Matt Prior, Contributor
We've been in a moving 2012 Hyundai Veloster before. It was in Southern California on the Pacific Coast Highway, but we weren't driving. We rode shotgun while Hyundai's CEO John Krafcik manned the controls.
Now we're behind the wheel of a very early prototype for a very brief drive on some secondary roads in the United Kingdom. The phrase "early prototype" means we shouldn't judge fit and finish. Hyundai made us cross our hearts and hope to die if we do, so I won't.
Don't care anyway. We're here to try the steering, brakes and suspension. You know, the stuff that really matters.
On Sale This Fall
Hyundai thinks its asymmetric Veloster, which sports two doors on one side and a single one on the other, could become the equivalent of VW's Scirocco or Mini's Cooper S: some kind of halo for the brand. It was designed at Hyundai's studio in Southern California, and it will hit dealerships sometime this fall.
Krafcik himself told us Hyundai even benchmarked the old second-generation Honda CRX (1988-'91) when it came to some of the Veloster's dynamic bits.
Our pre-production test car had the same 1.6-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder engine the car will use in the United States, mated to a precise six-speed manual gearshift. The green Veloster photographed in South Korea is equipped with the optional six-speed dual-clutch automated manual, but the car we drove for evaluation was equipped with three pedals.
The 1.6-liter four is direct injected and rated at 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 123 pound-feet of torque at 4,850 rpm. It powers the Veloster's front tires, idles quietly and spins freely until its fuel cutoff at 6,700 rpm.
Because the 2012 Hyundai Veloster weighs just 2,584 pounds with a manual gearbox, it scoots along well, but we'll wait for the 208-hp turbo model (2013) before we call it quick. It's built on a heavily revised version of the Elantra platform, and that trim weight also helps garner a predicted 30 city/40 highway mpg.
Still, the Elantra only had so much to offer. The Veloster uses an independent front suspension, but it also makes do with a beam rear axle.
The base Veloster will roll on 17s. This prototype is rolling on the optional 18-inch wheels and all-season tires measuring 215/40. Summer tires will be available on the turbocharged Veloster.
How It Goes
The driving position is tidy, though a spot more travel for the nicely sized steering wheel wouldn't go amiss. You sit low in the car, like you would expect in a sports car, the pedals are well spaced and control weights are pleasingly positive.
From rest, the steering is well weighted and linear, although the low-speed ride is on the harsh side. Despite the Veloster's long wheelbase, which measures 104.3 inches, there are big vertical movements around town, with none of the suppleness we've come to expect in, say, Hyundai's own Sonata.
It's the same at higher speeds, with the ride failing to ever quite settle. That can make it feel dynamic and agile, but it shouldn't have to come at the expense of a sophisticated ride. Other cars such as the Mini Cooper ask drivers to make that sacrifice, but ideally the final version of the Veloster wouldn't.
We're told that the development team is still in the process of finalizing the suspension, steering and transmission calibrations, so there's still some fiddle room remaining.
At the moment the 2012 Hyundai Veloster feels very agile. It responds quickly to small steering inputs, with limited roll angle but a quickish roll rate. It's also throttle-adjustable — much keener to turn if you're off the gas or trailing the brakes than it is on the throttle, when it tends to understeer. All this happens well within the realms of grip, too; I'm talking about its demeanor, not slidey behavior.
Some Work To Do
There's still quite a bit of work to do on the chassis, then. But Hyundai ought to release its full potential. There are a lot of competitive and desirable cars at this level, and the Veloster will need all the ammunition it can get.
Hopefully Hyundai will soon let us drive a Veloster on U.S. soil. After our recent ride in California and this brief drive in the U.K., we're very optimistic about Hyundai's uniquely packaged hatchback.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.
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