Retro review: the original Hyundai Veloster Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Retro review: the original Hyundai Veloster

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This review first appeared in Issue 220 of Top Gear magazine (2011)

Look at the Hyundai Veloster one way, and it’s a three-door coupe. Look at it another way, and it’s a five-door hatchback. This isn’t a piece of pretentious philosophy, rather a statement of physical fact: the Veloster is, as the marketing folk don’t put it, a bit wonky. This 2+2 is a previously unknown species: a four-door hatch. 

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Confused? Stick with us. On the driver’s side, there’s a single, long door – à la VW Scirocco – but on the passenger side, the front door is shorter to make room for a rear door with an Alfa-style hidden handle: not a Mazda RX-8/Mini Clubman mini-suicide-affair, but a proper front-hinging back door. Hyundai reckons this configuration offers the best of both worlds: a sleek, coupe profile for the driver, but a convenient aperture through which children may be posted to the rear seats. It’s either genius, or the most self-defeating idea since the convertible submarine. But which? 

Let’s start with the easy stuff. the Veloster arrives in the UK in November, costing from £17,000 in base-spec form and taking aim at a dizzying array of coupe-hatch rivals including the VW Scirocco, Honda CR-Z, Peugeot RCZ, Renault Megane Coupe, Vauxhall Astra GTC... and pretty much every Mini.

At launch, the only engine will be a 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol, sending 138bhp to the front wheels. It’ll undoubtedly represent good value: though the high-spec version we drove will likely cost over £20,000, the entry-level Velosters will undercut even the basest Scirocco by a couple of grand, with 16bhp extra and more kit as standard. Don’t forget you’ll get a five-year hyper-warranty as standard, too.

The Veloster won’t be as customisable as the DS3 or the Mini: Hyundai’s production process doesn’t allow for such extreme individualisation. Judging by some of the mis-specced DS3s sullying British roads, though, this may well be a good thing. And, speaking of the DS, there’s more than a hint of the chi-chi Citroen about the Veloster. The sharp crease around the Hyundai’s headlights seems to be forming its own DS3 tribute act, while we’re picking up notes of Megane Coupe about the Veloster’s C-pillar. And, er, a bit of Honda CR-Z at the back.

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In short, there’s a lot of styling going on here. But despite its derivative components, the Veloster manages to look unlike anything else on the road. Coupes live or die by their emotional appeal, and the Veloster’s visuals will undoubtedly provoke an emotional reaction... for better or worse. We guess it’ll divide opinion like a Marmite-smeared chihuahua, so we’ll sit on the fence and simply applaud Hyundai for an interesting, bold bit of design. 

Hyundai Veloster doors

Things are more conventional from the driver’s seat. Despite a slightly-too-high driving position, headroom is good, the cabin feeling surprisingly spacious under its panoramic sunroof. Legroom is good in both the front and back – one six-footer can squeeze behind another – though tall rear passengers will receive an impromptu head massage from the roof lining. On the road, the signs are promising. We use that word advisedly: the car we drove was a pre-production version, with a few loose panels and – in the words of Hyundai’s development team – a chassis set-up ‘85 per cent’ finalised.

Even so, it’s a pleasant thing to punt down a country road, staying composed in the face of our most ham-fisted goading, albeit understeery at the limit. The six-speed manual is quick and smooth (a six-speed double-clutch will also be available from launch), but, compared to the cream of the coupe crop, there’s a general lack of fizz to the Veloster’s handling, its dullness compounded by the direct-injection, naturally aspirated four. It’s a perfectly inoffensive engine that’ll return 46mpg with some eco-friendly tiptoeing, but it doesn’t do anything to encourage your inner Stig, generating more noise than power if you wind it up past 5,000rpm. 

That said, this Veloster isn’t really pitched at the enthusiastic driver – Hyundai is explicitly targeting (and we quote) the ‘yummy mummy’ market – but of more concern is the ride quality, which gets scratchy over bad tarmac. 

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With a few tweaks, the Veloster should prove a fair rival to the cooking Meganes and even the DS3. On these first impressions, we’re not sure it’ll ever quite match the RCZ or Scirocco for hunkered-down driving smarts, but it certainly shouldn’t embarrass itself. 

There’s no doubt the Veloster demonstrates a newfound confidence from Hyundai to forge its own path, rather than churn out perfectly formed but perfectly dull facsimiles of rivals’ cars. But whether the Veloster truly floats your frigate will, we guess, come down to the Big Door Issue. Let’s clear one thing up: Hyundai has confirmed that the Veloster’s rear door will flip to the left for right-hand drive cars. 

Still, I’m not completely convinced it makes sense. The extra door, that is. A member of Hyundai’s development team inadvertently summed up the problem when he boasted: “The rear door is so well hidden that most people don’t even notice it!” 

Which rather begs the question: if you can hide one rear door so successfully, why not hide two? Hyundai concedes that, if the Veloster proves a sales success, it’ll consider a symmetrical five-door version in the future, but believes the wonky door arrangement makes the Veloster a ‘unique proposition’, which is difficult to refute. But if you’re the sort of person who can embrace the Veloster as a coupe with a bonus door rather than a five-door hatch with a missing bit, you’ll love it. All depends which way you look at it, I suppose. 

Verdict: a charismatic, quirky coupe, potentially. Hyundai must nail the chassis tweaks, though.

1.6-litre 4cyl
138bhp, FWD
0-62mph in 9.8secs, max speed 125mph
Circa £17,000

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