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The Hyundai Veloster returns for the 2013 model year, with a new Turbo companion. And just as it did last year, for the first time ever, the Veloster continues to prove that risky cars done right are category killers.
The auto landscape's littered with risks that failed to pay off--heaps like the Aztek, Capri, VehiCross, X90. Like those utter flops, the Veloster's a synthesis of different types of vehicles. Unlike those, it's winning on almost every level. It's daring when its competition isn't, and that starts with its grabby, sport-shoe styling, an arresting look that erupts from its unconventional four-door layout--a hatch in back, a driver-side door, and two smaller front-hinged doors on the passenger side. Only in the most generic way does it mimic some of the shapes of the Accent and Elantra that it borrows parts from; it's a distinctive, electric look with lots of disruptive lines and surfaces that never seems to run out of ways to entertain owners and onlookers. And the party doesn't stop inside: Hyundai's gotten so deft at interiors, it's put a V-neck on the Veloster's dash and tucked a big LCD locket in the middle, pitching it way into the future while some other sporty hatches struggle just to make the screen look relevant and useful amid all the clutter.
The Veloster cribs some components from the Accent, starting with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine from the smaller car that puts out 138 horsepower. On base Velosters, it's teamed with a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch automatic that are good enough to leave to personal preference. Acceleration's adequate if a little thin on torque off the line, but fuel economy of 37 mpg highway is excellent. The new performance version straps on a twin-scroll turbocharger for 201 hp in all, a 195-lb-ft blast of torque on tap at low engine speeds, and a choice between six-speed manual and paddle-shifted automatic transmissions--good for 0-60 mph times of about 7.0 seconds or less, with just a slight crimp in gas-mileage numbers.
From the Elantra, the Veloster borrows some front suspension pieces. To blend with its mission and its more compact body, it gets a retuned, redesigned rear-beam axle for more nimble behavior and more confident grip on curvy roads. We're not wild about the electric power steering--it's low on feedback, and weighty when it doesn't need to be--but it doesn't disrupt the Veloster's generally flat, crisp cornering, which gets unsettled only if it's pitched over bad sections of pavement. Braking is strong, even better on Turbos, which get bigger front rotors and stickier front tires--which also amplify the short, stocky Veloster's ample understeer.
Up front, the Veloster's pretty accommodating for a pair of passengers, even with the sunroof or panoramic roof on offer. The back seat and that catchy side door? They're more playful than practical. It's tight back there for anyone of a certain age, more so of a certain height or weight. The Veloster's just not meant to be a four-person commuter. The rear seats fold down to make a useful cargo area, and Hyundai's found lots of niches and nooks for small-item storage.
The Veloster stands out for its lengthy list of standard features and its low base price. The base car's $18,000 sticker includes a standard USB/iPod interface, RCA inputs, Bluetooth hands-free, and GraceNote music display technology that lets you request music with voice commands. Hyundai's BlueLink suite of services is also included, in a trial subscription. For about $23,000, the Turbo adds leather seats, big wheels and tires, a rearview camera, and more. Options include a huge panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, upgraded wheels, and a 115-volt outlet.