Hyundai has rolled out a series of highly capable offerings over the past few years, but virtually nothing that sends pulse rates soaring. There has been an exception, yet it slipped into the market almost unnoticed.
The quirky three-door Veloster – with two portals on the passenger side and one on the driver's side – has been around for several years, but last June the line-up was bolstered by the "N" version. This innocuous-sounding suffix is hugely significant as it brings a performance upgrade over existing variants of the Veloster.
The Veloster N shares most of its oily bits with the lauded i30N (not sold in the UAE), and one of the key ingredients is a punchy 2.0-litre turbo engine that thrashes out 275 horsepower and 353Nm.
It’s mated to a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (“N DCT” in Hyundai speak), which sends drive to the front wheels via an electronic limited-slip differential. The latter feature helps harness the Veloster N’s beefy torque quota and maximise drive out of tight corners.
The N upgrade also brings a set of 19-inch alloys shod with chunky 235/35 R19 rubber. Inside, you get lightweight sports seats and a grippy three-spoke steering wheel with flappy paddles to manually shift the eight-speed auto. Other features unique to the flagship Veloster include “N Grin Shift”, which boosts torque by 25Nm for 20 seconds to induce what Hyundai euphemistically refers to as "driver grin".
There are three pre-set drive modes – Eco, Normal and Sport – with the last of these dialling everything up to 11. Select Sport via a blue tab on the steering wheel and the exhaust becomes noticeably louder, the steering weights up, the adaptive dampers stiffen and the transmission shifts up later.
As is the case with many performance-focused cars, the Veloster N is not particularly exhilarating when pootling around town. The turbo engine feels flat until you get revs past 2,500rpm, and this is exacerbated by transmission software that dictates early upshifts in the chase for fuel economy. Ride quality is a bit sharp in Sport mode, but not spine-jarringly so.
The Veloster N is also no bargain-basement special at Dh146,999 ($40,026), so you may begin to wonder where your money went when surveying the hard plastic trim throughout the cabin, as well as the cheap-feeling switchgear. Get the car out on a flowing twisty road, though, and such thoughts evaporate.
Fling it through a few corners at pace and there is the immediate realisation that this is a proper performance car. Yes, the raw numbers – 0to 100 kilometres per hour in 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 250kmh – are impressive, but it's the chassis' razor-sharp responses and textured steering feedback that distinguish the Veloster N as a serious hot-hatch.
The Veloster N and i30N were honed by a team led by Albert Biermann – the former head of BMW’s M high-performance division – and the stamp of the canny German engineer shows in the N's crisp dynamics.
As touched on earlier, the Veloster’s cabin has an ambience of cheapness, but the lightweight N seats are nicely sculpted to hold your torso in place under heavy cornering loads. Small rear windows mean back-seat passengers won’t have the most panoramic view, but there is at least sufficient head and shoulder room for two adults up to 1.75 metres tall.
The Veloster N is a fast, feisty package, but its lofty price tag puts it up against the new Volkswagen Mk8 Golf GTI. The VW may be marginally slower than the Hyundai, but that is offset by its high-quality cabin, better rounded driving characteristics and greater practicality, thanks to its conventional five-door layout and more spacious rear seats.
Even so, the offbeat looks and raw fun factor of the Veloster N – once you get it out on the right roads – will doubtless lure a few keen drivers and performance enthusiasts. They’re in for a treat.