There’s a new performance sub-brand on the market. It isn’t often we get to say that, let along experience it for ourselves. Hyundai’s N brand promises to focus on enthusiast driving by creating variants of Hyundai models uniquely tuned to driving enjoyment. The first model to be available in the US is the Veloster N. We had a great first experience with the second-generation Hyundai Veloster Turbo late last year, lauding the platform for finally being as fun as it looks. Can the N take things to the next level?
Reading through the marketing materials, we were initially dismayed. Hyundai claims it chose to emphasize “the N driver’s heartbeats per minute (BPM), rather than revs per minute (RPM).” Hyundai also chose to trademark it’s front limited-slip differential the “N Corner Carving Differential” and calls it’s drive mode selection system its “N Grin Control System.” The nomenclature comes across as juvenile and seems as if it attempts to turn away serious drivers right from the start. But fret not and ignore all the marketing. The Hyundai Veloster N is one of the most capable and enjoyable new performance cars of the year.
The transformation begins with a 2.0L turbocharged engine producing 250hp and 260lb-ft torque paired exclusively to a close-ratio, short-throw six-speed manual transmission with downshift rev-matching. An electronically-controlled multi-mode suspension with unique tuning gives the driver control over how stiff the Veloster N’s suspension should be at any given time. For a mere $2,100, Hyundai increases power to 275hp and widens the torque band. To deal with the extra power, they also include the aforementioned electronically-controlled front limited-slip differential, larger brakes, and 19″ wheels with Pirelli PZero summer tires. Finally, Hyundai adds a high-flow active sport exhaust system to give the Veloster N some serious character. It’s absolutely worth the price of admission.
If the sound didn’t announce the Veloster’s N character, the refined boy-racer visuals will. Unique front and rear fascias, side sills, and grilles with red accents set off the appearance. But the tall rear spoiler and massive exhaust are what the enthusiasts will notice first. Inside, heavily bolstered sport seats and unique N-design steering wheel, shift knob, and instrument cluster add special cues at all the key touch-points. The N performance blue accents stand out on the seat belts and drive mode selectors on the steering wheel. The Veloster’s center stack is a perfect example of balance between screen and physical buttons. But there are little things, like the uncomfortable height of the center console compared to the shift lever. It might not be as refined inside as the VW GTI or Honda Civic Type R, but Veloster undercuts them both in price. And if it’s the performance you’re after, Hyundai spent the money where it counts.
Sitting behind that wheel, it’s hard not to have a smile on your face. The car is intuitive and easy to drive right from the start. In Normal mode, the Veloster N is fairly subdued. But there’s a drive mode paddle dedicated to unlocking the N’s full performance, identified by a checkered flag. In N Mode, as the sportiest setting is called, everything is dialed up to the maximum. The eLSD, suspension, exhaust, throttle, and steering all react with the push of a button. After a moment of lag, the boost kicks in and the front tires struggle to hold on. Short-shift while in the boost and the exhaust pops like a gunshot. It’s almost comical at times, which adds to the N’s persona. Yet even even with the exhaust wide open, it never droned in the cabin.
In order to get a good sense of where the Veloster N falls, we asked a friend of the blog to hop behind the wheel of his Civic Type R. We’ve only had short stints behind the wheel of the Type R in the past, but it serves as a solid benchmark for the new N. We first have to acknowledge the power deficit, which reads as 31hp and 35lb-ft torque on paper. On the road, however, it was the torque that made the Type R feel quicker. But that feeling didn’t translate to a gap when chasing the Type R. Interestingly, the Veloster N is softer in Normal and stiffer in N mode than the Type R’s softest and firmest settings. This wider operating range made it easier to live with on rough roads and more planted on freshly paved ones. If we could make but one critique of the Veloster N, it would be the steering. To our hands, the steering wasn’t as lively enough or confidence inspiring as the Type R. It took us time to trust the front end, which isn’t a good thing when you’re expecting it to do all of the work. Given a few days, you learn exactly what the Veloster N can handle. And the truth is, it’s probably more than you’ll be willing to throw at it.
Special praise has to be given to the N Custom drive mode setting. With a second tap of the N Mode drive selector, the driver can enable a custom configuration. Easily set via the Veloster’s infotainment screen, you can individually adjust each aspect of the powertrain and chassis. Engine throttle response, transmission rev-matching, exhaust sound, differential settings, suspension damping rates, steering feel, and stability control can all be individually adjusted. We haven’t experienced such a vast list of settings that are so quickly and easily changed. Once you’ve got your favorite setup, it’s available with two pushes of the N Mode button. We preferred to keep the dampers in their middle setting with deactivated rev-matching.
The Veloster N was one of those cars we didn’t want to give up after a week. The driving engagement is top shelf and the performance credentials check out. In their first attempt, Hyundai has nailed the hot hatch. Sure, you could spend a little more and gain some refinement, but neither the GTI nor Type R have the larger-than-life persona of the Veloster N. In a world where transport is losing its personality, the Veloster N is a quirky three-door bright spot. We can’t wait for what the N division cooks up next.
|2019 Hyundai Veloster N||$27,400|
|As Tested MSRP||$30,420|
Note: Hyundai Veloster N provided by Hyundai Motor America. The Honda Civic Type R used in comparison is a privately owned vehicle.