Looking like a cross between an imperial storm trooper's helmet and a Dustbuster, the innovative 2012 Hyundai Veloster exudes offbeat charm, but needs refinement. A noisy interior, poor iPod and phone compatibility, and troublingly large blind spots reduce the appeal of its great looks, good handling, and appealing price.
The Veloster's striking styling will win it plenty of fans. The aggressive front end features slots, scoops, and LED running lights. A tapering roofline and scalloped flanks create an equally attractive profile.
The 1.6-liter engine struggles to motivate the little hatchback, though. Hyundai's new high-profile infotainment system also has some surprising glitches.
In a very good year for enjoyable little cars, the Veloster cannot match the peppy Chevrolet Sonic turbo's performance or the Fiat 500's Italian exuberance.
Like the departed Saturn SC coupe, the Veloster has three doors - two on the passenger side - to improve rear-seat access. A hatch opens in the rear for cargo.
Veloster prices start at $17,300 for a base model with a 138-horsepower direct-injection, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission.
A six-speed dual-clutch transmission - the same type of automatic gearbox used by the Ford Focus, Fiesta, and Audi A3 - adds a surprisingly stiff $1,250 for a base price of $18,550. I tested a nicely equipped Veloster with the manual transmission, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a good sound system, and power sunroof. It cost $19,300.
There are not any other three-door subcompacts on the market, but a slew of new small, sporty cars compete with the Veloster. They include the Sonic, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Honda CR-Z, Mini Cooper, and Scion tC. The Veloster's price is competitive.
The Veloster's exterior styling stands out. The nose features a big, deep grille, LED accent lights, and more scoops than Baskin Robbins. The roof slopes downward to the hatch for a racy profile.
The design creates large blind spots that add needless stress to lane changes and backing out of parking spots.
The lift-over into the rear cargo compartment is high, and the opening is rather narrow for large objects, but there is a useful 15.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat - 34.7 with the seats folded flat.
The rear seat offers little legroom. Headroom is so limited that a sticker warns of potential injuries from slamming the hatch.
The front seat provides ample leg and shoulder room. The controls are large and easy to use. The gauges are clear and legible. A touch screen in the center stack allows you to select audio sources and use your smartphone's Pandora Internet radio, telephone, and other features.
The car's voice-recognition was inconsistent. It understood many commands and names well, but responded to "Call Michelle" with an almost random selection of names from my contacts. The system also failed to connect automatically to my iPhone when I restarted the car. I had to go through several manual steps on the touch screen for hands-free calls. The audio quality of calls is good, but road and wind noise are very obtrusive at highway speeds.
The iPod player dropped out of shuffle mode every time I shut the car off. It started over from the first song in alphabetical order each time. After this happens about 10 times, you get sick of any song, even Lucinda Williams' "Abandoned."
The Veloster's steering is direct and responsive. The Veloster handles well, tracking smoothly through fast curves.
It needs more power, though. The direct-injection engine produces only 123 pound-feet of torque, and that is not available until you rev it to a noisy 4,850 r.p.m. By comparison, the Chevrolet Sonic's turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder generates 148 pound-feet from just 2,500 r.p.m. for more satisfying acceleration.
The EPA rates the Veloster at 28 m.p.g. in the city, 40 on the highway and 32 in combined driving.