Springing onto the scene last year in a superb Performance Blue hue, the 2020 Hyundai Veloster N felt like Stefon rattling off a list of what you get at New York's hottest club: a manual transmission, a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, adaptive dampers, sporty handling, a practical body. This hot hatch has everything.
It also has Biermanning, which is that thing when you hire the former boss of BMW’s M Division and give him all the money to make you a sporty car.
Considering that description, I couldn’t wait to enter the Veloster N club. Hot hatches are extremely my jam; my last personal car was a Mk 7 Volkswagen Golf R. But in the intervening months, Honda's Ab Fab Civic Type R started to steal my heart. The Mobile Suit Gundam aesthetic might not be for everyone, but I was instantly head-over-heels for the Civic Type R’s perfect recipe of mental handling, everywhere power, and surprisingly good comfort.
Even pitted against brilliant flashes like the Lamborghini Huracan Evo, Chevrolet Corvette C8, or Lotus Evora GT, I’d chose the Civic Type R. A friend who’s a real race car driver by day even bought one after only a few laps behind the wheel. How’s that for a testimonial?
But finally, a year after its release, the Veloster N finally showed up in my garage, only now it had to make one helluva case to dethrone the Civic Type R. That seemed a definite possibility if other glowing reviews were any indication of Hyundai's new hot hatch dominance. In the mountains above Los Angeles, some of the world’s most accessible zig-zaggy pavement, I was ready to be wowed.
And while my first thoughts should center on the phenomenal mid-corner power delivery, the steering wheel’s precise reading of the road, or how even idiots with feet of tungsten couldn’t over-drive this thoroughly marvelous car, it was hard to organize any of them while feeling like a ball bearing in a tin can being shaken by paint mixer. The Veloster N is stunning in the right situation—but it also will have a tough time on America's ill-maintained roads. N boss Albert Biermann definitely brought that over from his BMW M days.
Excuse me while I rearrange my organs.
The 2020 Hyundai Veloster N, By the Numbers
- Base Price: $35,200
- Powertrain: Turbocharged 2-liter 4-Cylinder | 6-speed manual| front-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 275 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 260 pound-feet of torque @ 1,450-4,000 rpm
- Passenger Capacity: 4
- Curb Weight: 3,106 pounds
- The Promise: A first strike hot hatch weapon to defeat legacy players' forces.
- The Delivery: A hot hatch that obliterates competitors when the pavement is smooth but fails in its daily capabilities.
There’s a lot of good to the Veloster N, starting with the angry, torquey engine. Hyundai followed a similar hot hatch recipe as the rest of the industry, cobbling together a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder powering the front wheels and the front wheels only. The standard Veloster N gets 250 horsepower, while the Veloster N with the optional Performance Package I had gets an additional 25 ponies yearning to break the front tires free. It gurgles and pops and makes all the right turbo’y noises.
That type of grunt is great and all, but what immediately hooks you is the torque. So many internet warriors or armchair experts will tout a car’s power as the sole important performance metric. In reality, torque is what you immediately feel, what you really want off the line—and the Hyundai has it in spades.
A full 260 lb-ft is available between 1,450 and 4,000 rpm or more plainly, barely above idle all the way up to a couple grand below redline, meaning mid-range torque is ready and willing to power through corners in whatever gear you select. That’s right, while the rest of the automotive world is killing the manual transmission—since you people aren't buying enough of them—Hyundai is doing the Lord’s work by making the Veloster N only available with a six-speed manual transmission. Praise be.
And though the focal point of the Veloster N’s interior is that lovely gear leaver sticking out of the floor, the rest of the cabin is better than any Ford, Volkswagen, Subaru, or Honda around. The bucket seats aren’t just well-bolstered but give you a damn-near perfect seating position with the base of the bucket practically welded to the floor. They're not too confining for the larger—I’m looking at that scruffy guy in the mirror—enthusiast while still being properly contoured for racier driving. Meanwhile, the two seats behind should be forgotten about. Adults are fine back there for a quick jaunt, but certainly not a long road trip.
There is, however, room beneath the steering wheel for your knees and more than enough clearance to heel-toe or even left foot brake. The steering wheel itself is also a joy to use as it’s wonderfully weighted, and not too busy with buttons and switchgear. Behind the wheel, both the tachometer and speedometer get pleasingly designed analog gauges, while the just below the touchscreen infotainment center, physical buttons make up the HVAC controls.
As with the Hyundai Palisade I recently tested, the Veloster N supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the former I used for the bulk of my time behind the wheel. Best of all, due to the straightforward design of the dash, the perfectly executed position of the steering wheel and gauges, and the bucket seats feeling as if they were single-position carbon fiber race seats in Hyundai’s Veloster N TCR racer, external visibility is unbeatable.
But once you get going, all the good Hyundai has done quickly fades behind how back-breakingly stiff this car’s suspension is. Between my house and my favorite testing roads in Angeles National Forest, I have about a 20-minute drive along city streets, no highways needed. It’s really the first part of my test, the ill-maintained, craggy pavement between here and there offering good insight into how a car handles shit asphalt.
Even in the Veloster N’s softest suspension setting, I felt every single bump, undulation, and road crack come through the chassis, steering wheel, suspension, and seat. This did not bode well.
Scything its way up into mountains, 11-mile-long Big Tujunga Canyon Road has more corners than a snake-ball. It wriggles and writhes with on and off-camber corners, mid to late apexes, long and fast ranges, and decreasing radii bends that thrill and excite. The road’s surface, however, has seen flooding, earthquakes, landslides and plenty of unforgiving sun, and with the Veloster N in its Race setting, I felt like I was attached to a jackhammer’s spike.
Trying to concentrate on the road ahead is nearly impossible, especially mid-corner. The Veloster N could’ve been the best handling car around and I’d never have known. Luckily, at the end of Big Tujunga, Caltrans recently repaved a portion of the connecting Angeles Forest Highway and even a year later, it remains pristine. Here, the Veloster N’s setup, including its chassis, tires, and poise, shone through instantly.
With no one in front of me, and after I popped the car into a Custom setting with the electronic dampers at their softest setting, I railed the Veloster N through the granite peaks. The amount of mechanical grip is phenomenal, even with Pirelli rubber not being the best around, besting even some dedicated sports cars I’ve tested in terms of cornering speed. What’s truly spooky is how you can really get on the gas midway through a corner and come out the other end still pointing forward thanks to the fantastic electronic front differential.
A quick history lesson: the Revo Knuckle axle design in Ford’s 2009 Focus RS was a game-changer for front-wheel drive power. No one believed you could put that much energy through the front axle, but Ford did. Hyundai’s eLSD, which is part of the Performance Package, feels similarly revolutionary. Midway through a fast corner, where I’d normally maintain my initial throttle input, I started pushing more gas and my exit speeds started to cross the realm of believability. The harder I pushed the Veloster N, the more it wanted. I couldn’t get enough of how good the little hatch was.
Through every turn that followed, the car was stable with never a hint of oversteer or understeer, just neutral and ready for more. The engineers made this nigh impossible to over-drive, though some idiot will undoubtedly prove me wrong. Though I love, love, love the Honda Civic Type R, the Veloster N may be the best of the bunch on a perfect road with buttery tarmac.
But there's that niggling issue of all-around performance. Does perfection matter if you can't attain it 90 percent of the time, thanks to our ruined roads?
A little over $7,000 separates the $29,700 Hyundai Veloster N and the $37,000 Honda Civic Type R. For the more budget-conscious enthusiasts hot hatches are marketed to, that might as well be the gulf between a Veloster and a McLaren. Still, while the Veloster N matches the Civic Type R in terms of outright performance and smile-bending hilarity, the Veloster N is unrepentant in its ride quality, and only masochists might find it enjoyable on a daily basis.
Swapping the dampers out for cushier units, as many owners did with the last generation Focus RS which had a similar issue, could affect the entire car’s handling, void your warranty, and cost an arm and a leg—KW’s DDC coilover kit costs $3,249 for the Focus RS.
Hyundai has proven it’s a force to be reckoned with, and putting BMW's Biermann in charge of its performance division was a stroke of genius. The 2020 Veloster N is proof of that. But in the brand’s quest for outright hot hatch dominance, it forgot that the car still had to be a daily driver. Fabulous if you live next to Laguna Seca or the Nürburgring, less than ideal if you live anywhere else.
Hopefully, Hyundai softens the suspension settings for a mid-cycle update but until then, my heart remains with the Civic Type R.
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