2019 Hyundai Veloster N First Drive

Playing Hardball

How serious is Hyundai about performance? Demonstrating confidence like Babe Ruth in the batter's box pointing at the outfield, the brand has partially named its new go-fast N division after the Nürburgring. The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N is the first effort, and it shows that this historically value-oriented automaker is ready for the big leagues.

Hyundai even says the letter's design is inspired by a chicane at the legendary German motorsports venue. The "N" also stands for Namyang, Hyundai's global center for research and development in South Korea, which serves as the performance division's home base.

What matters more is what's revealed after driving the Veloster N around the 13 miles of narrow, fast and undulating track that add up to a lap of the Nordschleife, the Nürburgring's northern loop. This car is going to make people happy.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

What Is It?
The Veloster N is a front-wheel-drive hatchback with sports-car attributes, including quick acceleration and enjoyable handling. You might think other Veloster models fit this description as well, most notably the Turbo R-Spec, but the N moniker speaks to loftier ambitions: racetrack durability in a car you drive every day.

The transformation involves the usual upgrades — more power, firmer suspension, stickier tires and bigger brakes — but the Veloster's already extroverted design hasn't changed much. Key additions include larger front air ducts to cool the brakes, a small wing on top of the hatch, and look-at-me red accents. Disappointingly, the only way you can get the accents in black is by ordering the car in red.

You can't see the important stuff, such as the additional welds and reinforcements to stiffen the structure, or the electronically controlled and driver-adjustable dampers. But pop the hood and there's a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 250 horsepower. An optional performance package increases that figure to 275 hp. Torque sits at 260 pound-feet regardless, and impressively, Hyundai claims this output on regular 87 octane fuel. The 1.6-liter turbo engine offered in the regular Veloster is meek by comparison, putting out 201 hp and 195 lb-ft.

There's still one door on the driver's side and two on the passenger, facilitating backseat access for occupants entering from the curb. Settling into the cloth driver's seat, you find supportive side bolsters and a round (not flat-bottomed) steering wheel that offers a clear view of the gauge cluster and shift lights. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available, though Hyundai representatives say a dual-clutch automatic transmission is in development.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

What's the Engine Like?
The 2.0-liter turbo has a muted tone, and then it doesn't. A variable exhaust system ranges from mellow to entertainingly loud. In the most aggressive setting, the two exhaust tips emit amusing pops and crackles when you lift off the throttle, making you look for excuses to do it again.

Hyundai engineers prioritized engine response over peak power, and their work is evident. Unlike many turbocharged engines, this one pulls pleasingly from low engine speeds all the way to redline. If you find yourself in a gear too high to exit the corner, there's still enough low end to grunt your way out, yet the boost doesn't fall off in the upper registers.

The breadth of power means you don't have to watch the tach carefully and short-shift before the engine runs out of power, while the smartly placed shift lights and prominent exhaust sound mean you won't accidentally bump the rev limiter on straightaways, both of which are common occurrences in Honda's Civic Si and Civic Type R.

The shifter has short, positive throws, and it's easy to land. Standard automatic rev-matching ensures the engine is turning the right speed before you release the clutch during a downshift. The system works well enough that few will be tempted to turn it off, but those who want to will be happy to know they can.

Hyundai didn't develop an expensive front axle to minimize torque steer, a phenomenon that occurs in powerful front-wheel-drive cars where full-throttle acceleration can turn the steering wheel in your hands. Instead, the engineers simply accepted torque steer as part of the experience, saying that a small amount helps communicate what the front wheels are doing.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

How Does It Handle?
The length and sustained speed of the Nordschleife — not to mention the volume of YouTube crash compilations — inspire nervousness, but it quickly subsides in the Veloster N. The car is both stable through winding turns nearing 100 mph and nimble on low-speed corner entry. Both qualities inspire confidence and make you want to go faster.

The front end has a lot of bite, so it feels like you can approach turns more quickly. Once the car's set, the available electronic limited-slip differential works to drive you out of the corner with minimal understeer. In their firmest setting, the dampers transmit head-shaking impacts over bumps, but the overall ride isn't uncomfortably firm.

Four drive modes adjust throttle response, steering effort, damper firmness, rev-match aggressiveness, exhaust tone, stability control threshold, and limited-slip differential engagement, if it's equipped. A fifth custom setting allows the driver to adjust each setting individually. You can fully disable stability control, though there is always some braking intervention to help handling.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

What's in the Performance Package?
While we don't yet know all the options the Veloster N will offer, shoppers should definitely consider the performance package. Beyond increasing engine output, this option includes a range of upgrades that improve the car's abilities.

The standard Veloster N rides on 18-inch wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. This package adds 19-inch wheels wrapped with Pirelli P Zero tires developed for Hyundai, along with a shorter final drive ratio to compensate for the larger-diameter rolling stock. Brake rotors increase in size, and the rear rotors go from solid to vented.

But the biggest impact comes from the aforementioned electronically controlled limited-slip differential, which modulates the flow of power to the front wheels to improve traction while accelerating out of a corner. It's effective enough that Veloster N models lacking the performance package get a thicker front anti-roll bar to compensate.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

Is It Faster Than the Competition?
With its 275 horsepower, weight of 3,100 pounds and standard launch control, we wouldn't be surprised to see the Veloster N do 0-60 mph in around 6 seconds. That would put it a step behind the Honda Civic Type R and the all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX, though it should challenge the front-drive Volkswagen GTI and edge out the Honda Civic Si and the Ford Focus ST.

Further analysis is needed when it comes to racetracks, but we're eager to find out how this hot hatch measures up, since Hyundai engineers stress that the Veloster N's cooling system can withstand repeated lapping. The engineers also say they even tested the car on racing slicks during development because they knew some owners would install them. (In Europe, Hyundai offers a track-ready accessory package on the similar four-door i30 N that includes lightweight OZ wheels, barely street-legal Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires, and Pagid brake pads.)

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

Should I Buy One?
Two brief laps around the Nordschleife provide an intriguing sample of the Veloster N's strengths. While we look forward to driving one on familiar roads at home, this experience shows that Hyundai's N division is ready to play hardball with the top sport compact cars. Pricing hasn't been announced, but we expect the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N to border $30,000 when it reaches dealers in the fourth quarter of 2018.