Sports cars, and even mere “sporty” cars, are fading from view as they diminish in importance with younger buyers. And yet…
We have just now learned that the 2023 Corvette Stingray will start at $71,998 before fees and taxes. Yes, there is still a Corvette, this one a mid-engine bomb that is all of what you get in European super cars at a third of the price.
So, one of the last dinosaurs still roams the earth, even as Porsche’s 911 and Boxster have been almost entirely sidelined by the German company’s SUVs (sport-utility vehicle) and Tesla wannabe sedans like the Taycan.
Audi, I’ll remind you, has killed the TT that was central to the brand’s revival a couple of decades ago. The once-affordable Mazda MX-5/Miata is now a pricy though still lovely roadster that takes up just a sliver of Mazda showrooms filled with SUVs and hatchbacks, some electrified. Ford is turning the legendary Mustang into not just an EV, but an electrified sub-brand. And on it goes.
You can imagine, then, that to my surprise, I have discovered the very amusing and quite titillating Hyundai Veloster N Line (N 2.0T). It’s no sports car, but it’s fairly sizzling by old-school and car-guy standards: 275 aggressive ponies from a turbocharged, very compact, 2.0-litre direct injection four-banger (aluminum block) mated to, in my tester case, an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox – one with sharp, snappy shifts. For good measure, shifts are matched with a tidy engine blip programmed into the software, for effect and effectiveness. (A six-speed manual is also available.)
The almost-sport seats are a snug fit and the two-tone look is perfect. These buckets are designed to stamp you in place during energetic cornering. There’s a meaty three-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters tucked behind. They are both inviting and useful, if you’re feeling frisky, which is behaviour this car invites.
I am not exaggerating. In the last decade, Hyundai Motor, in all its Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands, has made astonishing strides in ride, handling and steering feel and precision. This is, of course, because perhaps half the ride and handling engineers at Hyundai, and most of the top ones, were recruited from the best German carmakers. I am kidding only a little bit.
In any case, I did not expect much from the three-door Veloster. Past versions have been poseurs of no substance. All show and minimal go. But this car…
The hardware is all there, and the story begins with a high-tensile steel unibody that doesn’t seem to flex or bend even as you dive into and carve out of an apex. Surprise No. 1.
The MacPherson strut/coil spring front suspension is nothing novel, but it seems to do its part in minimizing understeer in this front-driver. The rear, a multi-line independent layout with an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential, is something else entirely. It clearly settles the car, manages inputs and minimizes squirreliness.
Add 19-inch machine-finished alloy wheels shod with aggressive 235/R19 Pirellis, as well as electronically controlled shock absorbers all around, and you have a performance package planned and packaged for playing, but not punishing in the everyday.
Of course, this all comes at a price: $39,750 plus fees and taxes, as tested. This version of the Veloster, by the way, is the only one available, such have mainstream little runabouts fallen from favour. I don’t suppose Hyundai will keep selling even this budget-buster for very long.
Quibbles? Well, this is a snug, short-wheelbase toy (2,650 mm) that asks for premium fuel and slurps it down for a combined 10.5 litres/100 km. You really must be somewhat limber to climb into the cockpit, though it’s not Corvette-tight. The overall steering ratio is aggressive (12.29:1) and the responses are very good. But the bus-like turning diameter (5.81 m) disappointed me.
Oh, and a last, few words about the cockpit of this hatchback, which has quite decent cargo space in back and is accessed through a glass panel with its own wiper. The passenger space is tidy and looks smart, with digital gauges and a smallish infotainment screen. The latter is about as big as this cabin could manage. The back seat is perfect for small children or a backpack.
This car is for the kind of solo or duo adventuring that peaked in the 1990s and will soon have exhausted its run. That’s a sad truth and because I fondly remember those days, it all makes me feel a tad ancient.