Were all the fast-sounding letters taken? Is that why Hyundai’s new performance cars will be branded with “N”?
Not exactly. The letter N is Hyundai’s shout-out to itself, specifically the company’s engineering center in Namyang, Korea. “The letter N also represents a chicane,” Hyundai officials helpfully note. Okay, but so do “S” and “Z,” except those letters have pretty much been claimed for decades. Enter the N.
A credibility-seeking missile shot right into the performance-compact segment, the Veloster N is the first car we’ll be able to buy from Hyundai’s performance brand. It’s a strong start. Albert Biermann, the former engineering chief at BMW’s M division, is now Hyundai’s head of test and high-performance development. He says he was given plenty of freedom to massage this funky hatchback into a legitimate sport compact.
Not that Hyundai had to ask a German how to make a car faster. The Veloster N follows the classic hot-rod formula—dropping the engine from a bigger car into a smaller one. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is borrowed from the Sonata family sedan. A larger turbo and a free-flowing exhaust add 5 hp, bringing the total to 250, with 260 lb-ft of torque. Opting for the Performance package adds boost, which bumps output to 275 hp.
The turbo is a twin-scroll design. That helps the engine build power right off idle and gives the 3100-pound Veloster an eye-opening ferocity as the LEDs above the gauges announce that you’re about to hit the 6750-rpm redline. How quick this car is remains to be seen, but we can say that it comes across as much quicker than Hyundai’s claimed 6.1-second 0-to-62-mph time for the 275-hp version. It’s a mean-sounding little bastard too, with a phlegmy gruffness from the intake and an optional electronically adjustable exhaust system.
Perhaps to prove that N could also stand for “Nürburgring,” Hyundai took us to the German track to lap the grueling 12.9-mile Nordschleife. In a vote of confidence for their newborn hellion, they gave us two laps in the 275-hp car. Hit the steering-wheel mounted button with a checkered flag on it, and the Veloster enters its eat-your-face N setting—shocks stiffen, stability control slackens, steering effort increases, throttle response quickens. With the optional exhaust, the tailpipes get extra vocal, too.
The Veloster N’s remarkable agility was apparent by the first corner. The second corner arrived and giggles hit; this thing is fun. In the third corner, I put on a serious face and pushed the nose harder and harder, in an attempt to provoke understeer. The chassis simply stuck without fuss, thanks in part to the optional electronically controlled limited-slip differential, which bites harder in N mode.
Like any great track car, the N reassures you when you need it most, which is basically everywhere at the Nordschleife, but especially through the spooky 130- mph blind corners that bisect the Adenauer Forest. Taking the pucker out of those high-speed corners is the mark of a car that is set up properly.
Credit also goes to the tires. An 18-inch, 225-section-width Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tire is standard, and a 235-section-width Pirelli P Zero made specifically for the Veloster N is optional. Fitted with the Pirellis, the Veloster consistently surprised with its grip. Taking advantage of that rubber required deep changes to the Veloster. Additional welds throughout the unibody, as well as reinforcements for the floor and strut towers, provide a structure that’s 6.9 percent more rigid; the strut front and multilink rear suspension is lower and stiffer. Brake-based chassis vectoring clamps the rear brakes individually to delay the onset of understeer. It’s tuned subtly, never causing the car to feel unnatural or unbalanced in a corner.
Around the Ring, the brake pedal and braking power remained consistently strong. Larger brakes than the rest of the Veloster lineup come from the Korean-market Kia K5, known in the United States as the Optima. Two-piston sliding calipers clamp 13.6-inch rotors in front, and single-piston calipers work on 12.4-inch rotors in back. A cooling vent exclusive to the N directs airflow to the front brakes.
There’s no official Ring time for this Veloster yet, so whether it will beat the Honda Civic Type R’s record of 7:43.8 remains to be seen. What’s clear is that from behind the wheel, the turn-in response and front-end grip is reminiscent of that hyperquick Honda.
Like the Type R and only a handful of other cars on the road today, the Veloster N offers no automatic option. A stronger clutch and beefier gears help the six-speed manual cope with the extra power, but the shifter did lock itself in third gear and refuse to come out after the first lap. That’s, admittedly, after I whaled on it, trying to keep on the pace car’s bumper, taking advantage of automatic rev matching on the downshifts. What can I say? The Ring will bring out your most prurient racer fantasies. A loose connection between the six-speed shifter and the transmission was likely the culprit, and Hyundai engineers buttoned it up in 20 minutes. The problem didn’t reappear in subsequent lapping sessions.
On a brief tour of the roads around the Ring, the Veloster N was a mild-mannered companion—aside from a downhill section of autobahn where it exceeded its 155-mph governor by 10 mph. In Normal mode, its quietest and softest setting, the snottiness of the engine and exhaust clears up, and the electronically controlled dampers become supple. The over-40 demographic will fully approve. That said, Germany’s glassy pavement may have had a lot to do with the agreeable ride.
Appearances are important in this segment, although restraint isn’t essential, as the Civic Type R has proven. In N-spec, the Veloster design retains its split personality—a coupe on the driver’s side and a four-door hatch on the other. The Veloster’s rear door does make getting into the smallish rear seat easier.
Changes to the Veloster N’s design are there to meet its cooling and aerodynamic requirements. To help deliver consistent power, the intercooler is mounted below the other radiators to ensure a supply of cool, clean air. A small splitter directs air into the intercooler and mitigates front-end lift. Tacked atop the roof is a large black spoiler that bolsters the racer presence without treading into tackiness. A rear diffuser, large exhaust tips, and LED taillights complete the look.
The changes to the interior aren’t quite as eye-opening. A leather-wrapped steering wheel with a chunky rim and bolstered sport seats are nice upmarket touches. As in a BMW, there’s a variable redline that moves upward as the engine warms. Light-blue trim pieces sprinkled throughout help break the monotony, but the rest of the interior is filled with dour hard plastics. Hyundai’s touchscreen works quickly and reliably, and the rest of the interior design is clean and uncluttered. But the materials could be better, given the premium the N will demand over a regular Veloster.
Hyundai hasn’t revealed what that premium will be. Comparing spec sheets, one could reasonably expect it to slot somewhere between the $24,995 Civic Si and the $35,595 Civic Type R. Where the actual pricing falls will determine how the Veloster N affects the sport-compact pecking order.
We can say that the Veloster N had a definite effect on us. There’s a positive energy that flows through the car’s controls and mechanical bits. It’s a happy little car, with gobs more personality than lesser Velosters. Provided Hyundai continues its aggressive pricing strategy, we think the letter N has a chance of becoming known as more than just the 14th letter of the alphabet.