Hot hatch, Korean style, Nürburgring bred

Act One: Track time

Four cars head out onto the east course at Thunderhill Raceway Park outside of Willows, California. The cars are Hyundais. Yes, Hyundais. This track can be terrifying, with a couple of blind crests, one of which leads to an off-camber right turn. I’m not too worried, though, because this car has all the right moves for the track.

The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N is a full-on hot hatch version of Hyundai’s odd-duck, three-door Veloster. Both cars are new for 2019, and the Veloster is the first car to get the track-ready N treatment here in the U.S. N stands for both Namyang, the South Korean home of Hyundai’s engineering center, and Nürburgring, where much of the chassis development was done. It helps that the N looks like a chicane, too.

Hyundai has made this generation of the Veloster a much sportier car. It likes to turn corners rather than plow through them.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N media drive, Thunderhill Raceway Park, October, 2018

2019 Hyundai Veloster N media drive, Thunderhill Raceway Park, October, 2018

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N media drive, Thunderhill Raceway Park, October, 2018

2019 Hyundai Veloster N media drive, Thunderhill Raceway Park, October, 2018

Still, Albert Biermann, president and head of Performance Development and high performance vehicle division for Hyundai Motor Group, and his engineering team worked to make the N much sportier than even the Veloster R-Spec. Compared to that car, the Veloster N has 70-80 more welds and reinforced shock mounts, both of which increase body rigidity by 6.9 percent. It also has rack-mounted power steering with a 9-percent quicker steering ratio (a hasty 12.2:1) and a 26-percent higher motor capacity so it doesn’t fall behind when the turns keep coming. The dampers are still twin-tube units, but they are now electrically controlled and have three firmness settings.

Air curtains on either side of the unique grille and front fascia direct air onto the brakes to keep them cool. A two-tiered rear spoiler provides plenty of downforce to keep the rear end planted at speed. It won’t affect the car’s top speed, though, because it’s electronically limited to 155 mph.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

Under the hood sits a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that puts out 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Power increases to 275 hp with the Performance Package, while torque remains unchanged. A change in ECU programming extends the torque peak from 4,000 to 4,750 rpm, which helps increase the horsepower.

These track cars have the Performance Package, which adds the final helping of performance bits. For about $2,000, buyers get the extra horsepower, an electrically controlled limited-slip differential, larger brakes with 13.6-inch front discs and 12.4-inch rear discs (versus 13.0 and 11.8 standard), 235/35 Pirelli P Zero tires on lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels (instead of 18s), and an active exhaust system.

CHECK OUT: 2018 Hyundai i30 N: Korea’s Golf GTI rival revealed

Those bigger brakes only have single-piston, floating calipers. To make sure the cars can handle track duty, Hyundai has outfitted these cars with high-performance brake pads that it will offer as a dealer accessory for a few hundred dollars. The point here is to keep costs down for the Veloster N’s anticipated young buyers, and performance pads are cheaper than more sophisticated multi-caliper brakes.

Biermann says Hyundai is not chasing performance numbers with the Veloster N. Instead, he and his team were aiming for driving feel.

Mission accomplished.

The Veloster N is fun to flog around this track. Running in N mode, with all the controls in their sportiest setting, the little hatchback stays frosty. The turbo-4 accelerates quickly out of turns, revs willingly, and the overrun pops and crackles when you breathe off the right pedal. It revs so quickly that I sometimes hit the rev limiter before I think to shift. The standard shift light is an important feature.

Its 6-speed manual, the only transmission on offer, offers short, positive shifts, and standard rev-matching that prevents upsetting the weight balance during downshifts (those who want to heel and toe can shut it off). The clutch has decent weight and a natural engagement point.

Sharp and direct, the steering tells me where the tires are, even when they seem to be falling away from me in that off-camber right-hander. The car leans in turns just the right amount to provide feedback without heeling over. Mid-corner, I can play with the balance of the car: Push harder on the throttle to widen the arc, or let off to tuck in the nose. The power is ready and willing mid-corner, too, and it goes right to the pavement upon corner exit—a byproduct of that eLSD.

Damn, this is fun!

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N media drive, Thunderhill Raceway Park, October, 2018

2019 Hyundai Veloster N media drive, Thunderhill Raceway Park, October, 2018

2019 Hyundai Veloster N media drive, Thunderhill Raceway Park, October, 2018

2019 Hyundai Veloster N media drive, Thunderhill Raceway Park, October, 2018

Act Two: Autocross

A group of six automotive journalists is jumping in and out of four Veloster Ns at an autocross on the grounds of Thunderhill. It’s timed, so it’s competitive and I’m one of the worst offenders in that regard. I have five bucks riding on my best time with LeftLaneNews editor Drew Johnson, after all.

The Veloster N responds like it was born to be tossed around a parking lot autocross course, and the parts in the Performance Package are especially helpful. In N mode, everything comes together to snake this hot hatch through the cones expertly.

That eLSD prevents the inside front wheel from spinning in tight turns and keeps the power on point when the chalk lines straighten out. That ready throttle response I experienced on track is even more noticeable here, where the turns are tighter and it’s more important to build speed quickly; it’s unexpectedly brisk for a turbocharged car. The Pirellis do a good job of sending that power to the asphalt and maintaining grip in the corners.

The 3,100-pound curb weight helps this car change direction willingly, then gather itself to head back in the other direction. The magical work Biermann’s engineering team has done prevents the front end from washing out unless I charge way too fast into a turn (which I learn on my last run when I desperately try to make up the 0.4-second difference between my personal best and the time laid down by the pro instructor).

The Veloster N also rewards smooth driving, even on an autocross. I manage to be smooth enough (except in my last run) to beat my nemesis by 0.82 seconds.

You still owe me $5, Drew!

Act Three: Street drive

I needle Drew about the $5 he owes me as we head out on the street drive. The calm of the road gives me a chance to feel what it might be like to live with this car every day.

Versus base models, the N gets thickly bolstered front seats that hold you tight on a racetrack, colored seatbelts, a sportier steering wheel, a unique shift knob and sill plates, and an electroluminescent gauge cluster with the aforementioned shift light. Not a lot here to appreciate.

I examine the interior materials. Oy. The dash, door panels, and center console are all hard plastic. It all fits together well, but smacks of cost control. The headliner is one of the cheapest I’ve seen in ages. No woven mesh here. It’s more akin to egg carton cardboard.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

After about 13 miles the road turns choppy, and the ride becomes near unbearable. Hyundai offers Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes for the dampers, but even in the Normal mode the ride is overly firm and the Veloster N jiggles over broken pavement. Deeper dips in the road result in quick compression, then send the suspension back up again with a jolt.

Part of the problem is the 19-inch Pirelli tires included in the Performance Package. Biermann says Hyundai chose them as good all-arounders for the wet, dry, grip, and wear. He also notes that Hyundai worked with Pirelli to strengthen the sidewalls 30 percent to help prevent the tires from blowing out when they hit sharp potholes. That makes these tires act like run-flats that notoriously ruin ride quality.

An end-of-day track drive in a car outfitted with the R-compound Pirelli P Zero Corsas Hyundai dealers will offer as an accessory confirms my suspicion. I can tell that the Corsas provide a smoother ride, even on the track.  

Hyundai doesn’t make a base Veloster N available to drive. That model comes with 225/40R18 Michelin Pilot Super Sports. With taller sidewalls that aren’t reinforced, the base version should be more livable.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

This isn’t all bad news. The interior cost-cutting is offset by a very reasonable price. Complete pricing isn’t ready yet, but Hyundai officials say the Veloster N will start around $28,000, including destination, and will come in less than $30,000 with the Performance Package.

That’s about $7,600 below the Honda Civic Type R, or $5,600 for the fully decked out model, and it should attract younger buyers who might not be able to afford the Honda. Those buyers may also be more willing to live with the harsher ride.

The VW GTI, however, offers an order of magnitude more refinement for $700 less, though the Veloster N delivers more thrills for the buck.

In this three-act play, the 2019 Veloster N gets rave reviews for its performance in the first two acts. It’s a blast to drive when the road turns twisty or a track or autocross are involved. However, the show falls short in its last act as livability becomes a real issue with the best performance parts. I’d recommend either going for the base version or changing out the Performance Package’s tires. Then you’d have a smart performance buy in three acts.

Hyundai paid for lodging and early morning flights for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.

Deja un comentario