The sporty car ranks have thinned of late, with several automakers opting out of this enthusiast-oriented driving segment. In the small car class, buyers can choose affordable front- or rear-drive coupe models from VW, Mini, Subaru and Toyota that vary in starting price from $19,000 to $26,000. Next up are the traditional pony cars from Ford, Chevy and Dodge, with prices ranging from entry level $25,900 Camaros up to $85,000 Dodge Challenger Demons, while the Corvette, 370Z, F-Type, Boxer and 911 sports car class generally starts in the mid-$50s, with the Nissan the outlier beginning at only $30,000.
However, Hyundai is all in for sporting driving with its second-generation 2019 Veloster on sale now. Featuring multiple trim levels and three distinct engine packages, the Veloster retains its unique three-door body while shifting to a larger, more compliant Elantra fully-independent chassis. And, as expected, pricing begins at only $18,500 for base models with a 2.0-liter 149-hp engine, topping out at only $26,500 for the current Ultimate trim with the 1.6-liter Turbo-four making 201 hp. Coming this fall: Veloster N, the brand’s new performance designation featuring a 275-hp version of the 2.0-liter engine.
Moving from the smaller Ascent design gives the Veloster engineers more latitude with their decided emphasis toward German-style chassis dynamics, which makes perfect sense since much of Hyundai’s chassis team is now being shaped by recruits from BMW and Audi. After a week of leaning on the Veloster R-Spec’s 1.6-liter turbo-engine, this latest coupe “feels” and performs more like a VW GTI, while not eschewing the balance and character often found in the Civic Si.
Lithe and agile, the front-drive Veloster feels stable when pushed — like a GTI. The turbo-engine produces hearty torque and ample thrust running through a slick short-throw six-speed manual. While the motor compares favorably to the GTI, the shifter stacks up nicely versus the Civic Si — top benchmarks each. Viscerally, the turbo-motor’s appeal leaves out the ruckus that the Subaru/Toyota BRZ/86 rear drive coupes generate, while feeling much quicker. The shifter is refined, quick and makes every gear change a snap.
Almost exactly the same size as the GTI, the Veloster R-Spec’s three-door layout affords decent rear seat space for real people — unlike the Subbie/Toyota twins — plus the rear hatchback creates countless cargo-carrying options, again like the VW, and very dissimilar from the smaller trunks affixed to the Subbie/Toyota tandem.
Reflecting its German emphasis again is the Veloster’s interior. Strategic yellow stitching, seat panels and dash accents create a welcome offset to mono-black themes all too often utilized and are deftly rendered in the R-Spec to create the expected sporty impressions that buyers are looking for. The chromed shifter ball, the lightweight pedals, a thick leather-clad steering wheel plus the nicely supported manual seat complete the necessary sporting items. R-Spec also features an 8-inch center-dash info/entertainment touchscreen, upgraded audio with Apple/Android compatibility as well as push-button ignition. Standard safety gear includes Hill-start assist for the manual transmission, LED lighting, forward collision avoidance warning, lane-keeping assist with driver attention warning plus rear-view camera.
Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, giving the chassis the grip needed when you exercise the 201-horsepower. Weighing less than the similarly sized Elantra GT, the Veloster R-Spec feels faster and better able to accept the quick steering inputs that drivers might require. Quieter than most rivals — by a long shot over the two rear-drive coupes mentioned here — the Veloster could, however, use more precise on-center steering feel, as certain pavement surfaces induced a slow bob-and-weave sensation that forces the driver to pay close attention to his heading. And strangely, the recent Ioniq hybrid featured a sporty flat-bottom steering wheel, while the R-Spec lacks this trendy piece.
For those keeping score at home, the Veloster’s three-door layout is passenger-friendly, the new fully independent chassis is much improved over the first-generation version, the cabin is nicely arrayed and content-rich, while R-Spec trim brings vim, vigor and visual excitement to a car that certainly has a unique stance.
R-Spec pricing begins at $22,900; as shown with destination fee our sample was $23,785 — thousands less than the Toyota/Subaru twins, the GTI or Mazda’s Miata. The R-Spec is also $1,200 less than a similar Civic Si.
The Veloster R-Spec proved to be a fun, sporty car. Along with price, feature and performance virtues that exceed several rivals, it’s hard to ignore the Veloster’s place on the sporty car charts.