2012 Hyundai Veloster

What is it?

The Veloster, Hyundai’s new four-door, compact hatchback.

Looks like a three-door, or is that five?

It depends on what side you’re standing on. The Veloster has one door on the driver side, and two on the passenger side -- plus the hatch. Think of it as a 21st century AMC Pacer, which had a longer passenger door to ease entry to the back seat. Unlike other small cars with three doors for people – the Mini Cooper Clubman comes to mind – the back door on the Veloster swings forward, allowing it to be opened independently of the front one.

And if you use it, how is the car when you get inside?

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Also like the Pacer, the Veloster offers a surprising amount of room packed into a small footprint. But while the AMC was wide, the Hyundai is long. At least its wheelbase is.

The cargo area is deep and the rear seats -- there are only two of them -- have plenty of legroom, but that (um, dramatic?) roofline means the hatchback’s glass is low and directly over your head, so please offer any NBA centers that you know the front seat. Up there they will find a very stylish dashboard with quality plastics and trim, and a touchscreen interface for the Veloster’s infotainment features.

Which are?

Bluetooth connectivity and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system are standard. The latter is a fee-based service similar to GM’s OnStar and offers services such as crash notification and turn-by-turn directions, and is able read and respond to text messages received on compatible phones. Owners can also share the location of their car with friends in other Blue Link-equipped Hyundais, or go online to activate a “geofence” that will send them a text message if the car enters or leaves a set zone.

Sort of like a digital chastity belt. I guess Hyundai expects the kids to go for this car?

There’s an optional tech package that includes a 115-volt outlet and video input so you can watch movies and play games on the touchscreen. When the car is parked, of course.

Of course. Anything else?

In-car navigation is available, and the audio system is fully integrated with the iPhone-based versions of Pandora internet radio.

Seems pretty high tech, and with those looks and a name like Veloster it must be fast, too.

A racing version of it competed in the X-Games Rallycross competition this past summer.

And the production car?

Not so much. The Veloster is powered by a 138 hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder that hooks up to either a six-speed manual or six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission, with respective EPA ratings of 38 mpg and 40 mpg highway. It’s a gas-sipping camel in wolf’s clothing, although a high-performance turbocharged version is in the works.

So, not so much fun?

It’s safe and sensible. Take it for a few loops of your favorite traffic circle, and you’ll know what I mean. No surprises, which is a good thing, but no thrills either. The stiff suspension can be a little rough around town, but that long wheelbase makes the Veloster feel happy and at home on the highway.

Hyundai really nailed the twin-clutch transmission, too. Very smooth operation, if not as snappy and quick-shifting as Volkswagen’s. It’s very cool when you take your foot off the brake pedal and nothing happens, then the clutch seamlessly engages and the car starts to creep. Unlike the somewhat clunky one the Ford Fiesta launched with, it’s excellent for a first effort, especially considering it was developed in house.

We seem to have reached the bottom line, so what’s the verdict?

All things considered, while the Veloster might not be a ton of fun to drive, its mix of style and features makes it fun to ride around in. Curb appeal may be a subjective concpet, but the curb impact of this little oddball is undeniable. If they remake Wayne’s World in 20 years, don’t be surprised to see it staring as the new Mirthmobile.


2012 Hyundai Veloster

Base Price: $18,060

Type: multi-door, four-passenger hatchback

Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 138 hp, 123 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual or automatic

MPG: 28 (man) 29 (auto) city/40 (man) 38 (auto) highway