Sporty ‘N’ a willing wonder at the track
The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N is all about fun, fast and affordable
Albert Biermann, the man who for many decades tuned BMW M cars into the high-performance, highly coveted machines they are today, is talking like a kid who just got off a carnival ride. Excited is an understatement. The 62-yearold German exudes a passion for cars — and an intimate understanding about how they work — more like someone in the prime of their career rather than someone who could be headed into comfortable retirement.
Lured away from BMW a little more than three years ago to head Hyundai’s fledging “N” performance division, Biermann uses three words over and over again to describe the 2019 Veloster N: fun, fast, affordable. It’s a car he spent many months developing with Hyundai engineers, much of it on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife, the most challenging road course in the world.
The ace up his sleeve is the price of this barn burner. It’s $34,995, before fees and taxes, which includes everything this car has to offer; there are no options, no automatic transmission, no upgrades to amp the performance higher than what already comes from the factory.
That is not to say this car needs options. Straight off the back of a transport truck, the N is a track darling, a willing wonder, a car that wants to please as much as it wants to clip apexes chasing Porsche Caymans.
Getting to this point was not easy. Biermann repeatedly pressed his technicians and engineers for more, for sharper response from the engine, better handling, more steering feedback. All of this was in an effort to produce a car that not only would challenge the Golf GTI and Civic Type R, but also shape the perception of Hyundai as a brand that could be taken seriously when it comes to performance cars.
The work has paid off. At California’s Thunderhill Raceway Park, a meandering, three-mile track in the Sacramento Valley, the Veloster N sears its way around corners, charging so hard around bends that the front tires spin easily with too much throttle early in the apex. A nicely-weighted, N-exclusive heated leather steering wheel with good feedback easily points this 1,409-kilogram car exactly where the eyes are looking. So far, so good.
Approaching each turn, the Veloster N’s brakes eliminate speed with plenty of force and a firm pedal, never feeling as though more stopping power is needed, despite relying on factory, single-piston calipers on 13.6-inch front rotors, instead of more expensive Brembos. At the end of the track day, the brakes did exhibit some light shudder, but that could have more to do with the numerous and variously skilled drivers rather than the brake set up, cooled as they are by an air guide on the lower control arm to reduce fade.
Despite the hot day and repeated tracking, the Veloster N never went into limp mode for getting too hot. The engine revved beautifully and smoothly to the rev limiter all day long, cooled by optimized air flow to the engine and intercooler. A series of lights crowning the instrument cluster blink from yellow to red, as the 6,750rpm redline approaches during shifts of the six-speed manual. It’s a delightfully happy gearbox that clicks cleanly through the gears, helped along by downshift rev-matching that can be shut off with a tap of a button. Compared to a regular Veloster, the N gets reinforced gears and a stronger clutch.
The engine itself sounds terrific when N mode is activated. Some of the engine sound comes into the car via the speakers, but the exhaust is all natural, deep and uplifting, far superior to the muted Civic Type R. There’s even crackling and “pops,” as ignition timing retards on throttle lift, sounding a little like a miniature stock car. But the resonance helps to know what’s happening with the engine, and the exhaust can be quieted substantially when in one of the other driving modes of Normal, Sport, Eco or N Custom. Thankfully, full N mode is activated by one simple button on the steering wheel, and traction control can be easily disabled.
Most surprising about the N, though, is the way the small car can carry so much speed around bends without triggering understeer, building confidence and quickening lap times. Some of that comes from the in-line four’s 260 pound-feet of torque. And the power is deep, from 1,450 to well past 5,500 rpm.
An electronic limited-slip differential also helps. And some comes from an electronically controlled suspension that continually adjusts the dampening rate of the shocks, reducing dive during braking, limiting roll while cornering and reducing rear suspension travel under acceleration and braking.
The N felt comfortable on the track, not too stiff and raw, a feeling that would get tiresome on the street very fast. The many structural reinforcements plus extra welding and reinforced front shock absorber mounts helped make 200 km/h feel completely stable.
While the interior is not as sophisticated as a Golf GTI, the stock, heated cloth sport seats are very good, and its exterior doesn’t overcompensate like the Type R. True, the three-door setup of the Veloster will not work for everyone. But the 19-inch wheels, specially made P235/35R19 Pirelli P Zero tires, aggressive front spoiler and unique rear wing all contribute to a car that will, in short order, turn many young drivers into very fast track addicts.
Thank you, Albert.
The Hyundai Veloster N is designed by Albert Biermann, who was lured away from BMW a little more than three years ago.
The nicely-weighted, N-exclusive heated leather steering wheel gives good feedback.