An antidote to ennui
THE GOOD
  • Wildly fun
  • Great performance value
  • Decently efficient
THE BAD
  • Cheap interior materials
  • Weird three-door configuration
  • Lacking some safety features

The past several months have given us all a lot to think about, and for many, a chance to re-evaluate what really matters in life.

Getting excited about a sporty little hatchback may seem frivolous right now, but adding some levity and enjoyment to our lives is just what we all need, and the 2020 Hyundai Veloster N delivers that in spades.

Value: 8.5/10

Hyundai has been known for decades to offer impressive value in its machines, and the Veloster N is no exception. At $35,000, this sport compact car isn’t cheap – the decidedly ordinary (and outgoing) Veloster starts at just over $22,000 – but at that price, it’s fully loaded. There’s no higher trim, and there are no options to add, save for the fancy red paint seen here. There is an asterisk next to this bargain, though; most of what makes the Veloster N a big value is its performance-related kit. In exchange it offers the essentials for features, but it’s certainly not luxurious.

Features: 7/10

Goodies like an adaptive suspension, an electronic limited-slip differential, and even an adjustable exhaust system are usually found on costly high-end performance cars, but the Veloster N has them all standard. It’s intended to be a legitimate high-performance hatchback – one that could reasonably be enjoyed at track days and autocross events right out of the box, and it’s equipped thusly.

It’s also got an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, an upgraded audio system, and heated seats and steering wheel; but buyers looking for leather seating, a sunroof, and many of the active safety features found in other cars won’t find them here.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

But creature comforts are for softies and those who simply tolerate the drudgery of driving. The Veloster N, on the other hand, is meant for unadulterated fun, pure and simple. Get in, thumb the starter button, and there’s a bunch of ludicrous noise that’s emitted from the pair of enormous tailpipes. Select sport mode – or better yet, one of the driver-customized performance drive modes – and the exhaust baffles are opened for even more noise. It’s not the obscene sort of noise like a straight-piped Harley-Davidson; instead, it’s more like your hilarious uncle Dave at a party, helping everyone have a great time and enjoy lots of laughs.

Grab the leather-wrapped shift knob and each of the six gears are easily found, whether rowing up or down through them. There aren’t many stick shifts left in this world, but this is one of the better ones. It’s so simple to use, and the clutch is light enough that even commuting in traffic shouldn’t draw complaints. There’s also an automated rev-matching feature for those still learning to blip the throttle seamlessly themselves.

If you’ve got a legitimately good reason why you can’t have a manual transmission, Hyundai is bringing out an optional dual-clutch eight-speed automatic for the Veloster N for 2021, but until then it’s row-your-own only. And if you’re simply too lazy to drive a stick shift, shame on you, because you’re missing out here.

The Veloster N wears big, sticky summer tires fitted to 19-inch wheels. The grip is amazing and the number-one complaint levelled against sporty front-wheel-drive cars, understeer, takes a lot of effort to find. On the streets, the N simply claws the pavement and hurriedly goes where it’s pointed. With the drive settings dialled into track-weapon mode, it corners flat and offers decent feedback and weighting through the electrically assisted steering.

Power: 8/10

The 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine throws down with 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It’s enough to motivate the Veloster N to 100 km/h in about six seconds flat – the dual-clutch-equipped car will reportedly shave a notable 0.3 seconds off that time – and cause Subaru WRX drivers to take notice and Volkswagen Golf GTI drivers to wince.

Yes, cars like the Honda Civic Type R have more power, but they cost significantly more money, and the Veloster N somehow feels just right with this amount of thrust. It’s wildly fun and truly quick, yet balanced and manageable. And did we mention it makes wonderful, amusing sounds?

Fuel Economy: 7.5/10

One of the drive modes offered by the Veloster N is an eco setting. In the interest of good journalism, this mode was used for a cross-Toronto trip, with its softened throttle response and quieter exhaust noise – and barely noticeable improvement to its reported fuel consumption. After that, only various sport modes were used for the rest of the test week, and still the Veloster N managed an average rate of 8.9 L/100 km overall – compared to the 9.5 L/100 km NRCan estimate. [NRCan’s estimates for the Veloster N are for regular-grade fuel; however, the owner’s manual recommends premium. –Ed.] A week’s worth of premium-fuel fun cost barely more than $50 from the 50-litre tank.

Styling: 7/10

The Veloster is a good-looking little car, but in N trim, it’s a properly aggressive hot hatchback. From the blacked-out front grille, past the bulging fenders stretched over those big 19-inch wheels, and sweeping into a stubby tail with its black roof-top spoiler, the Veloster N isn’t subtle. But for all its extra body work, this top-trim Veloster is still handsome, which can’t be said about some of this car’s garish competitors.

Inside, there are light blue seat belts to brighten up an otherwise dark interior. The layout is straightforward, but hard, shiny plastic covers enough of the real estate to remind occupants that this isn’t a luxury car.

Comfort: 6/10

The cloth-covered seats are heated, but manually adjustable only. They’re decently comfortable and offer good support. Hyundai is offering optional lightweight sport seats for 2021 which will surely hold the driver firmly in place while stepping up the appearance of the cockpit.

The back-seat space is larger than expected, but anyone taller than five-foot-nine will be brushing their hair on the headliner. With a plastic panel and cupholder between the two outer passengers, the Veloster N is limited to four people.

When the adaptive suspension is set to normal mode it’s sporty-car taut, but when switched to its firmest and sportiest settings it will violently transmit all of the pavement’s follies to the driver’s backside and spine. Great for sporty drives and zipping around town, the Veloster N isn’t an ideal long-distance tourer.

User Friendliness: 9/10

The simplicity of the Veloster’s interior layout translates into superb usability. A pair of traditional, round gauges provide speed and revs, and flank a bright information screen. Volume and tuning, as well as climate functions are managed by knobs, and the dash-top touchscreen is bright and crisp with sensible menus.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard equipment and integrate well into Hyundai’s system. Beyond that, the brand’s Bluelink app also helps owners keep tabs on their car’s maintenance – and even location – when they’re not in it.

Practicality: 6.5/10

While Canadian motorists clamour for ever more all-wheel-drive vehicles in the false belief they’re needed to survive the winter, the Veloster N’s front-wheel-drive format will serve most owners just fine all year – if fitted with appropriate seasonal tires, of course.

As far as performance cars go, the Veloster N rates well on the practicality scale, offering all-weather usability plus four-person occupancy, and a hatchback to haul their stuff. Cars like Volkswagen’s GTI are sporty, too, but offer more passenger space and greater cargo room, plus the convenience of four doors. Hyundai has carried on with the quirky three-door format for its Veloster that puts two doors on the passenger side and only one long front door on the driver’s side. It’s weird and unnecessary, and the Veloster should just have four doors.

Safety: 5/10

We’re firm believers that a properly driven car that offers strong braking and good handling is a safe car, and the Veloster N fits that bill. But, while it does have the legally mandated airbags, ABS, traction control, and back-up camera, there are precious few of the modern safety features many buyers have come to expect. There’s no blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, nor lane-keeping assist.

The view out the back and the rear is compromised due to the steep rake of the roofline, making the parking camera’s good resolution a welcome quality.

The Verdict

The challenges of the past few months have left a heavy mood in the air. Making sensible, safe decisions is prudent, but the Veloster N reminds us that we deserve to laugh and enjoy ourselves too. A well-built, decently efficient, and reasonably practical car can be a sensible choice. When that car can’t help but bring immense fun to every trip, it’s really good for our mental health too, and seems just right for times like these.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2020 Hyundai Veloster N
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $35,049
Peak Horsepower 275 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 260 lb-ft @ 1,450–4,700 rpm   Destination Fee $1,710
Fuel Economy 10.6 / 8.3 / 9.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb (regular fuel)   Price as Tested $37,059
Cargo Space 565 L  
Optional Equipment
$200 – Ignite flame red paint, $200