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The updated Veloster has an extra 20 millimetres of length and 10 mm of width, which create a subtle stretch to the shape.

Hyundai

If there’s a market for zippy little hatchbacks, Hyundai’s new second-generation Veloster should finally fit the bill. Even if you don’t opt for the new, more powerful 1.6-litre turbo-charged engine, its updated bodywork and much-improved suspension will at least look and feel the part.

That was the problem with the old Veloster. It looked distinctive but it never quite came through. The engine felt a bit rougher than an Elantra’s, and the suspension was just like any other grocery-getter on the road. It stood out by having three doors – two regular doors on the passenger side and a single, longer door on the driver’s side – but other than that, it was pretty mainstream.

Normal people bought it. Its drivers weren’t the energized, hip crowd that every auto maker lusts over. So much for the hot hatch.

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Now, the second generation is revised inside and out. Hyundai says it’s longer and wider but the dimensions aren’t that different: an extra 20 millimetres of length and just 10 mm of width. It creates a subtle stretch to the shape, however, and its shallower lights at front and back are much more attractive.

Inside, the redesigned rear suspension boosts the cargo capacity to an impressive 565 L behind the folding rear seats, which is a big increase from 440 L before. These things matter with hatchbacks.

You can still buy the regular 2.0-L engine of the first generation, but it’s been retuned for more power. Now, it makes 147 hp and 132 lbs-ft of torque (up 15 hp and 12 lbs-ft). I didn’t drive this version because it would still have been boring. I did, however, drive the new 1.6-L Turbo version. It makes 201 hp and 202 lbs-ft of torque. Now, we’re torquing.

(Hyundai actually claims that peak torque is 195, available from a low 1,500 rpm instead of 1,750 rpm before, with an extra seven available on overboost once the revs hit 2,000. Disregard this persuasive codswallop speech. It’s trying to stress the usability of having lots of power at low revs, but peak is peak and available from 2,000 rpm. I put this to the product manager, and he shrugged and sort of agreed.)

This is the same engine that’s found on the Hyundai Elantra Sport sedan and GT Sport hatchback, though those versions don’t have the overboost feature and really do peak at 195 lbs.-ft.

For less than $30,000, the Veloster has impressive feel and response.

Handout

Out on the road, the numbers aren’t as important as the actual feel of the drive and how well everything falls into place. I can’t speak for the less powerful engine, but the Turbo sure felt quick. It was happy to peel away from traffic lights and pass slowpokes on the highway, and there was none of the roly-poly suspension of before.

Both models are available with a six-speed manual transmission, but while the regular engine is also matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the turbo is offered with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). Both models also offer three Drive modes: Normal and Sport speak for themselves, while Smart adapts to the way it senses you’re driving.

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Hyundai showed impressive slides of the old and new suspension on the Turbo models. They detailed the greater use of lightweight aluminum, and how the steering gearbox is closer to the wheel centre line, and how the old torsion beam at the back is now a multilink independent unit. Most important, Hyundai gave me a parking lot with a whole bunch of cones and let me thrash around for a while on the asphalt.

The new Veloster Turbo went exactly where you wanted it to go with very little roll, and was great fun to drive. It helps that all Velosters now have torque vectoring control to put the power where you need it in a corner. The engine pulled strongly at low revs, but I couldn’t tell you how low – I wasn’t looking at the dials. I drove both the dual-clutch automatic and the manual: The DCT was quick to flick through the paddles, and the stick was short and sweet. Not quite Mazda sweet, but satisfying to row through the gears. In short, it did exactly what a hot hatch is supposed to do.

The really impressive part, though, is that this feel and response is on a car that costs less than $30,000. There’s a premium for the better engine and the cheapest Veloster Turbo is $25,899, but that’s still a very reasonable price. If you think you want more, and don’t mind paying the extra, you can wait till November for the release of the super-sporty Veloster N with its 275 hp engine, but you won’t need it. The Veloster Turbo is the whole package.

Tech specs

  • Base price/as tested: $20,999/$27,399
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder; 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: six-speed manual, six-speed automatic, seven-speed DCT/front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 2.0-litre automatic: 9.1 city/7.1 hwy; 1.6-litre DCT: 8.5 city, 6.9 hwy
  • Alternatives: Mini Cooper S, VW Golf GTI, Honda Civic Coupe

Looks

While the old Veloster looked nippy and friendly, like Cars’ Lightning McQueen, the new Veloster looks more capable. It has 18-inch wheels as standard (19-inchers are optional, but a bit silly), with larger wheel arches and fenders. The roofline is lower and the A-pillar pulled back, though this means the average driver will have his or her rear vision cut off at the top by the low spoiler. Most important, it looks like a coupe, even seen from the side with two doors.

Interior

The car is small, with room for only four people.

Handout

Just sitting in the Veloster, it feels comfortable but doesn’t have any pretensions about its station in life. There’s lots of flat black plastic on the front dash, and the various knobs and buttons don’t seem all that special. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, though. If you upgrade to the Tech package, you get an eight-inch navigation display screen (one inch bigger) and leather sport seats, but that starts at $28,899 with the manual transmission and peaks out at $30,399 with the DCT.

Performance

No arguments here. The 2.0-L is probably okay and better than before, but the 1.6-L is definitely fun and both benefit from improved suspension. Hyundai doesn’t offer any zero-to-100 km/h times, which suggests everything feels quicker than it really is, but that’s okay, unless you’re next to a GTI at the lights.

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Technology

The Tech package comes with an eight-inch navigation display screen.

Handout

Hyundai admits the Veloster is built to a budget, so while buyers want the convenience of the maker’s Blue Link technology, which feeds real-time telematics information to your smartphone (like everything else, these days), there’s no active cruise control for keeping your speed in line with traffic or forward-collision alert for potentially saving a pedestrian’s life. It exists on the Veloster in other world markets but not here in North America, not yet, because apparently we don’t want to pay for it. We do, at least, get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to keep our phones out of our driving hands.

Cargo

This is a small car. There’s only room for four people, and the two in the back seats will be pretty hunched and cramped. It helps explain the three-door design: Most of the time, like most cars of any size, it will only have the driver inside, but the space for the longer driver’s door is there if you’re not concerned about having a door behind. Cargo space behind the rear seats is impressive, though – more even than a Toyota C-HR or a Chevy Trax.

The verdict: 9

An excellent little car for the money that finally does what the old Veloster promised.

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