels. The Road Beat tests the devilishly fun Hyundai Veloster N with a six-speed manual.
Hyundai's Veloster N, the perfect car for a...10 hour road trip? Okay, it isn't, but that didn't stop me from taking it on one. Nevertheless, welcome to the most fun new car I've driven this past year and one worthy of a place on all-time lists. Hyundai has entered the hot hatch game in a big way, seemingly coming out of nowhere to deliver this blue, three-door sensation. Many would call it a sucker punch. This might end up being a little monotonous as I struggle for synonyms of fantastic, but there simply is no way to have more performance nor fun for the money.
Value, value, value..
At an as-tested price of just $33,255, the Veloster N is unbeatable when it comes to sheer joy and performance for your dollar. Yes, the cabin this is very much an economy car with hard plastics strewn about, but who cares when it has this much power and an unbelievably good front-wheel drive chassis. It's also a far better drive than more expensive rear-wheel drive sports cars, like the 2.0 Supra. Heck, I liked the Veloster more than the Supra 3.0! The only car that can compete with this under $40,000 is the Civic Type R, but that will still set you back about $5,000 more than the Hyundai. For the asking price and what you get, it's frankly absurd.
275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque do enough motivation to send the Veloster N to 60 MPH in 5.5 seconds with its six-speed manual. 5.5 isn't revealing enough for just how quick this car really is, though. The manual transmission required a shift to third at 57ish, as it would hit the fuel cutoff just shy of 60 if you stay in second. Once you're in the boost, the flaming blue demon stretches its legs and takes off. With weight a smidgen over 3,000 pounds, this hatchback is every bit as quick as my 330 horsepower Nissan 370Z. In fact, with such a monstrous midrange that begins at 3,000 RPM, it feels much quicker in the real world point-to-point. It doesn't quite have the top-end surge that I would wish for (something all small turbocharged engines suffer from), but there's no way around disguising the face that this is a seriously quick car. Oh, and it's even economical, achieving 32 MPG on the highway and averaging 27 overall. On my 500 mile trip to Monterey and back, including cruising down the congested Ocean Ave. and other aesthetic streets in Carmel, the mean MPG on that entire venture was a solid 30. Very impressive!
Tapping into that midrange is a delight on every upshift as you're greeted with another wave of thrust. Having a manual transmission in your right hand is a joy that can't be forgotten, allowing you to bang off shifts to your heart's content. Being a four-cylinder, i didn't have high hopes for it sound wise, but it does make a decent little brap like a World Rally Championship car. It actually reminded me of an old Mitsubishi Evo or Eclipse, in the best of ways, when really going hard and working the engine and gearbox. However, the sound does come with some caveats that will be outlined later.
While it might be a tired cliché to say any street car handles like a race car, the Veloster N's front-end is so tied down, you could mistake this for a touring car that races nationally. Actually, there are Veloster race cars that partake in the Michelin Pilot Challenge alongside the IMSA series! Grip is enormous, the most I've felt from a front-wheel drive machine, and it refuses to understeer. Even as the Pirelli P Zeros start to complain with slight screeches, the front axle remains resolute and keeps on sticking. It's so malleable and tactile that you can apply heavy throttle on corner exits and the Veloster just grips and goes. Hyundai calls this the Power Sense Axle w/Corner Carving differential, and you know what, I couldn't think of a better literal name for it. Steering is communicative and has a wonderful weighting and resistance to it (it isn't feather-light), turning with a renowned, instant vigor.
With several available driving modes, including a checkered flag on the steering wheel called the 'N Grin' (no, seriously), you can mold the Veloster to your liking. With the checkered button enabled, the adaptive suspension stiffens up so as to virtually eliminate any trace of body roll. Driving at 50 MPH and doing hard and quick left and right turns to simulate a slalom, the Veloster N changes direction so tenaciously you'd swear your brain was plugged into it, though only after a few twists of the wheel, your brain actually will struggle to keep up with the Veloster N. As an example, when I drove my 370Z that has stiff, aftermarket coilovers a day later, it felt like a 70s Cadillac in comparison, with sloppy, slow steering and handling. I never thought my Z more of a tugboat. Thanks, Hyundai!
Being a powerful front-wheel drive car, torque steer can be a real, valid concern. Luckily, that magic understeer-resisting differential does a remarkable job keeping you from having the wheel wrangled from your grasp and towards a ditch. It's not all good news, however, as pulling away quickly on rougher surfaces does reveal that inherent front-drive tendency as does hitting the throttle hard while doing a slow 10 MPH turn, like when turning onto a road from a stop. So, when using heavier throttle from low speeds, just be sure you're on a decently smooth road.
It looks just right
Unlike the vulgar and cartoonish Civic Type R, the Veloster N is restrained, but don't mistake it for looking soft. There are just enough tasteful additions to signal its sporting intention, however, helped most by the beautiful baby blue paint that has become Hyundai's N division's signature hue. It's a taut look throughout, with purposeful fenders and a longish hood for a front-drive car. In profile, its proportions are similar to the legendary Audi Sport Quattro, albeit trading boxy for round features. Seeing other Veloster Ns down the road, I love the wide and low look as they come at you. Even the spoiler isn't totally out of whack. Think of it as a in-between, aggression wise, from an understated (and nearly boring) Golf GTI and Golf Rs, and the ugly alien that is the Civic Type R.
Despite the affordable-car origins, sport-tuned suspension, and engaging bucket seats, the Veloster N was perfectly comfortable enough on that same 500 mile day excursion. I checked the car's computer at the end of it, and the trip computer showed the car had been running for over 10 hours that day! Even though the seats hold you firm in place for when the going gets twisty, I didn't find myself sore at all. Now, don't confuse as me saying this a luxury sedan because it's far from it, but rather take it as a relative surprise given its performance aspirations and very realized credentials.
Careful with that checkered flag...
While selecting the N mode can send you to sports car stratosphere, it should be used with caution. Remember that adaptive suspension that gives endlessly flat cornering? Well, it makes it ride like bucking bronco. The change is drastic - more pronounced than any other car's adaptive suspension I've ever felt. So, if the road isn't smooth, do not hit that alluring blue little button with your right thumb.
That same button also brings about a big change to the exhaust as well. And, unfortunately, it's not for the better in most cases. Sadly, the attractive and rally-car-like brap-brap that the N emotes becomes nothing short of a video game. I like a good snap, crackle, and pop from an exhaust, but N mode makes it do it everywhere. Lazily upshifting at 2.5K RPM? Crackles and pops. On an upshift! Normally you only hear this on downshifts and lifting off the accelerator with some serious revs, but no, it does it on upshifts even. On the bright side, when meandering along the pedestrian-filled ocean-side cliff roads of Carmel, engaging it to alert street walkers of my presence worked splendidly well. I like the sound of the Veloster N, but it just is made too corny with this excess. Also, the exhaust becomes shockingly loud in this mode, which you may or may not like. I will say that, when in this mode, I did like the sound over 5,000 RPM. A little naughty, but that I did find fun and enjoy.
Update 9/24 - A DriveTribe user pointed out that the source of the crackles and pops from the exhaust is a byproduct of a factory Anti-Lag system. While anti-lag is cool and all, with the throttle response already sharpened in N mode, I didn't exactly notice a reduction in turbo lag. With the revs up in normal driving modes, I found the engine to be quite responsive already. A neat novelty by all means for its inclusion, but it still just made the car sound cartoonish. That is, the exhaust bangs and pops sounded just like the fake cracks and snaps of other new performance cars even if these ones are real.
Manual transmission isn't perfect...but I still loved using it
This is nitpicking, because any new car with manual transmission should be heralded with great fanfare. And while you should definitely choose the manual instead of the available eight-speed dual clutch manual in an N, it just isn't as perfect as it ought to be. The clutch can be a little vague at times, and needs throttle in slow maneuvers to keep it from stalling - hard to just ride the clutch to move around - and the shifter itself is a little too light for my liking. It's remarkably easy selecting gears, but I like some heft in my shifters to match the rest of the car. In other words, it feels too much like the shifter from an econobox. Did I love having a chance to row my own gears? You bet, and you would too, but I have to be critical here and I think the shifter could use some more resistance and weight.
The manual also includes a rev-matching feature for downshifts, a technology first introduced back in 2009 for the then-new Nissan 370Z, but I found it completely pointless. Unlike other cars where the revs flare up upon you moving the gear knob towards your destination, the Veloster N rev-matches after the gear is selected and as you release the clutch. It slows you down having to wait for it and also doesn't help in preserving the trans, as rev-matching as you slide it into a gear is what helps actually match the gear to road speed. At least you can turn it off, but it would be my recommendation to Hyundai to provide a better implementation, maybe even through a software update.
And after those microscopic complaints, that's basically it.
An amazing performance car at an amazing price
With the price of admission what it is, the Veloster N is a complete and thorough win for the South Korean automaker. And no, N does not stand for Nurburgring, but rather Hyundai's Namyang research development center. The presence of one Albert Biermann is certainly felt, too, because after driving this hot hatch on the roads it was meant for, you get the sense that, if BMW made a front-wheel drive hot hatch in their ultimate driving glory years, then it would have resembled this. Mr. Biermann, after all, is the man responsible for some of BMW M's all-time greatest hits.
Take price away even, and the way this car lights up both the road and your smile is done in a nigh priceless manner. With so many sports cars becoming more digital and the extinction of manual transmissions, it's such relief to be put in something so single-minded and stripped back with emphasis on the core qualities that really matter. A fantastic creation that comes highly recommended. It will make you a believer of front-wheel drive.
2021 Hyundai Veloster N
As-Tested Price: $33,255
Pros: Performance; handling; perpetual smile generator
Cons: Light shift action; exhaust pops and cracks can get annoying
Verdict: A phenomenal achievement from a most unlikely source