Review: Hyundai Veloster among the last of its kind

The 2019 Hyundai Veloster’s name evokes a fast, fierce and extinct little predator, a comparison that’s becoming more and more apt.

In 2018, you’re about as likely to stumble upon a new species of dinosaur as a new sporty compact coupe, the type of car the Veloster aims to embody.

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Cars like that once roamed the roads, making a meal of slower, less manoeuvrable sedans and minivans. Like the prehistoric Velociraptor whose name Hyundai’s sporty hatchback recalls, they’re gone, replaced by species that evolved to meet new conditions.

Low, sleek and affordable compact cars are increasingly rare. Little SUVs are replacing compact sedans, hatchbacks and coupes as the most popular small vehicles.

The Veloster could be one of the last of its breed.

Its small competitive set consists of sporty compact sedans, hatchbacks and coupes. Excluding luxury brands, the main players are the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Si, Kia Soul, Subaru WRX and Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Drivers who want a little power to complement the Veloster’s striking looks will gravitate toward a 201-hp 1.6L turbocharged engine available with a manual transmission or a quick, smooth seven-speed dual clutch automatic.

A 250-hp 2.0L turbo is coming later this year in a model called the Veloster N. Its price hasn’t been announced.

I tested a nicely equipped Veloster Turbo Ultimate. Features included adaptive cruise control, blind-spot alert, 18-inch wheels, sunroof, Infinity audio; navigation, touch screen, voice recognition, wireless charging, head-up display, heated front seats and three years of Hyundai’s Blue Link connected service.

The Veloster turbo’s prices are at the high end of its segment, but so is its feature list.

The Veloster’s appeal begins with its looks. Low, wide and reminiscent of an advanced motorcycle helmet, nothing else on the road looks remotely like the sporty Hyundai. A unique three-door layout adds a rear door on the passenger side for easy access to the rear seat.

The Veloster turbo’s fuel economy is good. The EPA rated the car I tested with the dual-clutch transmission at 28 mpg in the city, 34 on the highway and 30 in combined driving.

The key combined figure trails only the Honda Civic Si with a manual transmission.

The interior design is pleasant. The trim looks good but there is hard plastic where some competitors have soft materials.

Standard safety features include front collision assist, which applies the brakes automatically when a collision is imminent. The dual-clutch transmission incorporates hill-start assist. Blind spot and cross traffic alerts, automatic high beams, backup camera and lane keeping assist are standard on the Turbo.

The Veloster turbo’s 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque are about in the middle of the segment.

The controls are simple, easy to use and include standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smartphones.

You’d expect sharp, enthusiastic handling from a sporty looking car such as the Veloster, but dynamics are not a strength.

The suspension transmits the impacts from rough roads directly to the occupants, and the handling is nothing special. There’s plenty of body roll in quick manoeuvres. Road holding is not much better than you’d expect from any good compact with a low centre of gravity and wide track.

The “sport” drive mode makes the steering feel heavier, but doesn’t seem to impart sharper handling or quicker response.

A stiffer suspension and quicker, more communicative steering would be good for the more powerful upcoming N model, particularly since N is supposed to suggest Nürburgring, Germany’s long and famously demanding road course.

The adaptive cruise control, which uses radar, automatic braking and throttle to maintain speed and following distance in traffic, is very conservative, mandating gaps large enough to invite other vehicles to cut in front of you.

The front seat is roomy and comfortable, but rear legroom is a figment of a Hyundai engineer’s imagination. Expect to use the handy third door on the passenger side for loading grocery bags, not passengers.

As automakers shift engineering focus and investment dollars away from cars to SUVs, it’s an open question how many new sporty small compacts we’ll see. At its price, the Veloster’s appealing list of features could keep it a leader for a long time.

But if you want a real performance car, wait till we know more about the Veloster N or there’s a new version of the all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX.

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