Road test: 2012 Hyundai Veloster

Back in high school, I was not regarded as one of the ‘cool’ kids. Driving a station wagon didn’t help my cause, but heck, at least I had wheels (thank you, Mom!).

I can think of a car manufacturer that, through its ‘high school’ years, was definitely not that cool: Hyundai Motor Company. As great – or not – as the Pony was, its lack of curb appeal and questionable reliability did not instill great confidence in the North American masses. Thus, its popularity at the time in comparison to the Honda Civic was, so to speak, bottom of the barrel.

Thank goodness for evolution.

Both Hyundai and I have grown up. We graduated from our respective ‘high school’ stages in our lives and, in time, moved forward onto bigger and better things. While I can’t necessarily speak for myself, as I have no clue how to judge my own popularity or coolness nor do I place a high regard on it, Hyundai’s popularity is soaring.

The Elantra is neck-and-neck with the segment-dominating Honda Civic to take the top spot in compact car sales in Canada.

And year-to-date sales indicate that the Accent is the top-selling vehicle in the subcompact segment.

Throw into the mix vehicles like the Genesis (which won the ‘North American Car of the Year’ in 2009 along with multiple other accolades), Genesis Coupe, the Sonata, Tucson and Santa Fe, and you have some of the best-selling, most reliable and functional vehicles on the automotive market in North America. Enter the 2012 Hyundai Veloster to elevate Hyundai’s social status even higher. On first glance, I noticed that the unique three-door hatchback oozes cool from its sheet metal.

This vehicle has the most aggressive example of the Korean car manufacturer’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ design philosophy.

It can get heads turning faster than a galloping pony (the four-legged kind, not fourwheeled).

Throw in an exterior orange paint job called Vitamin C, and a set of optional 18″ wheels with matching painted inserts and stares of appreciation and curiosity can be seen and felt all around.

But it’s the Veloster’s perky yet chiselled rear end that really nabbed my attention. It’s unlike anything Hyundai has ever offered. It is edgy and very different, and for that they get a high five from me. A little ‘junk in the trunk’ is always a good thing.

Inside the cabin is no letdown either. Over the years, Hyundai has improved its interiors to not only offer form and function, but to look exceptionally good. Regardless of Veloster trim each comes standard with a seven-inch high resolution LCD video touchscreen, a push-button start system, Bluetooth and more all wrapped up into one attractive package, and an easy-todecipher centre stack.

Whether on the inside or out, Hyundai has placed a large emphasis on style and substance rather than on performance. Why? Because they are targeting a very specific demographic with this vehicle: Gen Y individuals (although I observed a welcoming response from multiple generations on my recent drive through the streets of Vancouver).

From data compiled, the Gen Y buyer typically leans towards fuel efficiency over power. They want the latest tech trends and social media connections rather than a turbocharger under the hood. They also want great safety features and an attractive price tag. In my opinion, the Veloster hits all those nails on their respective heads.

Its 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) engine has an output of 138 horsepower and 123 lbs.-ft of torque and can either be paired with the standard 6-speed manual transmission or a new 6-speed EcoShift Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT.) With the DCT transmission, it has an estimated fuel economy of 7.0L/100km in the city and 4.9L/100km on the highway. It also takes the title of bestin-class highway fuel economy even against its hybrid competition.

While both transmissions proved to be capable and expressive on my test route, my heart veers towards the 6-speed manual, although the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters were an asset on the DCT.

When talking about tech features, the Veloster features Hyundai’s first Gracenote advanced voice recognition system. If you want a song, and your iPod is connected to the system, just tell the car! Also offered is a standard RCA cable for video/game console playback, a 196W stereo with iPod/USB/auxiliary connectivity, 16GB of memory and an available navigation system.

Technology aside, the Veloster’s safety features abound. Standard on all trims are six airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) and Electronic Stability Control/Traction Control. Thank goodness a standard rear-view camera is in place because visibility out its sexy hatch isn’t ideal especially when reversing or parallel parking.

After spending some time with the 2012 Hyundai Veloster, it was hard for me not to be impressed. Thanks to its great features, modern physique and a base MSRP of $18,999 ($22,499 with the Tech Package), this three-door sports coupe breeds a new generation of ‘cool’ that has multi-generational appeal.

Photograph by: Alexandra Straub, for PNG