2019 Hyundai Veloster N Turbo First Drive: Unleashing the Hulk

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For years, most people would see a Hyundai driving down the road and their incredible lack of interest would leave them overlooking the herculean progress in aesthetics. Indeed, ask someone at a crime scene what model the getaway car was, and about the best you’d get had the thieves opted for a Sonata might be “a gray 4-door?” Over the past couple of years, though, things have been changing, and drastically. No longer is Hyundai the vanilla auto manufacturer meant for first-time car buyers. Things are getting serious, and seriously good, and Hyundai is making sure you know about that with the addition of Albert Biermann, the former Head of Engineering for BMW’s M Department. That’s right, you heard me. M is now N.

In light of this, the new 2019 Veloster now comes with two tuning package options. Given the relatively small difference in price point, however, I think that they should have only one option. That, of course, should be the more powerful of the two, the 275 horsepower 2019 Veloster N Turbo.

This is the first N-packaged vehicle to come to the US market from their mothership of South Korea, and only the second globally. It’s also a sign that Hyundai is very much aware of who its target audience is, and has a clear line of sight on the competition. Almost in acknowledgment of their new blood line, the N Performance Department established a new facility near the infamous Nürburgring in Germany, bringing the fight right to the neighborhood of the Munich competition. This geographic location is doubly important, since the Nürburgring accounts for half of the N designation. The other half is represented by Namyang, home of the Hyundai R&D center in South Korea.

The engineering focus behind the Veloster N wasn’t to solely look at track times and performance numbers. Instead, Hyundai’s first goal was to create a car that was fun to drive. A car that raised your heart rate and gives the driver that analog feeling of a track car, while being attainable to most customers.

“The typical hot hatchback customers, and not only the established mature, hot hatchback customers, but also the younger kids and younger people who always had the idea ‘I would love to race on the track one day,’ Biermann explained to me. “But with the Veloster N, we wanted to give them an affordable car. That gives the whole thrill of high performance driving at an affordable price with substantial technology in the car, not only for race track driving, but for everyday driving.”

Indeed, Hyundai has done an impressive job of adding performance to the car while still keeping the final price attainable. You won’t find flashy Brembo brakes on the N series; instead, Hyundai took its existing brakes from the larger Senata and re-engineered them, with 13-inch front and 11.8-inch rear rotors with single-piston floating calipers to handle the sort of excessive heat they’d encounter on track days. It works, too: although it might seem like cutting corners, after hours on the track the brakes showed zero sign of giving up, with positive feeling in the brake pedal the entire time. I was given all the confidence in the world that they would keep me out of the dirt.

The cost saving focus continues inside. The Veloster N doesn’t pack in grand upgrade options for the interior. There’s no flashy trim, no heated or cooled seats, and little to really wow you. That’s not to say it’s unattractive, and I actually quite like the simplicity of the interior. It has smooth lines with delicate touches of texture that keep it from looking cheap.

Our driving day occurred at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, California. This was my first time driving at this track, and my fellow auto enthusiast friends shot me a text letting me know it’s one of the most difficult courses in the country due to its undulating hills, off-camber turns, and blind corners. Before the track, though, I wanted to experience the car in a normal, day-in-the-life way that I suspect most Veloster N owners will. So, I hit some of the back-country two lane farm roads to explore the rolling hills of central California.

As with almost every car out there, the Veloster N offers a number of different driving modes, Eco, Normal, and Sport. Hyundai also gives its hot hatch a fourth setting, however, the ultra special N mode.

For the times when you want to really show off and squeeze all of the performance out of the car, or hit the track in a safe environment to really push the Veloster N to the edges of its performance envelope, then N mode is for you. It really is that good. Yes, you’ll likely shed a tear when you turn it off. Damn allergies. Sport mode is for ‘regular spirited driving’, perhaps in the city or when conditions may not permit the full use of peak power.

If driving thrills aren’t necessary, you can turn on Eco mode. As expected, Eco is all about being as frugal as possible. Riding in Eco is a smooth drive with excellent ride quality. The electronic suspension and dampening really work well to absorb the road, but you still get a bit of cabin noise that is noticeable, causing me to wonder how loud a phone call would be if taken over Bluetooth.

And finally, Normal. The move between Normal mode from Eco is hardly noticeable, perhaps there is a little more go when you’re trying to pass a car, or when accelerating from a stop light. But it’s a mode I’m unsure I would be using too often, if at all. It’s all N mode or Eco-when-I’m-not-basking-in-N-mode for me.

Here’s what’s interesting, the juxtaposition of the spirited N mode to the quiet and frugal Eco mode really gives the Veloster a split personality. However, it’s one that is welcomed. For example, in a Subaru STI I’ve been jerked around too may times at lights even in ‘normal mode,’ or pulled into neighborhoods at night with the exhaust screaming even when trying to be gentle with the gas. The Veloster is like the Hulk: when he’s Bruce Banner it’s all sweetness and light… but you don’t want to make him mad. Just kidding, with the Veloster N, you really do.

Awaking the sleeping beast and unleashing the Hulk is as simple as hitting the performance blue N mode checkered flag button on the steering wheel, conveniently located by your thumb. This can also be done on the touchscreen, which illustrates the entire car in an x-ray graphic, glowing red and quickening your heart rate past resting before you even notice a performance change. In N mode, the suspension stiffening is instantly noticeable and the texture of the road quickly became more apparent under the proprietary Pirelli P-Zeros cladding the upgraded 19-inch alloy wheels.

Pirelli and Hyundai worked closely together to create a very specific tire for the Veloster N. “When we started developing the first generation N cars, it was clear we needed to have a tire to join the game,” Biermann explained, “to bring the car to a point of balance that we needed it to have. It’s in the Pirelli family, but it’s a new tire. Changing from Rayon to Nylon, stiffer side walls, no pinching and still to have a tire that’s good on the track, good in the rain and good in the cold.”

If you’re not awake with the N mode suspension change, then the exhaust will surely do the trick. Hyundai describes it as a: “high-flow active sport exhaust system” with the promise of “an exhilarating engine over-run exhaust crackle during spirited-driving.”

In my opinion, they did an lovely job of it, too, a success you’re instantly reminded of each time you bury your right foot in the accelerator. This isn’t the crackly, coffee can exhaust you hear on most other hot hatches. Instead it’s refined and throaty, with a loud bark between shifts. It’s almost like a BMW M2 had a meaner, angrier little brother.

By the time we hit the track, then, it was time to really open up the engine and put to the test each element of careful engineering. No expensive buckets to sit in, Hyundai instead sticking to its cost-saving mantra and raising the side bolstering of the regular Veloster’s seats. They hug you well, feel stable during tight turns and hard corners, without sacrificing comfort. The brakes were incredibly responsive and consistent, even after multiple laps. However, what really stood out to me was the six speed gearbox with rev-matching.

Too often these days we see paddle shifters on the steering wheel, the lackluster performance of which can suck all fun out of aggressive shifting. Hyundai knows that the soon-to-be vintage gear lever is almost cathartic to real drivers, a feeling that’s too often overlooked. The optional rev-matching that comes in the N package really takes a novice track driver such as myself and allows him to be right in the pocket when coming in and leaving turns, cutting those times down dramatically. Doubly so if, like me, you’ve never been very proficient at the heel-toe method. Albert Biermann even said that they perfected the system to the point where he can’t beat it anymore, and so he drives with the rev-match on all the time.

Hyundai has really dialed-in the steering for this front-wheel drive sleeper by using a Rack Mounted Driven Power Steering (R-MDPS) system. I know that’s a lot of letters, but it also does a lot. On the track, the girthy steering wheel was responsive, with almost no oversteer on the tight corners allowing myself to push harder than I thought possible in this car. But I did notice that it caused you to white knuckle your grip when taking off on a straight-away, with the faintest bit of being squirrelly.

Staying on trend with its core customers, the Veloster comes with all of the digital joys one expects in a modern car. Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are all easy to navigate through, with the clear and responsive 8-inch touchscreen. That also doubles as the car performance hub, giving G-Force readouts, tire sensors, and track timers, as well as displaying back-up video and the car drive modes.

The body and appearance of the Veloster N is refined, with clean crisp lines and a wide grill that almost looks like it’s not only baring its teeth, but taking a deep breath before powering you forward with 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The rear spoiler does in fact provide downforce and is tastefully done, without it looking like Hyundai was attempting to dangle the keys in front of a teenager. With an integrated triangle LED brake light, the seamless combination is a nice touch and reminds those behind you at the stoplight that the car means business. I’m typically not a fan of hot-hatches and their usual styling cues, but Hyundai has really expanded the rear of the vehicle to not only allow space, but to give a very unique aesthetic absent in its competitors. There’s no question for me that this is not only the best looking car Hyundai has made, but also the best looking in its class.

Coming in four colors, I found it quite difficult to choose which finish was my favorite. I’m usually easy to satisfy with all-black everything, but the Performance Blue is so striking and elegant that it could appeal to a 35 year old while also remain edgy enough for the 20-somethings. Hyundai added some performance blue accents that can be seen on the N mode steering wheel button, some stitching on the seats, as well as the seatbelts, with small matching accents on the dash. It’s just enough to remind you that you’re stepping into more than just a daily driver. Your color options are Chalk White, Performance Blue, Racing Red, and Ultra Black, and to be honest, you can’t go wrong with any of the four.

Set to release in 2019 and coming in around $28,000 – Hyundai has yet to release official MSRP – the 2019 Veloster N should be making Honda, VW, and Ford very nervous. Then again, perhaps they’re already making way for the punchy little hatch. Now that Ford has announced they have stopped producing sedans and hatches for the US, we’ll see a gap in the market that hot-hatch enthusiasts will undoubtedly be looking to fill. The Veloster N will give you the toned-down daily driver you need most days, as well as the Hulk on the track that you’ve always wanted. There’s no question in my mind that Hyundai is about to make a big wave, and I’m happy to be the first to ride it. This car truly delivers German engineering with a South Korean price tag.

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