2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Road Test

Improved where it needs to be but in too low of a dose

What It Is
Hyundai's most stylish car with a whole helping of extra horsepower to keep the go running with the show.
Best Thing
The only car this side of $70,000 with gray matte paint. It gets lots of attention.
Worst Thing
On paper, the car is class-competitive; in the real world, it still needs work.
Snap Judgment
This is what the base car ought to be. Does Hyundai have any better cards up its sleeves?

While I was sitting down with a Hyundai engineer one night over some drinks, the auto journalist community was still biding its time with the worst-kept secret in the industry: A turbocharged version of the Hyundai Veloster was on its way. I was told the car "didn't exist," air quotes included. But if Hyundai were going to develop such a car, it was going to go straight for the Volkswagen GTI, a car so perfect for its segment that it's still considered a class leader despite its 50- to 60-horsepower deficit against its newer competition.

The just-introduced 2012 Veloster promised to be lighter and smaller than its German benchmark. A turbocharged version would only make it better.

Alas, when we drove the non-turbo 2012 Hyundai Veloster earlier this year, we found it disappointing. Its electric power steering went from firm to light to firm again all with a single turn of the wheel. Its shifter didn't have the precision of Mazda's or Honda's. Forget shooting for the People's Car; Hyundai needed to figure out how to top a base Ford Focus.

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With the Veloster Turbo finally coming to us for an extended drive, we had the opportunity to put it through its paces exactly how an owner might. We commuted in it, lived with it, put friends in the back--and even a baby seat. We even took it to some windy back roads, to see if it had grown any better than its all-show, no-go non-turbo brethren. Obviously, the engine received a touchup--perhaps our biggest criticism of the non-turbo version. But did everything else that needed attention get it?

Competing against cars like the GTI, Focus ST, and Honda Civic Si, albeit at a cut price, the 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo once again came to us with the promise of being a sporty, affordable alternative in a stylish wrapper. It became our mission to find out if the Veloster Turbo was a changed car or still the Justin Bieber of sport compacts: A moderately talented vehicle motivated by a mountain of style and hype.

What We Drove

When it comes to features, Hyundai doesn't mess around with the Veloster Turbo's standard equipment. Much of what is optional on the non-turbo car becomes standard, including a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, 18-inch wheels, LED headlight accents, leather seats, heated mirrors, a USB port for MP3 file playing. Piling onto the car's standard $22,725 starting price--which includes $775 for destination and handling--are a $1,000 matte gray paint, and the $2,500 Ultimate package, which includes a panoramic sunroof, backup sensors, a navigation system, rearview camera, a 115-volt power outlet, and automatic headlights. That brings the total up to $26,225, or nearly $9,000 more than the base non-turbo car. A six-speed automatic transmission, the only major option our car lacked, would have added another $1,000.

But even at a touch over $26,000, our car was still about $4,000 cheaper than a comparably equipped VW GTI. A loaded non-turbo Veloster with a manual transmission comes in at $22,225 and lacks the Turbo's matte paint option.

The Hyundai Veloster Turbo has not been crash-tested by either the NHTSA or IIHS, but that doesn't mean it's not a safe car. It comes with front and knee airbags for both front passengers as well as curtain airbags that stretch to the back row. It also comes standard with LATCH points behind both the driver and passenger seats, but we found it difficult to install a child seat behind the passenger on the side with a third door. On the driver's side, forget about it unless you enjoy self-flagellation.

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The Commute

It's hard to knock what the Hyundai Veloster does right: Serving as a worry-free daily driver. Its front buckets are well-bolstered, feeling as though Hyundai did its homework to tailor them to 90 percent of the drivers who might ever consider one. Along with top-notch interior ergonomics and a booming 450-watt Dimension audio system, we were pretty happy to zip in and out of traffic with this stylish little car.

With the added benefit of 64 horsepower versus the non-turbo model, the Veloster was much easier to drive in traffic--and much smoother, too. The added torque provided by the engine makes it a lot less necessary constantly shift in order to keep up with Los Angeles commuters. But even though it's much more livable, the Veloster Turbo still has some glaring flaws.

Much like the standard Veloster, rear visibility is downright terrible, courtesy of the bisected rear window. Blind spots aren't any better, with thick rear pillars and tiny quarter windows making it necessary to take a second look at nearly every lane change.

The Veloster Turbo also has a choppy highway ride, its stiff springs provide plenty of sport, but not much smoothness. There are many other vehicles in this class that make a car less jostle-prone without compromising handling. The Veloster's brakes, on the other hand, are just as we'd expect in a sporty coupe: firm, progressive, and they do exactly what you need them to do when you need them to do it. No complaints there.

The Grocery Run

While its raked fastback design doesn't look like it allows for much in the way of cargo, the Hyundai Veloster is surprisingly capable of hauling around groceries with ease. With 15.5 cubic feet of cargo room, it's still among the best in the subcompact class. Adding to that is a 60/40 split-folding rear bench that can expand that space even further for larger items like a walk-behind lawnmower. Really. You'd have to take the handle off it, though.

If hauling lawnmowers isn't your thing and you're worried about visibility at low speeds with the hatchback down, don't be. With all the options boxes checked, our Veloster Turbo came with a handy backup camera that we found to be a godsend. Backup sensors make the job even easier by bugging you when you get too close to another vehicle, sounding like a heart rate monitor until it goes flatline. When that happens, you know you're less than a foot away from scratching up that matte gray paint. You don't want that to happen; it's a two-layer paint that can't be buffed when it gets scuffed up, lest you smooth it out and ruin the finish.

In fact, when it comes time to clean it up, Hyundai happily provides an 11-page supplemental owner's manual just for maintaining the matte paint. Most of it can be summed up like this: Hand-wash the car with water or alcohol-based window cleaner and a microfiber towel. Because, if you're really going to spend an extra grand on paint for a tarted-up hatchback, you should have enough respect to care for it properly.

Or you can think of it another way: The next cheapest car currently on sale with a matte paint option is the $76,895 BMW 640i Gran Coupe. Getting the BMW's frozen bronze paint job requires an extra $7,700 in options. That makes the Hyundai's flashy paint's price look paltry. Still, it's worth keeping clean for all the attention it gets.

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The Weekend Fun

When you have a car like this, you're inevitably going to spend a good few weekends venturing out to find the twistiest backroads around town. For cheap thrills, gas money is still less than most theme park tickets. And the Veloster Turbo can run on regular gas if you're really feeling like a cheapskate.

Invariably, we took it the Veloster Turbo to Mulholland Drive's "Snake," a stretch of tarmac surrounded by the trees littered with broken motorcycle fairings that claimed them in their branches. It's also the best driving road in Los Angeles County. While an average Sunday afternoon will bring a few Porsches or Corvettes up the winding road, most don't do it with any sort of aggression; they're there to see the motorcyclists.

But we figured it was as good of a road as any to test the Veloster's sporting prowess.

With noticeable lag below 3,000 rpm, we kept the car in the first three gears of its six-speed manual transmission. Accelerating from standstill, the car hopped on its lackluster all-season tires, squealing, fidgeting as it gained much-needed traction to get up the mountain pass. Hyundai is fixing this with the new availability of Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires for $1,200. They really ought to be a no-cost option for a car like this, especially because the Veloster still trails way behind the Volkswagen GTI in terms of sheer fun.

With the VW, you feel like you can divebomb corners with a little bit of lift in the rear; the front wheels always feel under control. The steering always feels precise.

In making the Veloster Turbo a sportier car, Hyundai look the light-heavy-light steering of the standard car and made it heavy all around. It helps make the car all the more assuring to drive, but it feels artificial. It feels like Hyundai's engineers surmised that heavy steering must be sporty. Yeah, maybe in the 1960s. What it does in reality is remove the driver from feeling engaged in the driving experience.

And as a whole, the car lacks precision. The engine is punchy, but it doesn't ever make any noises that let you know it. Its shifter is direct, but it never feels as smooth as a Honda's. It has all the makings of being a great car, and certainly it's better than the non-turbo model. But it just doesn't feel like Hyundai has figured out how to put all the pieces together quite right.

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British auto journalist Jeremy Clarkson once said of the 1999 Volkswagen GTI that the worst thing about it is that it should have been the base Golf. In that generation, Volkswagen fell back on complacency after years of segment domination; the GTI became something of a former swimsuit model now with a muffin top and a pack-a-day Marlboro Reds habit, still trying to fit into its old bikinis. It didn't deserve that "GTI" badge. Fortunately, VW saw the error of its ways after that generation and hasn't looked back since.

The 2013 Hyundai Veloster is a bit of the same story. All in all, it's a decent little car, and most people will like it for what it is. But Hyundai put it on a pedestal, touting it as the next great car in the sport compact segment. It isn't. It's all right. But when compared to all that's out there, from the Mini Cooper S to the MazdaSpeed3, it's simply not that good. It's hard to think if there's any car that it betters in its class.

The sad part is that the Hyundai Veloster Turbo is exactly what the base model should've been. Its steering is much improved. It rides well enough that most people won't mind, has nimble enough steering despite lacking feel, and has excellent brakes. The engine has plenty of power, too. And it also looks like a show car, which is amazing given its bargain price.

But when looking at a car that should be one of the halos of a burgeoning brand, we can't help but look at the Veloster Turbo with a lukewarm excitement at best. It's progress, sure, but it deserves to be a lot better than it is.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $26,225
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 26 mpg
EPA Highway: 38 mpg
EPA Combined: 30 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 396 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Not yet rated

Notebook Quotes "This is how the Veloster should have been originally, with a turbo strapped onto it because this car is aimed squarely at younger kids with a little bit of money and are into cars. Why buy the non-turbo version?" -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"The Veloster does not have numb steering; it has bad electrical steering, and it tarnishes the driving experience and the car's excitement." -Jason Davis, Associate Editor

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