This is the story of three little Velosters. Baby Hyundai is showroom stock, tidy and swift as a compact turbo coupe.
Mama Hyundai is tizzied and teased, quicker in every area but still nicely mannered and well behaved. Papa Hyundai is plain outrageous, with a race-sharp focus that means he will never fit into everyday traffic.
They have been brought together this week to show what the backroom team at Hyundai Australia has been doing to prove their brand is not just for bargain buyers who want something with a price tag ending in $990.
They also hope the likes the Velosters will go some way to ending sentences about their cars that finish with the words, “For a Hyundai”. “We cannot change our history. We can only go forward, which is what we are doing,” says Hyundai Australia boss John Elsworth.
He is flat-out on preparations for a potential game-changer at Hyundai, the $60,000 Genesis limousine, but cannot resist a quick visit to the high-speed hit-out on a private test track north of Sydney. What Elsworth sees, and what I get to drive, are three cars that show Hyundai is doing the basics right. It’s just missing the final finishing, and edgy extras, that take a car from fine to good and on towards great.
The Veloster made most of its headlines because it has a quirky coupe body that has two doors on the kerb side and only one for the driver. It’s a lopsided design that distracted attention from a good-looking car that also drives passably well. But, from day one in the Veloster, I wondered how much extra could be extracted from the car. I never expected a Subaru STI, but something more like a Renault Sport Megane seemed possible.
“We wanted to see what we could do with the Veloster. We wanted to explore. Push the boundaries,” says product planning boss Andrew Tuitahi. So he hands over the keys to Baby Veloster, so I can learn the track and get my head recalibrated around the car. What I rediscover is a coupe that gets along fairly smartly but feels a bit tinny and slow.
Then it’s time for Mama Veloster. A bit of background first. It’s obviously tweaked, as there is a MoTec auxiliary dashboard sitting up above the centre console, keeping track of all the on-board electronics. Mama has more turbo boost, a free-flow exhaust, better brake pads and upgraded springs and shocks.
As I turn on to the track, I can immediately feel the difference. The response is strong and more urgent, the car stops better and sits flatter. I’m lapping several seconds quicker with less effort, in a car that is working with me instead of holding me up.
The suspension, in particular, transforms the car. It feels more planted in every situation but there is extra compliance and it’s not crashing and banging. For me, it makes the car feel about $10,000 more expensive.
Tuitahi says all of the changes can be certified for road use and there is more power available — it’s currently about 35kW up from standard — if buyers ask for it. He’s hoping to get approval to push towards production but knows there is still a long way to go.
Then it’s time for big Papa, a fully race-tweaked Veloster with a rollcage, track tyres, brakes and suspension, and a wraparound racing seat and suede-wrapped steering wheel.
It’s like being strapped inside a tin can with the Tap Dogs doing their stuff on the outside — but this is a mightily quick tin can. It belts out of corners, stops in what feels half the distance of Mama and Baby, and responds instantly to all my commands. It still needs some work on a throttle that refuses to snap back, and pedals that make smooth braking too tough, but it does the job.
As the sun dips low on the hills, casting giant shadows over the track, I’m left to consider what the Veloster family means and what they can do. For me, they are proof that Hyundai builds cars that are not just dull-but-worthy bargains. They also show the company must push harder — much harder — to take the next step.
For me, the best car of the three is exactly the Mama Veloster. Baby is too slow and harsh, Papa is too much of most everything if you’re not in Targa Tasmania, but Mama hits the sweet spot.
Halfway around my final lap in the mid-range version, I realise I’m enjoying the car more than I expect, because it’s got more of the good stuff without any downside.
It’s not as flat-out rorty as a Megane RS, and there are people who would prefer a Toyota 86, but Hyundai reckons Mama could be rolled into showrooms for less than $40,000. For me, that’s just right.
|Engine:||1.6-litre turbo 4-cyl petrol, 150kW/265Nm|
|Transmission:||6sp manual; FWD|
|Thirst:||6.8L/100km, 163g/km CO2|