SACRAMENTO, CA – Track cars often are too taut for road comfort and daily drivers usually are too soft to hang with the competition, but Hyundai may have hit the perfect balance in the ’19 Veloster N.
The subcompact 3-door hatchback is the first U.S. model to wear the Korean automaker’s N badge, and the first taste of what we can expect from the new performance division named for Namyang, South Korea, where the car was created, and the fabled Nurburgring in Germany where it earned its stripes.
We hammer the Veloster N Performance Package at Thunder Hill Raceway near here, ripping through tight corners, high-speed sweepers and triple-digit straights, all with the kind of composure one might not expect in a $30,000 car.
Taking a page from predecessors like the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen GTI, the Veloster N takes a relatively capable base car and turns it into a high-performance bottle rocket, boosting power, adding high-performance drivetrain components, beefy suspension hardware and braces and aero bits. Toss in some N badging and sporty trim elements inside and out and the car truly takes on a whole new character compared with its closest relative, the 201-hp, 195-lb.-ft. (144-Nm) 1.6L Veloster Turbo.
Starting under the hood, the Veloster N’s 2.0L turbo-4 is a boosted beast, making 250 hp (275 hp in the Performance Package models we test) and 260 lb.-ft. (192 Nm) of torque, closely matching its competitors and outpowered only by the 306-hp, 295-lb.-ft. (218-Nm) turbo 2.0L in the Honda Civic Type R.
The direct-injection engine features an intercooled, twin-scroll turbocharger integrated into the exhaust manifold that optimizes boost pressure via an electronic waste gate to minimize lag. Sodium-filled exhaust valves pull heat away from the cylinders, reducing exhaust valve temperature as much as 266° F (130° C), allowing up to 1.5 degrees of spark advance without creating knock. Hyundai says using sodium-filled valves effectively results in up to a 2% improvement in fuel efficiency.
Variable Charge Motion uses flapper-like valves in the manifold to direct flow past the intake valves to increase tumble in the cylinder, improving combustion up to 4,000 rpm while allowing a free intake flow at higher engine speeds. The concept initially was developed to improve cold-idle emissions, but Hyundai now is employing it across operating temperatures.
Finally, Hyundai engineers fit the Veloster N engine with electrically variable intake valve timing, controlled by a motor allowing quick and exact control of valve timing across a wider operating range without dependency on oil temperature or pressure to hydraulically adjust the timing.
Veloster N 2.0L turbo-4 produces 275 hp.
The rest of the Veloster N powertrain also gets some special treatment including rev-matched downshifts of the 6-speed manual transmission, deliberate exhaust “popping” and an active exhaust-system valve to enhance sounds in sport mode. A cowl-mounted sound generator augments the already robust powertrain note.
A specialized clutch and carbon-coated gears aid shifting, engagement and power handling via the short-throw 6-speed manual transmission that sends power to the front wheels via an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. Rev-matching on downshifts keeps the powertrain in sync, reduces sudden body weight transfer and sounds great in the process.
Rack-mounted electric power steering and torque-steer control aid handling under hard cornering and acceleration, while an electronically controlled suspension continuously adjusts the ride depending on g-forces recorded by wheel and body sensors. Five drive modes, Normal, Sport, N, Eco and N Custom, affect throttle response, rev-matching, exhaust note, differential tuning, suspension damping, steering weight and yaw control.
On the wide-open race circuit, the Veloster N seems tuned for hard charging, its 19-in. Pirelli PZero rubber feeling for the edge of track and traction as we increasingly dial up throttle and steering input. A coned autocross course reveals a bit more driver-induced understeer, but it shows off the car’s quick reflexes both in instant-on power and responsive brakes.
Out on the open road is arguably where the Veloster N truly shines. A stint behind the wheel on a winding 2-lane road through the rural California countryside shows off the little hatch’s ability to transform from high-intensity track star to low-key everyday driver, sometimes minute by minute depending on traffic and road conditions.
Whether launching from a dead stop or accelerating from 45 mph (72 km/h) or 90 mph (145 km/h), we detected zero lag, turbo or otherwise, as the torquey four delivers superb power and splendid sounds to match. Sixty mph (97 km/h) arrives in about six seconds and three-figure speeds moments later, with the Veloster N intuitively sensing the road and responding accordingly, whether bracing for a tight corner or absorbing an unexpectedly deep dip at velocity.
Hyundai says its first N-branded performance product caps a steady progression begun nearly 30 years ago when the company arrived in the U.S. market as a value leader. Quality improvements and a focus on styling and design followed, with attention to performance now taking precedence.
“Our philosophy is that this car should not be expensive, but should still have high performance,” says Albert Biermann, president-Vehicle Performance Development and High-Performance Vehicles at Hyundai.
At less than $28,000 for the standard Veloster N and sub-$30,000 for the full performance package-equipped model, Hyundai delivers a fun-to-drive vehicle that promises to quicken the pulse without emptying the pockets.