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2019 Hyundai Veloster First Drive

"Olah." That's the goal in the design of the new 2019 Hyundai Veloster subcompact. Maybe not the exact word, but Hyundai wants the Veloster to represent a type of reverse "halo vehicle" for the brand. A halo vehicle highlights the best parts of the company, usually from the top down, like an unobtainium supercar sprinkling magic dust on the lowly below. Hyundai's approach is to reverse it and draw shoppers in from the bottom up.

The "olah" concept may not have any legs, but our experience with the new Veloster shows the idea could find traction. It's bold thinking to do this with a small, unconventional hatchback, too, especially in a market obsessed with SUVs. If Hyundai succeeds, perhaps we'll see more brands begin to put their best efforts behind their most affordable offerings.

Dimensions, Design and Doors
The new Veloster didn't change much in size. It's slightly longer by 0.8 inch and wider by 0.4 inch. These increases create the illusion of a lower roofline, even though the old and new cars sit at identical heights. A prominent new front grille and functional front air slits just ahead of the wheels help maintain a level of fierceness in a more elegantly styled front end. The rear wears a lower diffuser that follows a tacky, purely decorative design trend.

2019 Hyundai Veloster First Drive

Hyundai has not only stuck with the asymmetric three-door design — which makes the Veloster a coupe if you approached it from the driver's side and a sedan if entering from the curbside — but also doubled down on the funky layout by evolving the interior design to mimic the exterior's dichotomic nature. In the top Ultimate trim level, for example, the driver and front passenger side of the dash are two different colors.

2019 Hyundai Veloster First Drive

The new Veloster grows a marginal amount in nearly every interior measurement, with the most significant gains in rear passenger headroom (plus 0.6 inch) and cargo space (4.4 cubic feet more).

Fast Bits, Slow Bits, New Bits and Old Bits
Replacing the previous model's base 1.6-liter engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's shared with Hyundai's compact Elantra and new Kona crossover. The larger engine provides a nice gain of 15 horsepower and 12 pound-feet of torque, totaling 147 hp and 132 lb-ft, though it's still not likely to blow anyone away with its tepid sprint pace. The other engine offered is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder (201 hp, 195 lb-ft), which is a carryover from the last model and the powertrain of choice propelling the fleet of test cars that were on hand for us to test-drive.

We grabbed the keys to the Turbo R-Spec first. This gateway trim to the turbo engine comes exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission fitted with a B&M sport shifter. For those who enjoy manuals, this should be the first stop you make, too. The B&M shifter delivers an unexpected balance of solid, positive gates for confident engagement, yet it has a fairly light throw. Also, an easy clutch pedal helps sustain your sanity when traffic slows to a crawl. R-Spec models also benefit from a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires. While these seemed to generate slightly more road noise than the all-season tires fitted on the automatic cars, it's a nominal tradeoff for the wealth of benefits in road grip.

2019 Hyundai Veloster First Drive

Within a few turns at a more spirited pace, we already had a good sense of the new cornering confidence afforded by the lighter, reengineered suspension underpinning this car. Front suspension components have been optimized to deliver better steering and stability under braking, and a more sophisticated independent multilink replaces the old and rather basic torsion-beam rear suspension. The Veloster feels responsive and connected, while the turbo engine delivers a satisfyingly vibrant drive off the corners. In short, this is a hatchback that no longer just looks quick; it's genuinely athletic.

We also drove a fully loaded Turbo Ultimate. Here you have Hyundai's seven-speed dual-clutch automatic along with various other luxuries. While we found the dual-clutch transmission to be lively under full throttle and decently responsive to paddle-shift commands, there was the occasional oddly timed shift in stop-and-go traffic.

2019 Hyundai Veloster First Drive

Trimming Out the Options
As various manufacturers continue to develop different strategies to simplify production, Hyundai's approach for the 2019 Veloster is to do away with all packages; offering a total of five trims, seven paint colors, and the option of a manual or automatic transmission. Hyundai contends that having fewer variations also helps to minimize the chance that a dealership won't have the car you're looking for.

The base Veloster with a manual transmission begins at $19,385 (add $1,000 for a six-speed automatic) and comes with a fair amount of standard hardware, including safety features such as forward collision mitigation, lane keeping assist and driver attention alert. A standard 7-inch central touchscreen display supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and it serves as a screen for the rearview camera with dynamic parking guidelines. Standard tire pressure monitoring tells you the level of each tire, unlike some competitors that only alert you when a tire is low, but not which one.

The automatic-only 2.0 Premium trim ($23,635) is designed for Veloster buyers who value creature comforts and technology over dynamic performance. Features gained at this level include heated combination leather and cloth seats, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry and ignition, an 8-inch touchscreen, an upgraded Infinity-branded audio system, a wireless charging pad and Hyundai's Blue Link connected car suite, allowing for remote app control of some functions.

The manual-only Turbo R-Spec ($23,785) prioritizes performance, but does without the wireless charging pad and heated leather seats. Additionally, you get LED headlights and taillights, a 4.2-inch color instrument cluster, and something called Active Engine Sound, which provides a synthesized enhancement of the engine's natural sound through the cabin speakers. The Turbo R-Spec's cloth seats are also the grippiest of the bunch, though they do lack some breathability.

2019 Hyundai Veloster First Drive

The Turbo ($26,285) comes exclusively with the dual-clutch automatic and is a combination of the R-Spec and Premium trims. It doesn't receive the R-Spec's summer tires or the Premium trim's wireless charging pad, but it gains a sunroof and power-lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat.

The aptly named Turbo Ultimate ($27,535) tops the Veloster range. It gains additional advanced driver aids such as adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection, as well as automatic wipers, perforated full-leather seats, a navigation system and color head-up display. You forfeit the Michelin summer tires if you opt for the automatic ($29,035), but nor do you get the slick B&M shifter if you stick with the manual gearbox. A sleek black roof is also a nice-looking treatment on the Veloster and is only available on Ultimate models.

2019 Hyundai Veloster First Drive

Is It Good or Bad?
If we had it our way, we'd add a few things to the 2019 Hyundai Veloster such as dual-zone climate control, rear-seat air vents, power seat controls and the option to get the black roof on lower trims. And given our limited seat time on unfamiliar roads, we're reserving final judgment until we can get an example at our offices for the usual battery of tests. But based on initial impressions here, this new model, especially in R-Spec form, feels like a potential home run for Hyundai. Maybe even an "olah" vehicle, too.