Normally, when I’m queued up in front of a bunch of cones, I’m running on adrenaline and a less-than-optimal amount of sleep. I’m reviewing the version of the course I’ve tried to burn into my subconscious from the course walk, and my hands are flexing almost imperceptibly on the wheel as I rehearse my line. I’ve been told my lips move, as if I’m mumbling. I believe it. It’s how I program; how I run the course before I run the course.
Not this time. I’m a passenger for this run, sitting shotgun in a high-performance SUV, watching a Fiat 500 Abarth burble through a long sweeper a few hundred yards to my right.
I’ve never personally been a fan of hardtop convertibles, as I believe the lines from the overly complicated mechanical tops ruin the looks of an otherwise stylish car. Sure, they look great with top down but what about with the top up? More often than not, these convertibles also feel sloppy and heavy with the top down, ruining what should otherwise be a fun and engaging driving experience. Fortunately the designers at Infiniti felt the same way I do, and designed the 2014 Infiniti Q60S Convertible to look just as beautiful with the top up as it looks with the top down. Better still, Infiniti engineers managed to make the Q60S Convertible equally fun to drive regardless of what orientation the top is in.
As a young car enthusiast, I bought into the notion that there were certain vehicles that I was obligated to hate, lest my “car guy card” be stripped forcefully from my still-timid grasp. The list changed depending on what branch of car culture I found myself exploring at the time, but there was always an established pecking order. And since most of my early exposure was to fans of European and Asian import brands, I believed from the very start that there was no self-inflicted punishment more severe than the purchase and possession of a domestic vehicle.
We’re in West Virginia today to sample the all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Chrysler rep Lisa has promised a group of east coast journalists that a group of Cherokee Trailhawks won’t be getting stuck today on a course of mud bogs and steep slopes they have devised for us to drive on. Being a more civilized Virginia resident myself, where we prefer our roads paved, I am quite sure I’m going to get this diminutive crossover stuck. Right over there on that 20 foot muddy cliff that they’re going to make me drive up.
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.