2019 Hyundai Veloster N Blows the Hot Hatch Scene Wide Open
Hyundai is an automaker that's increasingly willing to bankroll high risk, high reward gambles, especially when it comes to performance. This is a brand that just over a decade ago spent hundreds of millions developing a low-volume rear-wheel drive platform for the Genesis Coupe, a surprisingly competent effort that erased memories of the lukewarm Tiburon that preceded it and established the Koreans as a force to be reckoned with on the tuning scene.
Just a few short years later, Hyundai has done it again. The second-generation Veloster, lauded for its much-improved chassis and quick, fun turbocharged R-Spec model, wasn't enough for the team behind the company's burgeoning performance division. Enter the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N, a hot hatch aimed squarely at the segment-leading Honda Civic Type R.
Did I say aimed at? Because I meant eclipses.
Different Paths to Performance
Before you @ me, let me finish. There are any number of reasons to buy a car, but in the performance world it largely comes down to two primary considerations.
The first is bragging rights, or should I say, the numbers. Quarter mile times, horsepower, braking distance, 0-60 acceleration markers and, of course, that most contentious of water cooler conversation, lap times. These are the talking points that car folks banter back and forth in the never-ending bench racing bull sessions that take place at every hour of the day across the entire country, each trying to one-up the other with claims about their preferred vehicle's prowess.
From this perspective, it's hard to see my end of the argument. In a straight line, around a track and on a dynometer, the Honda Civic Type R's data points reign supreme. It boasts 306hp, the fastest production front-wheel drive Nürburgring lap in history and a quarter mile time of 13.7 at 105.9 mph.
Contrast this against the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N, and there's a definite gap. Output from the hatchback's 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder comes in 250hp and 275hp flavors (depending on whether you order the Performance Pack or not). At the drag strip, you're looking at 13.9 seconds at 102 mph, and as for 'Ring times, Hyundai is mum.
Deeper Than Data
The crux of my surprise love affair with the Hyundai Veloster N goes deeper than data, however, and touches on that second, and equally important, reason why anyone forks over performance car cash: the fun factor.
As impressive as empirically-measured stats might be, none of that really matters to me if I don't feel a connection between driver and machine once I've fired up the ignition. This might sound like a simple pleasure, but in an age where ones and zeros have more say in the overall driving experience of most automobiles than the meat sitting in the left seat, it's become an increasingly endangered new car characteristic.
It's here that the Veloster N has done its homework. Unlike its clinically-minded Honda rival, the Hyundai has taken a different path to performance that underlines the word "fun" in red about a thousand times, just before setting it on fire and launching it into the sun.
It starts with the raucous exhalations of the Veloster N's exhaust, sweetened not electronically but rather the old fashioned way with an extra fuel dump on throttle lift, exhorting a ribald crackle to the heavens on upshift and downshift. In Normal driving mode things are more muted, but the Custom and N modes (accessible via dedicated steering wheel buttons) make it easy to tune the band to your heart's content.
You'll need to pony up just over $2,000 extra over the Veloster N's $26,900 starting price to snag the Performance Pack for the full soundtrack, but it's well worth the investment. In addition to the aggressive exhaust tuning and 25hp boost, it also introduces a limited-slip front differential, shorter gearing for the standard six-speed manual gearbox and bigger brakes. You'll also notice larger 19-inch rims and adjustable suspension stiffness, rounding out an incredible value on the options sheet.
Taken together, it's a compelling concert of harmonious mechanical interaction between driver, vehicle and the road beneath its wheels. The car feels deliciously analog, and even though it's not—we are, after all, talking about a modern turbocharged car—any electronic sleight of hand is either attenuated or completely defeatable.
The suspension is a boon, dialing back body control on rough roads but providing excellent response once the pavement smoothes out. Understeer is muted and predictable. The Veloster N surges forward with boisterous authority, ratios perfectly spaced, and although the pedals are awkwardly placed for proper heel-toe, you can ask the car to do it for you at the touch of a button. I declined the offer, because practice, practice, practice, but it remains the car's primary paean to third-party intervention in the automotive experience.
There's also a launch control system, of course, because in 2019 to not have one is to invite rancor from the spec sheet crowd. In my attempts to use it on the admittedly cool pavement of a local drag strip, I found it difficult to reliably implement, and less than capable at dealing with full-throttle wheel hop. Instead, I just turned every nanny off—a rare privilege in a 2019 model—and slipped the clutch myself, coming quite close to the N's advertised ET and matching its trap speed.
The Right Car at the Right Price
Throw in a gorgeous Performance Blue paint scheme with red accents (a compliment-magnet nearly every time I drove the car), attractive yet not over-the-top wings, vents and badging and the practicality of the Veloster's asymmetrical hatchback design, and it's clear that the N is the real deal. That Hyundai has managed to go from wannabe to world class in the hot hatch segment in a single generation is simply astounding and speaks to the depth of investment and development that is underway across the Pacific.
Sure, the interior feels fairly close to that of the standard Veloster in terms of materials and looks (seats and blue seatbelts not withstanding), but the feature count remains high, and better yet, the price is right. The N clocks in at nearly $7,000 less than the base Civic Type R, and while that gap is narrowed somewhat by adding the Performance Pack, it's still a sizable sum.
More importantly, the Veloster N is fun in a way that the Type R simply can't match. Clinical and digitized in its path to power and performance, the Japanese hatchback's credentials are real, but they ring hollow when driving the two cars back to back. I'd rather have the co-conspirator that is the Hyundai than the NASA-like tech parade that is the Honda were I to choose a daily driver/weekend toy.