Turbo Power Helps Iconoclast Make The Cut

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

The standard Hyundai Veloster has always reminded us of that talented freshman in high school who has everything going for him but simply lacks the strength his first year out to make the coveted varsity team.

The Veloster certainly has the looks, with unique asymmetrical four-door hatchback styling and a motorcycle-inspired interior. It also has the content, arriving with a long list of standard equipment, reasonably priced options and an impressive standard warranty. What's kept the Veloster on the JV roster, however, is what it lacks under the hood.

But things have changed between model years. The Veloster, like the scrawny kid who lifts weights all summer, has arrived for its sophomore season with a freshly toned physique and much-needed brawn. Is the new muscle enough to be competitive? How will it match up against the other players? Most important, is it enough to make the final cut?

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo side view2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo front view2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo rear view

The standard Veloster, introduced at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, debuted with a direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder rated at 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. It's a respectable output for a naturally aspirated engine (86.25 hp per liter), but its 0-60 sprint in just over eight seconds certainly didn't match its sporty appearance. Enthusiasts held their collective breath for the expected turbocharged model.

It has an impressive output of 125.63 hp per liter, eye-for-eye with the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport.

We didn't have to wait long. In January of this year, Hyundai upped the ante when it introduced its Veloster Turbo at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. Under the hood of the front-wheel-drive four-door hatchback is a slightly modified version of the same direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder, now with its intake boosted to 19 psi. The new rating works out to 201 horsepower and 194 pound-feet of torque – an impressive output of 125.63 hp per liter (eye-for-eye with the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport).

While the standard Veloster is offered with a traditional six-speed manual or a six-speed "DCT" dual-clutch automatic (Hyundai calls it "EcoShift" as it is tuned for fuel economy), the Veloster Turbo arrives with a choice of a traditional six-speed manual or a traditional torque converter six-speed automatic (Hyundai calls it "Shiftronic" – it arrives with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters). All Velosters remain front-wheel drive.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo grille2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo headlight2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo fog light2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo wheel detail

Before we dive into driving impressions, let's talk pricing.

The new Veloster Turbo will start at $21,950 (plus $775 destination). That represents a $2,500 premium over a similar naturally aspirated Veloster. The manual gearbox is standard fit, with the automatic adding $1,000 to the price. Opt for the Ultimate Package (bundling a navigation system with rearview camera, panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, backup sensors and a 115-volt power outlet) and it will cost you an additional $2,500. Completely loaded, with automatic and destination included, the Veloster Turbo will set you back $26,225.

Completely loaded with automatic and destination included, the Veloster Turbo will set you back $26,225.

One of the biggest cool factors about the Veloster Turbo is its available matte gray paint seen here. It's a $1,000 option, and be warned – it's not like any other finish. You may like the looks, but Hyundai advises that you never take it through a car wash (even a touchless wash) and that you only use certain types of cloths and towels while wiping it down. To make sure owners have the right materials for handling this special paint, Hyundai will supply a car care kit and owner's guide to any customer who checks the matte option box. As we learned in the product presentation, this paint certainly isn't for everyone.

But there is much more to the Veloster Turbo than just a whirling Borg-Warner turbine integrated into the exhaust header. The premium model arrives with a unique front and rear fascia, complete with a ground effects package and fog lights. Both the intake and exhaust note have been tuned for sportier sound and the steering rack has been recalibrated to better please the enthusiast. The headlights are upgraded to a projector-beam type, and LEDs are used in the headlight cluster and taillights (Brandon Ramirez, senior group manager of product planning, credits Autoblog's own Zach Bowman with planting the LED taillight "seed" during one of our podcasts). Lastly, the side mirrors receive turn signal indicators and the standard wheels are bumped up to 18-inch alloys.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo taillight2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo badges2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo exhaust tips2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo rear fender

Inside the turbo-exclusive cabin (graphite black with blue accents), passengers will find upgraded heated leather sport seats, an electroluminescent gauge cluster and the obligatory "Turbo" graphics in the headliner. Add up what you get for your $2,500 and the Veloster Turbo is a bargain over the standard model.

Add up what you get for $2,500 and the Veloster Turbo is a bargain over the standard model.

We spent a good part of a day with the Veloster Turbo, zooming across the low Los Angeles basin before heading up – yes, up – to the Mt. Baldy ski resort at 6,500 feet above sea level. The roads were a good mix of mundane freeway and challenging mountain canyons, just the way we like it. Best of all, we were pleased to spend time with both transmissions.

Approach it from any angle, and the Veloster Turbo does an excellent job of setting the tone. Walk up to it from the rear, and the twin cannons exiting in the middle of the back fascia proclaim their intent. From the front, the sinister-looking grille with its flanking round fog lamps appears just as angry. The side sills, slightly more aggressive than the standard model, are more subtle but obvious once pointed out. The interior continues the theme, with its sport buckets and darker tones. All of the turbo's enhancements over the standard model are well integrated – nothing looks tacky or aftermarket (we wish we could say this industry-wide).

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo interior2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo front seats2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo tachometer2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo start button

The term "brisk" is more appropriate than "breakneck" when describing its escape velocity.

First on our plate was the six-speed manual, as we assumed the turbocharged three-pedal Hyundai would be our favorite of the two. Acceleration from a standstill was good, but there was a small bit of lag as the little four built boost. Drop the clutch and it will peel the tread off its tires, but once they hook up, the term "brisk" is more appropriate than "breakneck" when describing the Hyundai's escape velocity. The gearbox is fantastic (it is configured with wider ratios when compared to the standard model) and shifts are a pleasure, but it just doesn't feel as strong as its 195 foot-pounds would lead many to believe (we had a 180-pound adult in the front passenger seat of the 2,800 pound Veloster Turbo, so maybe that affected things?).

The turbocharged engine felt much stronger than its naturally aspirated counterpart, no question about it. Keep it out of the taller gears and above 2,500 rpm, and it playfully scoots around town. On the highway, the turbocharger makes merging and passing much more comfortable, and the added thrust means there is less of a need to drop out of sixth for maneuvering. Best of all was the long trek up the road to Mt. Baldy, when the pressurized engine ignored our altitude and pulled as if the air wasn't getting thinner. We do like turbochargers.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo engine

Hyundai fits the Veloster Turbo with larger front rotors, but the suspension remains the same.

Hyundai fits its Veloster Turbo with larger front rotors, always welcomed, but the suspension remains the same. Most automakers automatically bump up ride stiffness when a "TURBO" badge goes on the rear, but Hyundai's engineering team felt the standard damping and spring rates were near-perfect. We defend their decision, as we gently tossed the slightly longer (167.3 inches) and wider (71.1 inches) turbo around tight mountain corners without worry of kissing steel guardrails. Body roll is minimal, with tire grip being the limiting cornering factor. The retuned electric steering with a quicker ratio isn't going to rumble in your hands the old-school way, but it is precise and nicely weighted. The sport bucket seats are attractive and supportive, delivering plenty of bolster and back support for your author's six-foot, two-inch 190-pound frame. We never found ourselves sliding out of the seats (don't look for grab handles, as the Veloster, like most new cars, doesn't have them due to packaging restrictions with side curtain airbags).

We swapped vehicles at the summit, and jumped behind the wheel of the traditional six-speed automatic (PRND+/-). It didn't take long for us to realize that the turbocharged engine is a good mate to the automatic. No, make that the ideal mate.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo autocross2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo autocross2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo autocross

The 6MT model will deliver 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway on regular unleaded fuel.

Automatic transmissions are ideally suited for turbocharged engines as they don't lose as much boost between shifts (in layman's terms, everyone's head doesn't go back-and-forth with each gear change like it does in a manual), so they are often quicker than a 6MT rowed by a human in terms of acceleration. To make acceleration even quicker, Hyundai has specified narrower gear ratios in the slushbox than they are on the DCT so the engine stays even tighter within its powerband during gear changes. Despite tipping the scales 88 pounds heavier than its manual sibling, the combination of sustained boost and more ideal ratios means the automatic feels livelier, more responsive and overall quicker than the standard gearbox. Forget about the paddle shifters or manual mode, as the slushbox transmission does a commendable job simply left in... Drive.

It is important to remember that the Veloster Turbo is every bit as much about sipping fuel as it is about performance. While there are others in this segment that are ultimately quicker and deliver more sport, none can replicate Hyundai's efficiency. According to early estimates, the Veloster Turbo 6MT will deliver 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway on regular unleaded fuel. As MC Hammer would bellow (and Hyundai is justified to parrot), "You can't touch this."

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo rear 3/4 view

For the enthusiasts expecting a GTI-killer, keep searching. For those who try to compare this to a Subaru WRX, you are at the wrong party.

It's safe to say that we enjoy the Veloster Turbo much more than its naturally aspirated sibling, but don't expect a genuine pocket rocket. While it is unquestionably fun to drive, this car never lets you forget that it is chasing fuel economy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Aside from the very usable power, which doesn't seem to incur much of a penalty at the pump, we like its more aggressive and unique styling both inside and out. And, thanks to a bump in standard equipment, the reasonable price premium is very easy to swallow.

For the enthusiasts expecting a Volkswagen GTI killer, keep searching. For those who try to compare this to a Subaru WRX, you are at the wrong party. But for the consumer looking for a nicely weighted balance of sport and economy in a very stylish package, the 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo just may be the slickest ride.

It appears the kid has earned his varsity letter.