In the words of Monty Python: now for something completely different. Well, as different as things get in the seemingly ever-samey world of cars. Because the Hyundai Veloster you see in the picture above is a unique beast. Ever had the desire for a two-door coupe, but wished that you occasionally had just one extra rear door, to make getting people in and out the back a little easier? Then this is for you. Or looked at from the other side of the coin, ever felt yourself looking at a five-door hatchback and standing on one side of it thinking, "Wouldn’t it be great if someone could just take away that rear door so I can pretend it’s a coupe"?
No, us neither to be honest, but with the Veloster, Hyundai has given us just that, with what it's calling a 3+1 door car. It’s a coupe body style, which on the driver’s side comes with the oh-so-normal front door only. But round on the passenger side, you’ll discover a door at the rear, too. Always game for new and novel ideas, what we really want to find out is just what benefits this unique design brings and – ultimately – whether it is any good.
Hyundai’s been on a bit of a roll for the past few years. It and its Korean sister Kia have gone from brands which 10 or 15 years ago many people wouldn’t be seen dead in, to today being cars a lot of people would rather drive over mainstream European brands such as Renault, Ford, Peugeot and Vauxhall.
A big part of that success is down to the value for money and equipment on offer, but the designs too, have undergone a big change and nowhere is that better demonstrated than with the Veloster. There’s no denying that the profile says loud and clear that it’s a coupe, that the front – complete with those large, complex and expensively detailed headlamps, looks quite premium. Do we think it looks pretty? No, but the sprinkling of chrome, large wheels and little vents and details lifts it above the morass. Its worst angle is arguably from behind, where its bum doesn’t look like the pretty, pert number others coupes in this class sport – but then the rear angle does show-off the large glazed panoramic roof, which notably, is standard, stretching right down the middle of the car.
And those doors...?
The one-door on one side, two-on-the-other arrangement is a tricky one to get your head around. It’s not the first time we’ve seen it - you might remember Toyota’s 1990s Previa and today’s Mini Clubman which features two doors on only the passenger side. Yet it’s never been done on a car that purports to be a coupe. And on our weekend camping trip - which the large boot handled with ease - none of the ten other 30-something-year-olds we were with could understand why you’d go out and buy a car with such a feature. Surely, they all said, if you want a fun, sporty looking coupe then you want people to know for sure it’s a coupe and want only front doors. And if you need to put people in the back regularly enough to need doors, you’d just buy a five door hatch they said.
But when two of them needed to jump in the back for a run to the shops, that rear door certainly made getting them on board easier, and the Veloster attracted plenty of attention everywhere it went. Though how many people notice the door thing, who knows.
The design of the centre console is pretty neat too, with a fairly elegant flowing theme to the main dash and then angular elements like the air vents and instrument cluster perched on top. It’s not got that German ring of quality to it though. In fact, scratch a bit harder and the quality is pretty poor - you won’t find any soft-touch plastics here - but as a design it suits the car and the seats got the thumbs up for comfort.
It’s pretty tight in the front though. That panoramic roof had our six-foot frames rubbing heads with the roof and Mrs Pocket-Lint thought the footwell on her side was rather cramped for her legs and handbag to co-exist. Still, the centre bin is deep and has a split opening function, the glovebox can accommodate more than just gloves and the door pockets will happily accommodate a starbucks latte bucket or litre of Evian. But over time you’ll notice where the cash has been saved – there are no anti-slip surfaces in these cubbies, which by the end of the week was driving us wild as our phone slipped around crashing from side to side of the centre bin on every corner.
Korean car makers have scored big by offering a lot of equipment, good quality and long-than-normal warranties at prices which undercut the European competition. And the Veloster isn’t any different. It features keyless entry, leather heated seats, a stop/start button, cruise control, USB port, bluetooth streaming and a 7-inch centre touchscreen as standard. Our test car added the £1,000 Media Pack which wraps up Satellite Navigation, a rear parking camera and a premium sound system. It’s a good value bundle when compared to what the Germans make you pay, while the screen graphics and sound quality are better than the more expensive Toyota GT86 we recently tested. However, in this day and age, we’re still struggling to forgive the Sat Nav for not having the ability to enter full post codes, which made trying to get to unnumbered destinations on endlessly long roads in rural Oxfordshire a game of pin-the-tale-on-the-donkey.
Likewise, the Bluetooth streaming didn’t always get on with Spotify and doesn’t feature Gracenote album artwork recognition, which seemed a shame. However, the voice recognition system is one of the better we’ve used and telephone calls were loud and clear (the mic is smartly positioning on the roof just in-board of the sun visor).
An on road let-down
The Veloster was stacking up promisingly, until we drove it. Unfortunately it can’t really sign the cheque that the unique looks write. Rather than feeling sporty and agile the Veloster feels slothful and wooly. The steering is light and pleasant enough and it handles okay on its fat, 18-inch wheels which offer all the grip you’d ever reasonably want. Unfortunately, those big wheels are also responsible for the rather hard ride.
Our main complaint concerns the engine and gearbox which combine to make the car feel droney and at times a little slow. The gearbox is a new-style, dual-clutch automatic - which in other models makes for smooth progress and super-quick shifts. However, the way the gearbox has been mapped, in our view, left a lot to be desired. Its response to throttle inputs at times was inconsistent – not kicking down when we expected it to as we accelerated hard away from a roundabout that had interspersed a dual-carriage way, and then kicking down at the merest tickle of the accelerator on the motorway. We suspect much of the way it behaves is designed to mask the lack of torque from this petrol, non-turbo 1.6 engine. Ultimately, while not outright bad it’s just not as fun as any of the other coupes we’ve tested recently so if you’re set on a Veloster then we’d highly recommend you wait for the forthcoming turbo-charged engine or at the very least try one with a manual gearbox.
As it stands, the driving experience is the weak part in this package. Fuel economy was a fairly average 34mpg too, and on the move, refinement and road noise aren’t great.
While we’re not completely sure about that novel door arrangement, during our week with the car we did understand how it could be beneficial at times. It marks the Veloster out as something a little different, creates a talking point and deviates from the norm. We like that, along with the way the it looks from some angles, the tally of standard equipment and long, five-year warranty.
But we’re not really sure if the Veloster knows what it wants to be, and most of our concerns over it are thrown up once you’ve spent some time behind the wheel. Because ultimately, if you use your back seats a lot then a nicely specced Ford Focus or VW Golf is both cheaper, way more practical and a much better drive, if a very predictable choice. And if you’re after the delights coupes typically bring, such as feeling sporty and special along with being fun to drive, the Veloster misses the mark too.
Ultimately, we applaud Hyundai for trying something different. Having greater car choice and a new format to choose from makes the world a much less boring place. But sometimes, people are predictable and boring with good reason. So if it’s a reasonably priced coupe you’re after, then we’d strongly suggest you have a look at a VW Scirocco or Astra GTC before going down the novel new route of the Veloster.