The Toyota Avalon has always occupied a sort of tenuous middle ground between the Camry and its Lexus platform mate, the ES, in that it is somewhat larger and nicer than the former, but lacks the brand cache and upscale interior detailing of the latter despite costing nearly as much. The ES pips it on rear seat legroom as well, a category you’d think the longer Avalon would surely excel in. So then, what purpose does the Avalon serve in the Toyota ecosystem? Let’s find out.
Tag - Hyundai
Every week is a roll of the dice in terms of what press car shows up at our Speed:Sport:Life door step. One week we’ll be in a...Read More
As I drive around in the latest iteration of VW’s American-market Passat, now featuring the 1.8 TSI engine, driving impressions of the outgoing 2014 Sonata in Hybrid guise – a car I drove the week prior – flashed into my mind. The Sonata that this 2014 Hybrid is based on was introduced back in 2009, and the newly revised 2015 Sonata will be hitting dealerships around the time you read this (though the Hybrid version soldiers on in current form until a new one bows for 2016).
The thought of hybrid loanership for a week usually fills me with the sort of dread reserved for visiting a dentist’s office with a dull ache in your jaw – the only way through the period of time ahead is to envision how much better you’ll feel when it’s behind you. It’s not that hybrids are bad cars, mind you – they certainly serve a purpose for a portion of the buying public – but very rarely are they geared toward car lovers, and instead tend to focus so single-mindedly on efficiency that the duty of actually driving becomes drudgery in their presence. Such was the case when I approached the Sonata Hybrid pictured – “here we go again”.
A little over six years ago, my mom came to me for some advice on an upcoming vehicle purchase. Having had two full knee replacements in the preceding five years, the low-slung Integra LS hatch which had dutifully served her up until that point was proving a bit too uncomfortable for her nearly 6-foot frame to get into and out of on a daily basis. She’d had a pair of Ford Explorers during the SUV heyday of the mid-1990s and loved the ability to slide in and out of the front seat basically at hip level. Her goal was similar capability in her next car, but something smaller and less “truck-like” than the Explorer. Luckily, the compact CUV market had hit its stride by this point, and options were plentiful.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a soft spot for sporty hatchbacks. When Hyundai announced the original Veloster, I was immediately intrigued. The final product, however, was underwhelming. A competent car, for sure, it was ultimately no more impressive than Kia’s run-of-the-mill Rio.
So when Hyundai confirmed that we’d be getting a hot version of their quirky subcompact, I was more hesitant to get my hopes up. I wasn’t so sure that a turbocharger and bigger wheels could solve the Veloster’s performance problems. As it turns out, I was right.
To be fair to Hyundai, this is more than just a Veloster with a turbo kit and some Pilot Super Sports wrapped to bigger wheels. But to be fair to you, the reader, it’s not much more than that either. Yes, the suspension has been re-jiggered for a sporting ride, but aside from the extra grip and power, the Veloster Turbo’s character is largely the same as that of the base car’s, and therein lie its shortcomings.
Let’s start with what they got right. The 1.6L engine is punchy. 201 horsepower is enough, though not what I’d describe as overkill. It’s not going to impress the Focus ST or Mazdaspeed3 drivers in the audience, but it’s appropriate for the class (look no further than the new Fiesta ST for comparison). The seats, which carry over from the regular Veloster with slight revisions (and “TURBO” embroidered in the seatbacks), are also excellent. They’re attractive, reasonably trimmed and supportive, much like the seats in the also-underwhelming Lexus CT hybrid.
Putting that power to the ground in our test example is a set of 18” Turbo-specific wheels wrapped in perhaps the most out-of-place optional upgrade in this segment—a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports in 215/40R-18. Yep, the second-most expensive option on our loaner’s Monroney is a $1200 set of super-high performance summer tires. If you’ve been reading reviews that include instrumented testing of the Veloster and came away impressed with the roadholding ability of the revised suspension, you may want to peruse the as-tested specs again. Odds are that impressive skidpad result was obtained with a little help from our favorite fluffy mascot.
So, what did they get wrong? In short, just about everything else. I hate to bag so hard on Hyundai’s first shot at a hot hatchback, but given the long-standing models they could have benchmarked, it’s hard to understand why they fell so far short of the other excellent cars that share this basic format. The weakest points—the steering and the chassis—are usually the components of the sport compact formula that redeem otherwise underwhelming cars. Look no further than Honda’s Civic Si for an excellent example.
The Veloster Turbo doesn’t deliver on either. The ride is busy, and the big wheels and aggressive tires try to communicate with the driver through the dulled connections provided by the indifferent suspension. There’s no precision in the steering and only slightly more feedback. It feels completely artificial, and it’s thoroughly unsatisfying to push.
And while the Veloster may be powerful enough to get out of its own way, it’s still inexplicably heavy. At 2,900lbs, it’s 200lbs heavier than the aforementioned Ford, and in the same ballpark as the larger, IRS-platform cars an entire size class up. This makes the Hyundai an odd sort of ‘tweener, and in many ways, it’s the worst of both worlds: the compromised suspension packaging of a subcompact paired with the weight of a larger car. It’s a formula that they just haven’t mastered.
All of this would be more forgivable if Hyundai didn’t have the excellent Genesis Coupe sitting ten feet away in the same showroom. A well-equipped Veloster Turbo will run you roughly 25-large if you want the Michelins. That will get you into the turbocharged Genesis (base or R-Spec, pick your poison), which is, to be frank, a superior car in every objective and subjective way. Buy that now; thank me later.
Coupe exterior photograph courtesy of Hyundai. All other photos by the author.
Our last write-up of the current Hyundai Elantra was one of current SSL associate John Kucek’s earliest reviews. Written to a specific purpose, that series evaluated the then-new Elantra and Ford Focus to see which got the best mileage in a controlled loop (and, secondarily, to see how closely their real-world mileage matched that which was suggested by the EPA). A lot of water has flowed under that particular bridge since those articles were posted, and in the intervening time Hyundai has also introduced two new models to the Elantra lineup. For this piece, we’ll take a look at the Elantra Coupe and GT to see if these quirkier variants add any charm to Hyundai’s efficient and reliable workhorse.