The all-new 2012 Hyundai Veloster is an exercise in manufacturing a car with personality that still comes in at a relative bargain, with good fuel economy and presumably good reliability.
Is it a successful exercise? Yes, mostly. But the little car's personality may grate on you just slightly.
That said, you still don't want to sit in the Veloster's rear seat. That small door requires some gymnastics for actual adults to clamber into the back and, once there, anyone over five feet tall will find some serious issues with headroom. If you lean back a little, the headroom isn't bad, because your head is directly under the rear glass. But as soon as the driver taps the brakes, expect to tap your forehead on the inside of the roof. This is clearly a kid-size back seat, unless the owner plans to issue bicycle helmets to rear passengers.
The Veloster's wheelbase — the distance from the center of the front wheels to the center of the rear wheels — is longer than the Hyundai Accent, shorter than the Elantra, but the Veloster's overall length is about six inches shorter than the entry-level Accent.
The Accent and Veloster have the same engine and standard transmission — a 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter four cylinder, with a six-speed manual. Optional on the Veloster is an advanced six-speed automatic with dual internal clutches, but it costs an extra $1,250. For the difference, I'd take the manual, which is one of the best on any front-wheel-drive car, and mileage is better at an EPA-rated 28 mpg city, 40 mpg highway. With the Accent and the Elantra — which has a slightly larger engine — I was able to get close to the EPA-rated 40 mpg on the highway, but I couldn't in the Veloster.
Even so, the Veloster is fun to drive, but so are the Accent and Elantra. The Veloster comes standard with big P215/45-HR17-inch tires and alloy wheels, and a comparatively stiff suspension that aids handling at a slight expense in ride quality. The electric power steering feels a bit light, but it isn't objectionable.
Inside, the Veloster has plenty of standard equipment, including power windows, air conditioning, a decent 196-watt sound system, cruise control and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. There's a seven-inch touch screen that controls multiple functions, and — in a nod to the younger buyer the Veloster is aimed at — standard Bluetooth, Gracenote voice recognition, Pandora-ready Internet radio and various electronic input jacks and ports.
There are only two main options aside from the automatic transmission: a Style package that has bigger tires and wheels, a massive sunroof and a better stereo; and a Tech package, which adds a navigation system with rear camera and push-button start. With all the options, the Veloster price tops $23,000.
At the just-over-$18,000 price of our test car, the Veloster seems like a good buy if you are willing to trade some practicality for style. If you aren't, the new Accent is as much fun to drive, has four real doors and a useable back seat, and costs about $2,000 less — which isn't just a good buy, it's a steal.
2012 Hyundai Veloster
Base price: $17,300
Price as tested: $18,060
EPA rating: 28 mpg city, 40 mpg highway
Engine: 1.6-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Length: 166.1 inches
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Parting shot: Are they laughing with the Veloster, or at it?