It’s rare, but occasionally a car comes along that blows the socks off everyone who drives it. Often, that won’t be too surprising—you hope that the latest midengined Ferrari or Porsche 911 GT3 is capable of removing foot coverings, considering how much they cost. Sometimes though, the automotive journalism world gets caught by surprise. A good recent example of that is the Hyundai Veloster N, a Nürburgring-tuned hot hatch that’s garnered plenty of praise for its smile-to-dollar ratio. Unfortunately, that’s not the Veloster were reviewing today. Instead, I just spent a week with that car’s cheaper, less powerful stablemate—the 2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo.

Well, I say cheaper. In fact, although the Veloster Turbo starts at $23,350 for the R-Spec, our test car was actually the Veloster Turbo Ultimate, a fully loaded $28,350 model that actually costs a few hundred dollars more than the Veloster N. But enough about the car I’m not reviewing—let’s talk Veloster Turbo.

Like all Velosters, it’s a quirky little car. I mean, how many other hatchbacks do you know with one door on the driver’s side but two doors on the passenger side? Yes, it is asymmetrical, which must make things complicated at the Hyundai factory when it comes to making left- and right-hand-drive versions for different countries. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but to this particular eye, the Veloster beholds quite well. When viewed from low down—the automotive photographer’s favorite angle—and painted in our test car’s combo of Racing Red with glossy black trim, it’s more than a little reminiscent of super-Audis like the RS6 and RS7—cars that cost $90,000 more.

Opening the driver’s door reveals an interior that’s a lot less quirky. The inside feels put together though, and being an Ultimate, this one has gray leather seats, an 8-inch infotainment system, and a heads-up display, although the cheaper kind with a pop-up screen rather than the more expensive type that projects onto the windshield. Additionally, you get a big sunroof, heated front seats, wireless charging for your phone, and a leather multifunction steering wheel. That’s on top of a hefty serving of standard equipment across the Turbo lineup including LED head- and taillights, blindspot monitoring (with rear cross-traffic alerts), Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Sirius XM.

Life as a back-seat passenger in the Veloster is adequate; with 34.1 inches (866mm) of rear legroom, it’s definitely less spacious in the back than other hot hatches. At 19.9 cubic feet (564L), the cargo area is more voluminous than a Volkswagen Golf GTI with the rear seats in use, but with only 44.5 cubic feet (1,260L), there’s less space than in a Golf when you fold the rear seats down.

Let down by the transmission

Because this is a Veloster Turbo Ultimate, you only get two pedals—this one comes with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. There is a six-speed manual gearbox but only with the cheaper Turbo R-Spec.

Either transmission is coupled to a turbocharged (duh) 1.6L, four-cylinder direct-injection engine that offers 201hp (150kW) and 195lb-ft (264Nm). If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same engine we tried out in the Kia Soul last year. The Turbo Ultimate tips the scales at about 2,987lbs (1,354kg), so its power-to-weight ratio isn’t bad, and the power and weight are both close to the Honda Civic Si and a little worse than the VW Golf GTI. Hyundai hasn’t published acceleration times, but Car and Driver got a 0-60mph time of 5.9 seconds.

The EPA rates it at a combined 30mpg (7.8l/100km), which breaks down to 28mpg (8.4l/100km) in the city and 34mpg (6.9l/100km) on the highway. In fact, on a lunchtime run to Baltimore and back, I managed to achieve 38.9mpg (6l/100km), which is actually rather good for a hot hatch.

Unfortunately, while it might be pretty green for a hot hatch, the Turbo Ultimate doesn’t quite set the pulse racing when it comes to how the car drives. Blame much of that on the dual-clutch transmission. Its shifts aren’t particularly fast, whether you use the flappy paddles or leave it in auto, and it can be somewhat jerky, particularly at low speeds. Which is a shame, because the chassis feels more than up to the job, likewise the (electronic power) steering and the brakes. Similar to when we tested the Golf GTI, this is a case where the cheaper car—the $23k Turbo R-Spec—is probably a better option than spending nearly $30,000 on the fully loaded model. Particularly when the Veloster N costs about the same.

Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin