Hyundai Veloster: driven
* Prototype Hyundai coupe driven * Car on sale in September * Prices expected to start at £18,000...
What is it?
The Veloster is part coupe and part crossover. It follows the Mini Clubman by having two doors on one side and only one on the other. It is also gunning for the likes of the Volkswagen Scirocco.
Sales predictions for the Hyundai Veloster are set deliberately low but Hyundai has total confidence in it causing a big stir.
The low sales predictions are because Hyundai acknowledges the market for a style-led three-door coupe is limited. That's especially so at the estimated asking price of around £18,000 when the car goes on sale in September.
Hyundai believes its styling is good enough to make people want to buy one of its cars based on design alone for the first time.
That the Hyundai Veloster is a niche product is reflected by its very specific target market: 25 to 35 year-old-men and 40 to 50-year-old women.
Stylish not sporty
Unusually, this is a coupe that isn't being sold on sporty dynamics and peppy performance. Instead, Hyundai wants the Veloster to act as a halo product for style, with the added appeal of comfort and practicality (thanks to that third door).
We drove a 138bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine prototype in Germany, and it has to be pointed out that the final fit and finish of the interior will be ramped up by the time the car goes on sale.
That's just as well, because while the interior layout on the car we tested was logical, it wasn't smart or luxurious. After the striking exterior, the cabin in prototype form is slightly disappointing.
Behind the wheel
Once you've negotiated the low roofline, it's easy to find a comfortable driving position in the Veloster. Visibility is good to the front, and reasonable to the rear. There's enough room up front for most shapes and sizes, but only very short adults or children should give any thought to getting in the back where headroom is in particularly short supply.
The driving experience is less clear-cut, because the Veloster feels like it wants to major on being sporty, not comfortable as its makers suggest, yet it doesn't quite achieve either with any great success.
Overall, the Veloster is okay to drive without ever being genuinely engaging. Most frustratingly, it leaves you with a sense that it is failing to live up to its potential or its billing.
The steering, for instance, is well weighted and acceptable for hum-drum driving duties in town or on the motorway. However, the steering feel is artificial, which means you cant appreciate the cars dynamic abilities; the Veloster is quite capable of being driven quickly on a twisty road, but you dont get to revel in the experience because you feel so detached from it.
Likewise, the engine is free-revving, but performance isnt enthralling. Theres some fun to be had pushing it up the rev band, but you have to work hard to keep it motoring along. That also undermines the fuel economy benefits of the relatively low-powered engine, and refinement goes to pot above 3000rpm.
The ride is generally too hard and short on suppleness. That means the car rarely feels settled and that bumps are always felt compromises you might accept if the Veloster was delivering a more sporty driving experience, but which are unacceptable for a car being sold as comfort orientated.
In summary, the end result is an unsatisfying blend of slightly below par performance and comfort. If Hyundai wants to sell the Veloster on comfort then the interior needs to be classier, the ride needs to be improved and road noise isolated. If it wants it to be sporty then it needs to pursue that route more aggressively. As it is, the Veloster risks delivering exterior style without having the substance to back it up.
Thats a shame, because it is an intriguing package that feels like it could, with a more focused direction one way or the other, challenge class rivals such as the Citroen DS3, Mini Cooper or VW Scirocco. With some time to go before the car goes on sale in November, it will be interesting to see how much the Veloster changes between this prototype model and the production reality.