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First drive: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N [Video review]

by Drew Johnson

Hyundai gets serious about building a hot hatch.

Hyundai isn't exactly known for building performance cars. The South Korean company has given it the old college try in the past, with vehicles like the Genesis Coupe, but most people still buy a Hyundai with their head, not with their heart.

But Hyundai is now on a mission to change that. And to spearhead its performance car revolution, Hyundai has established a new N sub-brand and put a man named Albert Biermann in charge of it (Biermann's resume contains a few minor highlights, like heading up BMW's M division and developing vehicles like the E46 M3).

Hyundai has already introduced its first N car oversees (in the form of the i30 hatchback), and now the company is giving the United States its first taste of its performance sub-brand with a hotter version of the all-new Veloster. So, is the Veloster N just more of the same, or is it the first-ever fizz-inducing Hyundai? Come with us as we find out.

But before we dive into the meat of our Hyundai Veloster N review, let's get a few things out of the way.

What's in a name?

Most automakers go with a cool or aggressive sounding name when they launch a performance sub-division -- something like Black Series or Type R -- but Hyundai ended up with N. So how did they get there?

N actually has two meanings, according to Hyundai. The first is a reference to Hyundai's R&D center located in the city of Namyang, where all N-cars are born. The second is a nod to the Nurburgring circuit, where all N cars are put through their paces before being put on sale.

So why the Veloster?

Simply bringing the i30 N to these shores would have been the easiest way for Hyundai to introduce its N brand to Americans. After all, the i30 is already sold here as the Elantra GT, so it wouldn't have required much effort. But instead, Hyundai decided to design an all-new N car in the Veloster N.

There are a couple reasons for that decision. The first is that the Veloster doesn't really have any direct competition. The hatchback segment is a crowded one, but the Veloster steers clear of the masses with its low roofline and unique three-door setup. An Elantra GT N, on the other hand, would have to go toe-to-toe with hot hatch stalwarts like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST.

The second reason is that the Veloster is simply a better starting point for a performance vehicle than the Elantra GT/i30. The Veloster is lower and lighter than the i30, which pays dividends in both cornering and acceleration.

The making of an N

If I didn't know better, I might assume the N on the Veloster's tailgate stood for "nothing." That's because, at least in terms of the mechanical bits, the Veloster N shares essentially nothing with the standard Veloster. Everything from the drivetrain to the suspension to the exhaust is different.

Let's start at the front and work our way back. All Veloster N models are powered by a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Two different tunes are on offer -- the standard Veloster N has 250 horsepower, while the optional performance pack raises the bar to 275 horsepower via software changes. Both versions of the engine are good for 260 lb-ft of torque from a low 1,450rpm.

You can get the Veloster N with any transmission you'd like, as long as it's a six-speed manual with a rev-matching function. Hyundai says it is at least considering an automatic transmission for its N models, but no decision has been made on the matter.

When outfitted with the optional performance package, that six-speed sends power to the front wheels through an electronically controlled limited slip differential. That unit improves acceleration by maximizing traction, and also helps with cornering thanks to a torque vectoring function.

All Veloster N models are treated to an electronically controlled suspension with three different settings -- Normal, Sport and Sport+. When turned to its most aggressive setting, the Veloster N's suspension enhances body control and reduces brake dive.

Speaking of brakes, the Veloster N comes standard with 13.0-inch rotors up front and 11.8-inch units in the back. Opting for the performance package ups those figures to 13.6-inches and 12.4-inches, respectively (along with 19-inch wheels, up from 18-inches). If you want even more stopping power, your local Hyundai dealer will be happy to sell you upgraded brake pads intended for track use. Likewise, you can also swap out the performance pack's standard 19-inch Pirelli P-Zero tires for a set of Pirelli Cup tires that offer more grip.

And finally, at the back of the Veloster N you'll find a multi-mode exhaust system that's more than willing to back crackle during spirited driving.

Looking the part

The N treatment also brings along some aesthetic upgrades. The Veloster N boasts a unique front fascia that also incorporates new air ducts that aid in brake cooling. The sides of the Veloster have been spruced up with aggressive side sills, and the back of the car has been adorned with a larger spoiler and a diffuser with integrated dual exhaust outlets.

Open either of the Veloster N's front doors and you'll notice N-specific sill panels and floor mats. Other changes from the standard Veloster include sport seats covered in grippy cloth with blue accent stitching, blue seatbelts, a unique steering wheel and an N gauge cluster with an integrated shift indicator light. Delve into the Veloster N's infotainment system and you'll discover adjustable settings for most of the mechanical parts.

The rest of the Veloster N's interior is (unfortunately) shared with the standard Veloster. That means hard and cheap-feeling plastic pretty much everywhere. But that's just the price to pay when your starting point is a $17,000 car.

On the road

From the first turn of the wheel it's evident that the Veloster N isn't a typical Hyundai. Even in Normal mode the steering in the Veloster N is sportier than anything else Hyundai has ever made. And when turned to Sport+, the Veloster N's steering gets even better, with an improved on-center feel and just the right amount of weight.

The Veloster N's engine is also unlike anything we've experienced from the Hyundai brand. Though relatively small at two-liters, the turbocharged four is willing to dish out power at any engine speed, whether pulling away from a stop or dropping a gear to overtake a slower vehicle. And when pushed hard, the Veloster N's exhaust produces a back crackle that sounds almost as good as the Mercedes-AMG CLA45.

The Veloster N's six-speed manual may be slower to shift than a modern automatic, but it makes the whole driving experience more enjoyable. And that's actually a major part of the Veloster N's DNA -- Hyundai says the Veloster N is about creating heartbeats per minute, not revs per minute.

The unit itself is a good one, with relatively short throws and precise action. The rev-matching feature is also helpful for getting the most out of the Veloster N's turbocharged engine. If you prefer heal-toeing, the rev match system can be disabled.

On smoother surfaces, the Veloster N's sport suspension is a thing of beauty. There's very little -- if any -- body lean through the corners, which translates to confident handling, especially at higher speeds. However, when the road turns rough, so does the Veloster N's ride. Even in Normal mode you'll feel every bump and groove in the road surface. If you live in an area with pockmarked roads, you may want to take the Veloster N for an extended drive before you sign on the dotted line.

On the track

Although designed to be an everyday driver, the Veloster N feels right at home on the track. The Veloster N has plenty of power for long straightaways, and the N-tuned suspension -- along with the limited slip differential -- help the car feel neutral through all but the tightest of corners. We didn't experience any understeer on California's Thunder Hill Raceway, but it was fairly easy to get the Veloster N's front end to push through sharp corners on a separate autocross course.

The Veloster N's standard Pirelli tires performed just fine at the track, but if you're planning on doing a fair bit of track days, we suggest springing for the stickier cup tires. Same goes for the composite brake pads, which stood up to several laps of Thunder Hill without any perceivable fade.

The numbers

Unfortunately for those interested in the Veloster N, Hyundai is keeping some of the car's key details under wraps. Hyundai isn't releasing the Veloster N's 0-60 time, and the company doesn't have any fuel economy ratings to share at this time. We at least have some idea on pricing, but nothing exact. Hyundai says the 250 horsepower version of the Veloster will list for less than $28,000, while the 275 horsepower model will set you back just under $30,000. Both estimated prices include delivery, whatever that figure may be.

MG's bottom line

If Hyundai wants to make a name for itself as a maker of fun-to-drive cars, the Veloster N is solid starting point. Thanks to the knowhow of Mr. Biermann, the Veloster N is easily the best-driving Hyundai to date, with responsive steering and a suspension worthy of track-day duty. The two-liter in the Veloster N is also a peach, delivering good power throughout the rev band.

But like all first tries, the Veloster N isn't perfect. The ride can be harsh over less than perfect roads, and tire noise can be intrusive over rough surfaces. There's also the issues of the Veloster's cheap-feeling interior and cramped back seat.

But the Veloster N is compelling in that it offers a lot more power than a Golf GTI (or Ford Focus ST, etc.) for not much more money. You just have to choose -- do you want the raucous and exciting driving experience that the Veloster N delivers, or the refinement of offered by the established hot hatches? Whatever you choose, we're just happy that Hyundai has given us that choice.

Photos courtesy of Hyundai.