Vince Pornelos / Kelvin Christian Go | March 01, 2017 13:18
Expectations and Realities
There's no doubt that car market in the Philippines has certainly become far more interesting in the last couple of years. When I started on this path just over a decade ago, the cars we were getting were not really that exciting, as the focus was on sedans, SUVs, and crossovers. There were plenty of fun cars back then, but most of them came with premium or ultra-premium price tags.
Today, thankfully, that's all changed, as there's plenty of driving pleasure to be had without having to have a horse as your badge and high seven figure price tags. Hyundai was one of the first of the volume brands to take a chance and offer a sportscar in the market with the Genesis Coupe, a car that showed us that they can do so much more than the Starex.
The Veloster's story, however, is very different. It took a while, but now it's here and we'll see if this small “hatch” can really bring some funk to the industry.
Globally, the Veloster was launched in 2011. While the Philippine market had the GenCoupe almost as soon as it was launched around the world, the Veloster was only officially launched in 2016; all the examples we saw on the road prior to the launch were gray market units. I asked the marketing manager of Hyundai at the time why it was taking so long, but the answer was simple: fuel quality.
You see, the key to the Veloster is the fuel system it ran; one that would encounter all kinds of problems if faced with our low grade fuel at the time. The gray market isn't exactly worried too much about warranties or aftersales service so offering a Euro-4 Veloster is fine despite the lower standard standards in place at the time. But for a car company with long term business prospects, warranties to honor, and a reputation to protect, the phrase “pwede na yan” is not a possibility. And so they had to wait until Euro-4 fuel was mandated last year, and that resulted in the Veloster we see here.
The version we're getting is already the facelift, and boy does it look interesting. It's a bit bulbous, but they peppered the front with some very unique details without breaking away too much from Hyundai's design DNA. There's that massive hexagonal grille flanked by headlights reminiscent of the GenCoupe. The roof seems to be just painted in gloss black, but once you look closer, it's actually a full glass roof. The 18-inch wheels are quite handsome too.
The kammback-style silhouette takes me back to the days of cars like the CR-X; I particularly like the way the back finishes off the look. The Veloster, however, has a unique trick up its sleeve: there are actually three doors on the sides. The driver has the classic coupe door; long and heavy, with the B-pillar pushed well beyond the driver's backrest allowing -with the pull of a lever- for a rear passenger to enter the seat. On the passenger side there are two swing out doors with a more traditional B-pillar position. Yes, the Veloster is one of the very few cars out there that are asymmetrical.
From the driver's seat, the Veloster's dashboard is really nice. It all really comes together nicely inside with some rather unique details, V and double-winged motifs, and unusual grab handles for the interior door panels. Yes, plastic was used quite liberally, but they do look nicely textured overall.
Regardless of the sporting inclinations and the TURBO stitched into the seat, the padding itself is quite plush. I do wish they changed out the steering wheel for something more exciting to the eye and to the touch, especially the paddle shifters for the automatic gearbox. Plastic paddles aren't exactly as inspiring as the metal paddles that you would find in a Lancer EX, much less when compared to a simpler 6-speed manual gearbox and three pedals.
After a press of the starter button in the middle of the console (just under the climate control panel) and the Veloster is good to go. As the embroidery on the seats state, this is a turbocharged engine, one that displaces 1.6 liters. Hyundai refers to it as the T-GDi; it's easy enough to understand, indicating it has a turbo (and a twin-scroll one at that) and has gasoline direct injection.
As a result of the technology that goes into the powerplant, the Veloster's relatively little 1591cc mill makes 204 horsepower and 265 Nm of torque, and all that is transmitted to the front wheels via a seven speed dual clutch automatic. Given the reputation of dual clutch gearboxes, that should make for some quick responses and direct, near-lossless driving fun.
I really was excited to drive the Veloster around town and on the daily commute to work, but the gearbox's quirky behavior quickly became the stumbling block to that. The Veloster felt rough in traffic for an automatic, and actually proved to be difficult when doing three-point U-turns or maneuvering into a tight parking slot. Given our experience with DCT's, we've always known that they were never meant for crawling in our kind of city driving and so I adjusted my pedal work to compensate, but to no avail. The DCT just can't stack up to a conventional torque converter automatic when it comes to comfort in low speed traffic, resulting in jerky acceleration from one stoplight to another especially with its seemingly erratic engagement and disengagement from the flywheel.
When taken on a more exciting route, I figured the Veloster would fare much better as DCT's were intended for faster driving. Alas, it wasn't the case. There is plenty of power, but the powertrain and gearbox take a good while respond to my right foot's input. Every time I put the pedal to the floor that the Veloster kept trying to accelerate a full gear or two higher than what feels natural to the driver. The result is slow acceleration given the transmission's refusal to kick down a gear or two, giving the sensation that there's a massive amount of turbo lag; a highly unusual feat since twin scroll turbos are made to reduce that. Full acceleration may not be what we're looking for all the time in everyday driving, but mind you, this behavior of the powertrain has a serious effect on overtaking on our provincial highways.
The way the drivetrain behaved really casted a long shadow on a lot of the other qualities of the Veloster. We didn't even get to the fuel economy (City: 7.5 km/l, 20 km/h average / Highway: 14.2 km/l, 86 km/h average). I even started just operating the gearbox manually via the paddles, but again, you shouldn't have to do that.
It's a shame. I was really excited to have some fun with this car, but as stylish and funky as the Veloster is, the behavior of the dual clutch really put a damper on things, and it's the only variant they carry. The solution, thankfully, is simple: bring it in with a good ol' manual gearbox and kick down the price even further.