And now for something completely different, as they used to say on Monty Python.
Like the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and Nissan Juke, the Hyundai Veloster is one of those cars aimed at the youth market that you either love or hate. Introduced last year with a silly name and deliberately offbeat styling, it is obviously designed to attract attention. Low and wide, with a huge front grill and rear wing splitting the back window, the Velsoter also looks like it must be fun to drive.
Except that it's not, at least with the base 1.6-liter engine. Producing a mere 138 horsepower, the inline four gets relatively good mileage, but it doesn't have much get up and go. It also has a surprisingly stiff suspension, which can be jarring over rough pavement. But at least the Veloster has a long list of standard features, which makes trips more enjoyable.
Hyundai recognized this shortcoming and moved to solve it this year by offering an optional turbocharged 1.6-liter four cylinder engine that produces 201 horsepower. The additional 63 ponies makes a real difference, helping the Velsoter Turbo scoot off the line and more easily pass slower cars on the freeway.
Our test Veloster Turbo also came with six-speed manual transmission that was among the sweetest we've ever used. It slides naturally from gear to gear. Some six speeds require hard pulls to the left when shifting from third down to second. A strong arm can also be required when shifting from fourth up to fifth. Not the transmission in the Veloster. It seemed to sense which gear we want and effortlessly went there.
That does not mean the turbo has transformed the Veloster into a sports car, however. It is a sporty car, and there's a difference. A sports car can be driven fast and hard all day long. A sporty car has a much lower limits.
But that doesn't mean it's not fun. As Top Gear co-host James May consistently argues, cars are most fun when driven at the limits of their adhesion. Sporty cars get there faster and more often than sports cars, so they can be more fun in day to day driving, if that's your style.
In that case, the Veloster Turbo is helped by the stiff suspension, which allows for flatter cornering at higher speeds. The four-wheel disc brakes are also up to the challenge. And the wide but bolstered front bucket seats in our test model were appreciated in sharp corners.
Then again, not everyone's going to like the styling. The Veloster looks aggressive but slightly squashed. It has two full doors on the passenger side but only one on the driver's side. The back seat is surprisingly roomy for such a low car, but the passenger who has to sit behind the driver must be a contortionist to reach it. At least there is a lot of cargo space behind the back seat, which is reached by the lifting the sloping hatchback.
The interior is not nearly as strangely styled as the exterior. In fact, it looks like a three-fifth scale version of the larger Hyundai Elantra, which is not a bad thing to be. The gauges are big and readable, and the controls are logically arranged and easy to use.
The interior materials aren't too bad, either, especially for a car that starts at $17,600. The plastics have multiple textures that add depth to the dash, while the base cloth seats are deeply sculpted and comfortable. The Veloster Turbo gets a special leather interior and metal pedals included in its higher prices, along with a body kit and unique 18-inch wheels.
Surprisingly, our test car drew the most attention from middle age men, even though they are not its target demographic. A couple of them walked over to ask about it, drawn by the bold looks.
At the same time, even with the turbocharged engine, the Veloster is not a serious boy racer like the Ford Focus ST, Mazdaspeed 3 and Volkswagen GTI. On the other hand, it is not as expensive as those cars, either. Our tester included such options as a huge sunroof, helping push the final price to just north of $25,000, which is not too bad, considering everything on and in it.
Facts and figures (all models)
Model tested: 2014 Veloster Turbo.
Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.
Styles: Three-door hatchback.
Engines: 1.6-liter inline 4 (138 hp, 132 lbs-ft); turbocharged 1.6 inline 4 (201 hp, 195 lbs-ft).
Transmission: Six-speed manual; six-speed automated manual transmission (DCT).
EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 27/3731 (4/M); 28/37/31 (4/DCT); 24/35/28 (T4/M); 24/31/28 (DCT).
Price: Beginning at approximately $17,600 ($25,500 as tested).