2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo: Driven

March 12, 2013
Ever since our first drive of the standard Hyundai Veloster, we'd been pining for the Veloster Turbo.

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.

The Veloster rides and handles mostly like the standard version. We say mostly, because Hyundai quickened the steering ratio, and it's a bit firmer (with less boost), but there's still not much feel of the road and it could use more of a sense of center when you're pulling out of a tight curve. Brakes felt good—both more secure in feel and less grabby in relaxed stops than our long-termer.

The Veloster Turbo doesn’t get the adjustable steering boost that’s now offered in some other models like the Elantra GT or the Santa Fe, but it does have a feel that we think fits the car pretty well—it’s a little heftier than that of the standard Veloster

Hyundai hasn't much changed the suspension firmness of the Turbo versus the other versions. In theory there's more grip from the Michelin Pilot Super Sport Z-rated summer tires (a $1,200 option) in our test car, although 40-degree temps meant that ride quality probably wasn't what it should be. And for all the firmness provided by the buff tire sidewalls, there was an unsatisfying secondary 'wallow' on choppy back roads.

Heated seats, less headroom

Turbo models get heated leather seats. However compared to the base cloth seats we noticed that you lose about a half-inch of headroom—which happens to push me from comfortably clearing the moonroof surround to constantly brushing against it. In addition to that, there are the few longstanding gripes we have of the Veloster in general—like awkward rearward visibility and too much road noise.

As for mileage, based on what we saw with the Veloster Turbo, don't have high expectations around town; but on the highway this is a model that's fully up to its EPA ratings. Earlier in the week we did about 25 miles of around-town errands and only averaged about 23 mpg. That's about on par with the 24 mpg city rating, but soundly lower than what we saw with our normally aspirated Veloster in the same situations (in the range of 26-28 mpg).

But it seems that in real-life highway driving the Turbo model does just as well—if not better—than the base car. In a weekend trip out from Portland to the coast, mostly on winding two-lane mountain roads, with some moderate-speed freeway cruising, our running average then rose to 33 mpg after about 190 miles, then sank to a still-commendable 31 mpg after a final 15 miles before turning the car back in. At least according to the trip computer, we were beating the highway rating by ten percent or more.

After time with the Turbo, we understand how it broadens the Veloster's appeal—and that it carries this model into consideration for those who would have seen the base car's 138-hp figure and simply crossed it off their lists.

That said, if we were getting a Veloster, we'd probably stick with the regular version, thank you.

More satisfying performance, but shakier ground

The base 2013 Hyundai Veloster can be had for as little as $18,395, and we think that even after you add the Tech Package (navigation, rearview camera, backup sensors, proximity entry, push-button start, and a 115-volt outlet), the standard Veloster is a steal at $22,395.

As for the Turbo; well, it's a different value story, and one that's not quite the no-brainer. At the base level it's $22,895, but get the automatic model, adding the Ultimate Package (panoramic sunroof, backup sensors, navigation, rearview camera, and 115V outlet), which our test car had, and your bottom-line price is $26,395.

That's still a relative bargain, and while the base car stands as quite the charismatic alternative to the Scion tC, Honda CR-Z, or Kia Forte Koup, the Veloster Turbo is in the territory of several other models that we might rather have—like the Ford Focus ST (and perhaps the upcoming Fiesta ST), the MINI Cooper S, or the Volkswagen GTI. It's also the same territory as the completely different but more seductive Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ.

The Veloster Turbo does have one significant trump card in all this—and that's its unique three-door layout, and a design unlike any other vehicle we're comparing it to. Especially if what you want is a model that moves quickly and stands out, on a tight budget, the Veloster Turbo is it.

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