When Hyundai introduced their N brand of vehicles, they promised performance-oriented track-ready cars. Europe would get two iterations—the i30 N sedan and a five-door hatchback. For us here in North America, we're treated to the three-door Veloster N hatch. Last October, we were invited to the U.S. launch of the Veloster N at the notoriously challenging Thunderhill Raceway in California. Let's just say, the hot hatch delivered...and then some!
So, what is the N? Hyundai's N performance brand was introduced in '15 and headed up by Albert Biermann. If that names sounds familiar, it's because he's the head honcho responsible for the BMW M cars over the past three decades. Before being hired by Hyundai, Biermann was responsible for cars like the recent M2, and the E46 M3. We were curious if he helped with the E30 M3, and he told us he wasn't in charge of the road car, but worked on the Group A race car that inspired the E30 M3. Much respect!
Now, for those who aren't too familiar with the Hyundai family, the Veloster is the manufacturer's front-wheel-drive, hot hatchback offering, cleverly designed to look like a coupe. The third door located on the passenger side remains relatively hidden like previous generations, with the handle tucked away in the C pillar. The first-gen Veloster was bold, but lacked power. A turbo model came along in '12 that helped things, and even the Veloster R-Spec was headed in the right direction. But the '19 Veloster N is simply in a different league. It's so well rounded it's hard to believe it's the first effort of the N performance brand that didn't exist five years ago.
The Veloster N comes in two flavors: 1) standard with 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, and 2) Performance package that packs a slightly higher punch with 275 hp and the same torque. Note: One big point that sets the N above the previously offered R-Spec is the 2.0-liter inline-four instead of the R-Spec's 1.6-liter engine. Sure, you might be able to bridge the power gap with some key upgrades, but,, as they say, there's no replacement for displacement.
The 2019 Veloster N will be priced at $27,785 and $29,885 (including freight), for the standard and Performance package variety, respectively. The two grand and change for the Performance package doesn't just add 25hp but also includes bigger brakes, stickier tires, wider 19-inch wheels over the base 18's, electronic differential, and a variable exhaust system.
If you want to get a sense for Thunderhill Raceway, look up videos on YouTube and note how many feature titles with "crash" or "close call" you come across. Though the track might look simple on paper, it mixes huge elevation changes with a few blind crests and one spooky off-camber right-hand turn. It's a relatively fast road course and the Veloster N easily hits 100mph on the front straight. The only upgrade over the showroom-spec Veloster N that we were testing was the addition of track-friendly pads (a dealer option). Though you could take the Veloster N out for a number of laps on the stock pads, Hyundai suggested going with the more aggressive pads to avoid brake fade after several hard laps.
Overall, the N sticks well (thanks to the Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires-another dealer option). We were told during the development process, engineers tested the Veloster N with slicks. Why? To see if their newly developed car could keep pace with the most dedicated track enthusiast. The electronic LSD helps give you more usable power sooner, pulling you around corners with ease. We were also told about the N's aero, which was designed and tuned to provide confidence at high speeds by keeping the car planted. We can confirm, the N felt planted even at triple digit speeds coming into a wide right-hander. The car also features a sequential shift light built into the gauge cluster, which was a nice addition considering the demands of track driving. The Veloster is certainly a vehicle someone could get comfortable driving on the track, and make small adjustments to as their skill increases.
While we can attest that the Veloster N is a legitimate track-day toy, Hyundai product planners told us the goal was to purpose the N as if it could be someone's only car. So, after enough laps around Thunderhill, we took the Veloster N on a one-hour-long drive on a secluded two-lane highway to find out if it could be both daily driver and track-day toy. Passing is effortless in the Veloster N; drop a gear, wait for an opening, hop into the opposite lane and rip past slow-moving trucks and big rigs. The six-speed manual (only comes in manual, by the way) is smooth, precise, and nicely weighted. The throws are short and positioning felt great. Without the cacophony of track driving, we were able to slow down and appreciate the rev-matching function as well. It's good, really good. Even Biermann, who is no doubt a better driver, admitted that he lets the Veloster do the rev-matching.
According to the manufacturer's dyno chart, the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four is making all of its torque through a plateau that starts at 1,450 rpm and lasts until 4,700 rpm. That translates into a nice wide usable powerband thanks in part to a twin-scroll turbocharger. Think reasonable sized single turbo numbers, but with the response of a smaller turbo.
On our road test we also played around with the various drive modes as well. A button on the steering wheel allows you to cycle the Veloster between Normal, Sport, and N modes. In Normal and Sport, the active suspension soaks up bumps and imperfections in the road without giving you repeated shots to the kidneys. In N mode, the highest setting, it can get a little bouncy over the rough stuff, but the Veloster never gets unsettled. This is all possible through electronically-adjustable shocks. We wondered if those fancy shocks would work with lowering springs and got our answer a week later at SEMA, where a modified Veloster N was introduced that, among many other modifications, sports H&R sport springs that drop the car 1.4 inches front and rear.
After our one-hour drive, we got a chance to flog a Veloster N around a timed autocross. Lap after lap, some with just a brief pause and a nod from the company reps, and the N was unflappable. No overheating, no fuss. Sure, the tires slowly gripped less and less, but so do all street tires when pushed again and again on 100-plus degree blacktop. As we looked to shave a second off of our time, we got this advice: if you can keep the throttle pinned and bounce it off the rev limiter on the first section, you're doing it right. Since the course was designed to run in second gear, this was a bold move. The course started out straight with a slight jog to the left. We'd been lifting to make it through. After the coaching, with the throttle pinned in second, we tossed the Veloster N through the jog, left then right, and were gifted with a few quick blips off the rev limiter before standing on the brakes for the next turn. When we got super aggressive, we felt the Veloster move around, but it never spun.
The Veloster N is so capable on the track that it makes you feel like a hero on the street while keeping you in control of what's going on. Though, unlike so many capable track cars, the Veloster N is fun to wind out in the canyons without approaching death-or-imprisonment speeds. If we got our hands on one, the first step would be a mild drop and a little time picking out the right wheels and sticky tires before hitting our favorite back roads. Hyundai has hit their stride with the Veloster N. This is a hot front-wheel-drive, turbocharged hatch with the right kind of balance: not as "grown up" as the Volkswagen GTI, but not as aesthetically loud as the Civic Type R.