Editor's note: This review was written in February 2012 about the 2012 Hyundai Veloster. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2013, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Driving the four-seat 2012 Hyundai Veloster for two weeks was as energizing as downing a doppio espresso via IV drip and exactly the kick in the pants I needed after driving clone after clone of bland, boring cars.
You know that amazing feeling when you walk out of the hair salon after getting a fabulous seasonal shape up and highlight refresh? It gives you just a little extra sway to your swagger, and the Veloster is that feeling in car form. For men who may not know this "new hairstyle high," just drive the Veloster. Besides being fun, it'll give you a little extra insight into the female mind (brownie points!).
Every Hyundai I've driven lately has impressed me in some fashion, and the Veloster is no exception, delivering especially high marks in the … well, fashion department. There really isn't anything on the road that comes close to resembling the Veloster, but in theory it competes with the Honda CR-Z, Mini Cooper and Scion tC. See all of them compared here.
My test car sported a 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. A six-speed automatic is also available. Keep your eyes peeled for 2013's zippier turbo version, as well.
With its youthful, edgy, mutated coupe-hatch-sedan look, the Veloster is the most innovative vehicle design I've come across in years. While it may have been designed more specifically for younger consumers, somehow the Veloster's appeal transcends even generational taste differences.
My 69-year-old mother was ready to trade in her bright yellow Ford Focus for the equally fun colors available on the Veloster. Lime green, she said, would be even harder for her to lose in a big parking lot. She could also use the remote access feature of Hyundai's Blue Link (more info on that below in the Safety section) to activate the horns and lights on the car from her phone when she really loses it — the car, that is. As an artist, my mom loved the functional hatchback that would let her easily haul canvases to and from art shows.
My 16-year-old nephew loved the sleek, unique lines of the Veloster. At 6-foot-2 with huge shoulders and flaming red hair, he's never been one to shy away from attention. The Veloster's $17-grand price tag was also attractive to him; it seemed like a doable goal with the Christmas and birthday money he's been stockpiling to buy his own car soon. (Apparently it's not cool to pick your date up in your granny's yellow Ford.)
My 11-year-old daughter was a huge fan of the hidden third door in the Veloster. She loved the ease of getting in and out of the backseat through her own door, rather than having to squeeze herself and her oversized backpack around the front seat as in a traditional coupe. She also got a kick out of it when the teachers in the carpool lane couldn't figure out how to open the door — the black handle is cleverly concealed within the triangular black windowpane. She'd jump out and exclaim, "This car has three doors, isn't that cool? It's the Hyundai Veloster," obviously proud of herself for trumping her teachers' car knowledge. I might have to reel that in a little bit.
While the Veloster isn't a family room on wheels — like larger families desire — it is certainly functional for a family of three or four, or as an extra car for zooming around town. It seats four total, with the previously mentioned extra door on the curb side for backseat passengers. To me, the backseat never felt cramped thanks to the huge panoramic moonroof in my test car, part of an optional $2,000 Style Package. The moonroof, in conjunction with the large windshield and the expanse of glass on the hatchback, made the car feel like its entire roof was made of glass.
While my two girls (ages 9 and 11 and below average in height) had enough legroom, it started to get tight for them in the backseat when they added their backpacks. The Veloster's rising belt line unfortunately created a visibility problem for my kids, who couldn't see out their side windows. While they mentioned the problem once or twice, it didn't seem to be a major complaint. However, for families with little ones who suffer from regular carsickness, this car might not be a good option.
The Veloster has three interior color options: solid black, solid gray or the black and red my test car came dressed in. The fit and finish inside looks much more expensive than the price tag would have you believe, with black and red textured inserts in the red, available imitation-leather seats and similar soft-touch inserts in the door panels.
The Veloster's hatchback design gives it a large cargo space, big enough to fit a huge plastic bin overflowing with all the stuff my girls haul with them to their dad's house for the weekend (laptops, backpacks, favorite pillows, stuffed animals, blankies, snow boots, jackets and snow pants "just in case") with plenty of room leftover.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
BEHIND THE WHEEL
The manual 2012 Hyundai Veloster is fun to drive. The bolstered front seats (also part of the $2,000 Style Package) hug you tightly just in case you happen to take a corner quickly. I would love to take a spin in the automatic version for comparison's sake; while a manual is fun for a while, driving one as a mom gets tiresome after a bit. (See editor Joe Wiesenfelder's impressions of the automatic in a separate review.)
The Veloster's sporty suspension was a little rough for my taste, and that would be the only thing keeping me from purchasing one. With all the driving I do on a daily basis, I'm growing to prefer a softer ride, but that's a subjective observation. You'd have to drive one yourself to determine where your taste lies.
The Veloster accelerates adequately around town, but it's not as powerful as I'd like when getting up to speed to merge onto the highway. Hence the benefit of next year's turbo addition to the Veloster lineup.
As of this review, the 2012 Hyundai Veloster hadn't been crash-tested. Dual front airbags, dual front side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags extending to both rows are standard in the Veloster. As is required in all 2012 models, the Veloster also has standard antilock brakes, an electronic stability system and traction control.
The lower Latch child-seat anchors in the Veloster's backseat are easy to access and use; they're recessed shallowly enough in the seat bight to reach with human hands (rather than the mythical mechanical robot hand required in so many cars). And because there's a third door for the backseat passenger, installing a child safety seat on that side is definitely doable, though the tight space creates an issue for rear-facing infant seats, assuming the passenger in front would also like space for his or her legs. Kids in the backseat have seat belt buckles that are on stable bases, making them easy enough for children of all dexterity levels to buckle up independently. See the Car Seat Check for more details on different child safety seat types in the Veloster.
Hyundai's Blue Link system comes standard in the Veloster, along with a free trial period of Blue Link Assurance, which provides roadside assistance or SOS emergency assistance. Blue Link also offers an optional Essentials subscription, which is one of my favorite new safety features that's especially fantastic for families with teen drivers. Among plenty of other things, Blue Link Essentials allows a parent to customize the car with a "geofence," curfew driving times and a speed limit specifically for teen drivers. If the driver exceeds any of these parameters, the parent is notified immediately via text, email or automated phone message. While it's a great idea for any family with a teen driver to set rules and expectations in advance with a teen driving contract, Blue Link helps parents monitor the terms of that contract.
See all the Veloster's standard safety features here.
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