The Hyundai Veloster is a good imitation of a cyber-sportster darting around an edgy video game. It's not as quick as its online avatar, but it is just as three-dimensional. And the young adults Hyundai hopes will buy this inventive three-door coupe can plug in their game console and play in the car -- while it's parked.
Whether this four-seat subcompact becomes an occasional arcade is something to explore, but, for sure, this clever car is the epitome of media connectivity. The standard, 196-watt, six-speaker audio has more kick than the 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine.
But for the intended audience of this car -- gainfully employed Millennials about 21 to 36 years old -- speed of online access is more urgent than speed of freeway access. The Veloster is dialed in for connectivity. It has a multifunction, 7-inch touchscreen with which to connect a smartphone and then access Pandora Internet radio or satellite radio or AM/FM/CD or an iPod or USB flash-drive music and photos ...
Gracenote ties it all together for hands-free voice activation. My phone synchronized on the first try in less than a minute. Some Bluetooth setups are far less accommodating. There's also Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system for voice-activated crash notification, emergency assistance, roadside assistance, vehicle diagnostics and pages of more features. Other services with other subscription rates include voice text messaging; remote unlock or locking; remote vehicle start; stolen vehicle slowdown; curfew alert; turn-by-turn navigation; gas station locations; and more.
But beyond electronics, the Veloster has a mischievous side -- and not just the curves and cuts in the body style. This is a coupe hatchback, but with three doors, including a passenger-side rear door and big cargo space that is expandable by folding seatbacks. The cabin makes the most of a small space, with 39 inches of headroom, or 37.2 with the panoramic sunroof, which looks like a glass roof. The back seat has smallish legroom, good footroom and headroom that doesn't seem as claustrophobic as the roofline makes its look.
Starting prices for the Veloster range from $18,060 for the entry-level model with six-speed manual transmission to $19,310 with the six-speed EcoShift dual-clutch transmission. My manual-transmission test car was $22,155 with options that anybody craving this body style would want:
The Style Package ($2,000) includes 18-inch alloy wheels; chrome grille surround with piano black highlights; fog lights; panoramic sunroof; piano-black interior accents; eight-speaker Dimension audio system with external amp and subwoofer; leatherette bolster seats and door inserts; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; and alloy pedals.
The Tech Package ($2,000, with the Style Package) includes 18-inch alloys with painted inserts; backup warning sensors; navigation system with rearview camera; automatic headlights; smart key with push-button start; and a 115-volt outlet. Carpeted floor mats are $95.
And with the Style and Tech packages, you can have the cool red-and-black interior colors instead of basic gray. Both models are powered by a 138-horsepower, direct-injection, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that gets EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway with the manual transmission and 29/38 with the dual clutch.
Another 50-hp would help put some sizzle behind the styling, such as the 201-hp Turbo model that goes on sale this summer. For the standard model, the driver will use the first five gears around town to keep the power flowing, but shifting is easy and gears slot without a miss. The steering is light, braking secure and sightlines aren't as restricted as you might assume. Rear views are better than those in Hyundai's Accent hatchback, and when the large side-mirrors are correctly positioned, the driver knows what's in the next lane. But in parking lots, the color rearview camera with guidance lines is valuable.
The EcoShift Dual Clutch Transmission with paddle shifters, $1,250, includes Hillstart Assist, so it won't roll backward at stops on an incline. But the manual should also have that simple assist. Ride quality on some sections of concrete can be choppy, but that's where you're going to get the 40 mpg, cruising in sixth gear. At 70 mph, the engine is turning at a not-loud 2,500 rpm. And at idle, you can barely hear the engine.
The Veloster with manual transmission weighs 2,584 pounds, which is lighter than the Mini Cooper S and Scion tC, according to Hyundai. It's also lighter than the Honda CR-Z hybrid (a two-seater) and gets a little better highway mileage. The two-tone red leather seats, with a fabric-mesh center, are high-quality and would look good in any hot rod. And all the other plastics and trim elements are well-done and neatly assembled. There's not budget-cut to be found for the price. But there is no spare tire, just sealant and an inflator.
Hyundai risked failure by obscene gimmickry with Veloster, but it resisted cheapness and shortcuts and turned possible pitfalls into innovations and clever engineering.
Specs Box: 2012 Hyundai Veloster
--Body style: compact, front-drive, three-door coupe hatchback
--Engine: aluminum 138-hp, direct-injection, 1.6-liter four-cylinder with dual variable valve timing
--Transmissions: 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed dual-clutch with paddle shifters
--Fuel economy: 28/40 mpg city/hwy (29/38 with dual-clutch); 87 octane
--Length/wheelbase: 166.1/104.3 in.
--Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39 (with sunroof)/43.9/55.6 in.
--Curb weight: 2,584 to 2,657 lbs.
--Cargo space: 15.5 cu. ft. to 34.7 with rear seats folded
--Turning circle: 34.1 ft.
--Safety features: six air bags; stability and traction controls; four-wheel disc brakes with ABS; electronic brake-force distribution
--Standard equipment includes: remote locking; air conditioning; 7-in. LCD video touchscreen; six-speaker AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with iPod/USB/video/auxiliary input jacks; 17-in. alloy wheels with P215/45R17 tires; chrome dual center exhaust outlet; Gracenote voice recognition; steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls; Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition; Blue Link telematics; trip computer; power windows, locks and mirrors (heated); tilt-telescopic steering wheel; lighted vanity mirrors with extensions; six-way adjustable driver's seat and armrest storage box; front LED headlight accents; map lights with sunglass holder; front passenger seatback pocket; rear wiper.
--Base price: $18,060, including $760 freight charge; price as tested: $22,155
--Options on test car: Style package, $2,000, includes 18-in. alloy wheels and 215/40 tires; chrome grille surround with piano-black highlights; fog lights; panoramic sunroof; piano-black interior accents; eight-speaker Dimension audio system with external amp and subwoofer; leatherette bolster seats and door inserts; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; alloy pedals (including special 18-inch alloys with painted inserts); backup warning sensors; navigation system with rearview camera; automatic headlights; proximity key entry with push-button start; 115-volt outlet.
--Where assembled: Korea
--Warranty: five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper; 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage; five years of free roadside assistance and the Hyundai Trade-in Value Guarantee.
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@UnionTrib.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage.
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