In fact, after hatching plans to make the Veloster one of our inaugural long-term test cars (there are plenty of Six Month Road Test Veloster exploits to catch up on), we kept second-guessing ourselves. Would the standard-engine version be enough? Were we really missing out?
The worries turned out to be for naught—mostly. Around Portland, where colleague Joel Feder and I shared the Veloster, and out on Oregon's backroads and 65-mph freeways—all close enough to sea level—the 138-hp, 1.6-liter direct-injection four was up to the task, provided you didn't mind hearing it rev. Only out in the Rocky Mountain states, at higher elevations and with higher speed limits, with a full vacation load, did Feder realistically need more power.
As for the Turbo, now that we've spent some quality time with it: Yes, it's quicker, more confident, and considerably more fun on mountain roads. Yet we're more conflicted about the Turbo's higher price tag, and the comparisons to the loftier competitive set that its horsepower and price invite.
Lots of boost makes it a true pocket rocket
First, as for the new engine: From a standing start, it doesn't feel as strong as its 195 pound-feet of torque might suggest, but this 1.6-liter four finds boost from the twin-scroll turbo soon after, by 2,000 rpm (requiring you to really hold on to the steering wheel for rolling starts) and then the six-speed automatic transmission, which our test car had, actually does a great job keeping the engine right on boost, with quick, snappy upshifts (just as effective, if not better, than the dual-clutch automatic in the normally aspirated version). The only tradeoff is that in the lowest three gears the driving feel isn’t quite as ‘direct’ as the manual or the DCT, in what's supposed to be more of a driver's car.
Regardless, winding this engine into its upper ranges in the first few gears especially pushes you back in your seat with forces you wouldn't have expected at initial tip-in. The phrase 'pocket rocket' might be a little overused, but it surely applies here.
Driving the Veloster Turbo at a more normal pace feels in a word, easy. It's less labored, and more effortless than the base car, and the few idiosyncracies of the boost curve aren't then issues. We can see the strength of this engine in simply not requiring as many dramatic downshifts and keeping passengers at ease.
One surprising thing about the Veloster Turbo is that it doesn't sound particularly sporty—and after having spent a lot of time winding out the base car, we think the Turbo sounds less brawny. The automaker has done too good of a job muting the turbo whistle, and losing any intake charisma as well. We think about other (gruff or spunky-sounding) cars in this class, like a Fiat 500, a MINI Cooper S, or even a VW Beetle Turbo, and sound is such an important part of the sensory experience.