What is it?
"N" is Hyundai's high-performance brand. The Veloster N, as such, is the tarted-up, 275-horsepower version of Hyundai's front-wheel-drive three-door compact. If you want to get technical, it’s a Kammback coupe with an asymmetrical 2+1 door alignment..,but we're happy just to call it a hatchback.
Is it new?
Let's call it "of recent vintage." The Veloster N debuted for the 2019 model year, packing substantially more pop — 70 more horsepower — than the previous generation's Veloster Turbo, as well as a Nurburgring-tuned chassis. The 2021 model adds substantial mid-cycle tweaks; most importantly, what previously was the $2,100 "Performance Package" — an extra 25 hp, 19-inch wheels, Pirelli P-Zero tires, electronic limited-slip differential and upgraded exhaust — now comes as standard equipment.
Hyundai also introduced the option a new eight-speed “wet” dual-clutch automatic transmission. It improves track performance. Car and Driver rocketed that car from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds — about a half-second faster than the six-speed manual. We drove the tried-and-true stick shift.
Why is it special?
The Hyundai Motor Group, which includes Kia and Genesis, is in the midst of a renaissance that's rooted in profound realism. Those companies understand they won't be the first name buyers think of in many segments. But more often than not, they capture the core appeal of the established players, then position their cars to offer compelling value. The Veloster N is a case in point.
Do you like the Volkswagen Golf GTI? The Veloster N puts out 47 more horsepower for about the same price as a well-specced version. Do you like the Honda Civic Type R? The Veloster N provides similar performance (and similarly aggressive styling), just for more than $5,000 less.
How does it drive?
In short stints, and the right conditions, the Veloster N is fun as hell. That starts with the boisterous, crackling exhaust noise. It's perfectly maniacal and loud enough to rouse the Grinch from his cave, but comes off as roguish rather than unruly. (My mom left an unsolicited positive comment about it on my Instagram.)
The Veloster N is also quick and nimble, as you'd expect of a hot hatch. The Pirelli treads grip like crazy. Sure, the Veloster N can't quite match the refinement, precision and silky-shifting of a modern GTI — but this is Hyundai's first crack at it, while VW has been building GTIs for nearly 50 years. And there's a good argument to be made that a hot hatch should be more of an Stratocaster than a Stradivarius, anyway.
However, unless you live in an area with the curviest, most manicured roads imaginable (and southeastern Michigan, where I live is anything but that), the Veloster N will be hard to live with as a daily driver. Tuned for performance, the ride is jarringly stiff. You can soften it a bit with the customizable "N" mode, but even that only that improves things to "not particularly pleasant."
What’s it like inside?
Sportier cars get leeway when it comes to interior comfort, and the Veloster N uses all of that leeway. The steering wheel and shift knob are covered in leather, but the new sport seats are cloth, and pretty much everything else feels cheap. When you sit in a Veloster N, there are no questions about how Hyundai kept the costs down.
The 2+1 door alignment makes things about as wonky as you'd guess. When I only had to transport my son, it was fine: put the car seat on the passenger side with the door and slot him in carefully. When I threw my infant daughter into the mix, though, I had to readjust my seat manually every time I entered the car...and sit closer to the wheel than I wanted.
What does it cost?
The Veloster N is not a fun car to build online. There's one trim; you choose your exterior color (Chalk White, Racing Red, Ultra Black or Performance Blue) and decide whether to add the automatic transmission for $1,500. That's it, unless you want ambient lighting or a cargo net.
Making the Performance Package standard means there's no longer a base model, which means the 2020 base price of $27,600 in 2020 has taken a jump. My manual transmission tester, with nothing added, came out to $33,245. Still, if you want a ton of fun and don't mind the quirks and compromises, it's hard to beat the Veloster N at that price.