The 2012 Veloster is powered by essentially the same engine as the 2012 Hyundai Accent—a 1.6-liter in-line four making, with dual continuously variable valve timing. That engine is mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or, in what's a world first for Hyundai, a new six-speed Dual Clutch (DCT) automatic, which aims to provide quicker shifts and more driver control than a conventional automatic.
The engine's 138 horsepower output might seem impressive and more than enough, considering the Veloster's under-2,600-pound curb weight, but with a lack of low-rpm torque—as well as rather tall gearing with either transmission—this small car can feel sluggish from a standing start. But once revs rise—especially up to the 4,000-rpm range and above, the Veloster feels much quicker; whether you opt for the manual or the DCT, you'll be putting a lot of your right foot (and revs) into it to power away from lights and corners.
Between the two transmissions, there isn't a bad choice. The DCT pulls off shifts just as quick and responsively as the Ford unit in the 2012 Ford Focus and Fiesta, only it’s more composed at low speed. Hyundai has dialed in a fair amount of 'idle creep,' so when you lift off the brake it gently engages clutch and moves forward slowly just like an automatic. Hillstart Assist Control is also included, to keep the Veloster from rolling back before uphill starts. Manual Velosters have nice, progressive clutch takeup, though the shifter throws are still a little long and tight.
Get the Veloster out on a curvy road, where you can keep the engine at a boil, and the story gets much, much better. The Veloster can handle really well—phenomenally well—putting it a league above the Elantra sedan, with which it shares substantial pieces of body structure and chassis, and really up to snuff with Mazda3 and Mini Cooper—both of which have more harshness than the Hyundai. In addition to a stiffer front suspension tune, the secret is a completely different rear-suspension design: a V-torsion beam configuration, including an integrated (and large) 23-mm stabilizer bar, plus monotube shocks—in all, a huge improvement over the Elantra’s twist-beam-axle rear.
What this means is that you can really throw the sub-2,600-pound Veloster around tight corners, yet it stays composed and doesn’t heave with secondary motions over less-than-perfect surfaces. Make a quick transition, and it simply hunkers down evenly, shifting its weight with no snap but an even, predictable attitude.
Hyundai’s electric power steering isn't quite what we'd hope for in a sporty car—it's a little artificial and overdamped, so you lack much road feel—though it is reasonably well-weighted, and turning diameter is better than any other small, sporty coupes, at 34.1 feet. 17-inch H-rated rubber is standard, while V-rated 18-inch performance tires are available—both on stylish alloys. Brake feel is excellent, with confident four-wheel discs, anti-lock and Brake Assist.