Hyundai's sporty three-door hatch has returned for the new decade after a hiatus of a couple of years, but is its endearingly funky design enough to make it worth a significant premium over the far more sensible i30?

The Hyundai Veloster is a car I wasn’t exactly expecting to make a return to the Australian market, given we’re the only right-hand drive market it’s sold in, and it’s a return that seems to have been unfortunately under-publicised. Sure, it might be a rather niche vehicle – made only more niche by the lack of popularity of both hatchbacks and coupes at the moment, something the Veloster attempts to straddle the line between as a “2+1 door sports coupe” – but it is instantly recognisable and I think deserves a greater look-in now that it’s finally back.

Not least do I think this because the Veloster looks like a pretty solid offering, as it always has, and enough people clearly agreed before, given 19,000 first-gen models were sold here in Australia over the course of its run. A choice of two proven petrol engines carried over from the i30 are available across the lineup, one naturally aspirated and one turbocharged, with both automatic and manual gearbox options for all variants à la the new Mazda3 range.

In range-topping Turbo Premium form as tested here, it’s packed with all the latest safety equipment and a swathe of other gizmos, too, with it all coming wrapped in a very cool and funky package, but it does all come at rather a cost – while the range starts at just $29,490 for an NA manual, my range-topping tester with its dual-clutch auto comes in at $43,585 as tested, and that really does beg the question of whether it’s worth it.

If standing out from the crowd is what you’re after, then the Veloster is a surefire way to do it, especially if you opt for the stunning Tangerine Comet paintwork ($595) and Phantom Black two-tone roof wrap ($1000) this car was fitted with, which only made it look even more sporty than it did to begin with. While some might not dig it, I love the way this thing looks. The sloping roofline, the twin central exhausts, the go-fast wheels, the gritted-teeth expression on its face – I think it looks incredibly cool and funky and unusual in a very good way.

There are a few big drawbacks to this exciting design, however, all of which come on the inside. For one, the boot, while still plenty big enough for most people, is a lot smaller than that of the i30, and you’ll have to lift your things higher up to load them in.

Now while that I can deal with – this is a quasi-sports car, after all – one thing dealt with less easily is the headroom, or rather the lack thereof. At 6’2″, I’m certainly above average in height, but with most of that height in my legs, I never usually struggle with headroom issues in sports cars such as the notoriously small Mazda MX-5, for instance. In this Veloster, however, I’ll just say that I had to drive everywhere with the sunroof cover open in order to fit… just.

At least with both seat heating and ventilation, along with a heated steering wheel, comfort hasn’t entirely been discounted from the equation, although there are a few odd omissions in this department, such as a lack of dual-zone climate control, or the fact that while the driver’s seat base is power-operated, the seat back is only manually adjustable.

I like everything else about the interior – at least in the front seat – as it feels equally funky enough to match the exterior. Sure, plastic abounds on the dashboard and door cards, but there’s nothing that you’ll really turn your nose up at. Key contact points like the seats, steering wheel, armrests, and shifter are all very nicely leather-wrapped and feature red contrast stitching, however, so that does lift the cabin ambience significantly.

The infotainment system used across the whole Hyundai and Kia ranges is still an excellent unit with a great integrated sat nav system and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and the Turbo Premium gets a great Infinity stereo with it as well. The dials in the gauge cluster nicked from the i30 N and Genesis G70 are a nice touch, too, as is the heads-up display that shows you a full and very clear tachometer in Sport mode.

What isn’t so nice, however, is the back seat. While the additional rear door does make it easier for one passenger to get in – with two passengers, you’ll need to slide all the way across like you’re in a Japanese taxi – it’s not exactly the best place to be once you’re back there. It’s not that the seats themselves are bad – quite the contrary, as they’re actually quite comfortable – but the lack of headroom combines with the lack of a dome light and tiny windows to make it feel particularly dark and claustrophobic back there.

It’s a shame there’s a few major drawbacks on the inside as a result of its good looks, because there are plenty of other things to like about it that feel a tad spoiled as a result. But one thing I do unquestionably like about the Veloster, however, is the way that it drives.

Carried over from the first-gen Veloster Turbo – along with the i30 N-Line – is a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with identical outputs of 150kW at 6000rpm and 265Nm spread evenly between 1500-4500rpm.

Although it might seem strange not to take the opportunity to give it a more significant mechanical overhaul, there’s an incredibly good reason for why Hyundai didn’t – because if it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it.

Not only has the 1.6 T-GDi proven to be an incredibly reliable engine over the years – easily its most important trait – but its power figures are still perfectly competitive years after its first introduction, especially given its low displacement and how strongly it pulls for a relatively small engine.

Perhaps key to its reliability is its simplistic design. Things such as a pesky start-stop system, for instance, have been deemed surplus to requirements since there’s no need to use one to cheat fuel economy tests as it’s frugal enough already – its 6.9L/100km claim is easy to get close to during normal driving, although with quite a lot of very spirited driving thrown in, I saw a respectable return of 8.4L/100km overall.

Also carried over is the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission fitted to my tester, which is the same as what’s used in the i30 N-Line and the SR that came before it. Like the engine it’s paired to, Hyundai’s DCTs have been noted for their reliability compared to most other dual-clutches out there, so with no horror stories having been reported, there’s no real need to fear opting for it if the standard six-speed manual isn’t to your tastes.

In the Veloster, I’ve got to say that it feels like it shifts more quickly than in some other models I’ve sampled it in, too. While the downshifts still aren’t the fastest, the upshifts are very much encroaching on the territory of Volkswagen’s DSGs. There’s still a tiny way for it to go, but it’s very nearly there.

It helps the Veloster make some great noises too, with some hilarious ‘farts’ on its prompt upshifts complimenting the already throaty growl emitted from its central twin exhausts.

In terms of how it drives overall, however, the Veloster simply feels like an i30 that’s been dialled in just a tiny bit more. The ride is a little bit firmer, the steering is a tiny little bit tighter, and it corners just that bit more flatly as a result, meaning it displays a good amount of poise.

A set of proper Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres – also a recent upgrade for the i30 N-Line – only helps it feel even more planted through the corners. The ride is quieter and a lot smoother on these Michelins than the hard old Hankook tyres, too, which is a big bonus.

While not a true hot hatch – those wanting such a thing from Hyundai will obviously be steered towards the raucous i30 N – it’s definitely on the hotter side of warm, feeling punchy, agile, and ready to go, yet still refined enough not to drive you mad day-to-day.

Most importantly, however, is that it’s just a good deal of fun. Not just fun to drive, which it very much is, but fun to look at and fun to be in as you marvel at its weird design quirks. Not enough cars are this nonsensically entertaining these days, so its refreshing to have something like this around that displays that some carmakers do still have personalities and aren’t just budget-driven faceless conglomerates.

But for as much as I love the design, the premium you pay for it over an i30 N-Line is where it all starts to go wrong for me I’m afraid. At $41,990 before options, it’s not just $7000 more expensive than the N-Line, but is the same price as the much faster Fastback N, which for those after the full sports car experience will be the car more to your tastes from Hyundai’s stable for this amount of money, I feel.

I wish I could be more positive about it overall as I really do like this thing and genuinely enjoyed my time spent with it, but it’s unfortunately a hard car to recommend to the average, rational buyer. If you’re one of those sorts, just buy an i30 N-Line and spend the cash you’ve saved on a holiday.

If you aren’t in any way rational, however, and want an expensive hatchback with weird doors that’s actually great fun to drive, why not spend a little extra in order to be different? As a lover of all things weird in the automotive world, I, for one, would certainly be tempted to… well, at least I would be if I was short enough to fit.

2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Premium List Price: $41,990 | As Tested: $43,585
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Head-turning funky design, trusty drivetrain still performs pleasingly well, great balance of ride comfort and sporty dynamics
Cons: Lack of headroom, dark and claustrophobic rear seat, an i30 N-Line is far better value on paper

In a nutshell: An i30 is what you buy with your head, but a Veloster, you buy with your heart. 

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Hyundai Australia for a week with a full tank of petrol. All additional fuel expenses were paid for by the author.

Patrick Jackson
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