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Madman looks to the past and discovers the Hyundai Veloster

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Posted: Friday, February 3, 2012 3:07 am | Updated: 6:46 am, Mon Feb 13, 2012.

Millions of years ago the world was a different place. Giant dinosaurs roamed the planets commanding respect wherever they went. Unfortunately for these behemoths, the planet's climate changed and they were no longer equipped to survive - unfortunate for the dinosaurs, but lucky for the auto enthusiasts.

Push forward to the 1960's when the American highway was a happening place. Thanks to the decomposition of the extinct dinosaurs, gasoline was plentiful and cheap providing ideal conditions for muscle cars. These behemoths roamed the streets commanding respect at every gas station they visited. Meanwhile across the pond in Europe, sports cars were king. While they were smaller and did not consume gasoline like plundering pirates drinking rum, they were also impractical. It was impracticality that would prove fatal to both the muscle cars and sports cars alike.

Fast forward to the 1970's, some may remember the gas shortage of the 70's which changed the way American consumers thought about automobiles - owning a muscle car that achieved single digit fuel mileage was no longer appealing. The gas shortage made way for compact cars like the Honda Civic, which was introduced in 1972. Compacts were everything sports cars were not. Compacts were cheap to purchase, reliable and great on gas. Muscle cars much like the dinosaurs became extinct. The days of the "fun car" were put on hold for the sake of practicality.

Being crafty and very auto - centric, the Germans figured out a way for Volkswagen customers to have practicality without giving up fun. The Mark 1 Golf GTI was born in June 1976 and was hailed as the first "Hot Hatchback." The silly looking three door hatchback followed the compact car formula, albeit with a twist. Using a feisty four cylinder motor and clever suspension tuning, the GTI handled and accelerated like a sports car.

All of this happened before my time, but I can honestly say I lived during the heyday of the sport compact car or SCC. During the late 1990's the streets were full of these high revving little scream machines. SCCs had reached the pinnacle of their evolution. The 1999 Honda Civic SI's engine produced one hundred horsepower - per - liter, until then only Ferrari had such bragging rights. By the time Y2K rolled around every manufacturer offered a racetrack - worthy SCC with impressive stats. Those were the days. Unfortunately time marches on and good SCCs are now hard to find.

On to the present, where Generation Y has ramped up demand for hybrids and cars that need to be plugged into the wall like their iphones. I don't have an iphone and would rather take a bus than drive a hybrid. I want...no...need a fun car. I looked at the new Honda CR - Z, but when I popped the hood and saw the dreaded "h" word scrawled across the power plant my heart sank. Where might one find a "hot hatchback?" I cried. My incessant whining halted as soon as I spied the new Hyundai Veloster.

The Veloster's outward appearance actually took me back. The Veloster is not a "retro" car by any means, but it does remind me of the old 1988 Honda CRX, especially from the rear. The Veloster's rear end is very aggressive - all the way down to its centrally located angular exhaust. From the side its wide puffy fender flares and racing helmet styled window glass make the little Hyundai look downright mean. The car I tested had the optional eighteen inch wheels with body colored inserts. They fit in the body nicely. From the front it looks as though the designers went a little haywire with a ruler. The poor car has more angles carved out of it than a stealth fighter jet. It isn't pretty.

Once inside the Veloster I was all grins. It shares a lot with my Hyundai Genesis 3.8 Coupe which is amazing considering the Veloster costs about ten grand less. The steering wheel and gauges look like they were ripped out of a much more expensive car. The infotainment screen is large and has a user friendly GPS, climate, blue tooth and audio controls. The audio system had an optional subwoofer and had me bobbing my head in no time. I took the time to open the semi - hidden third door behind the passenger door and hopped into the back seat. As I expected the back seat was cramped and practical for kids or really small adults. I also found getting back out of the tiny third door opening tricky and almost comical.

Once out on the road, I was no longer grinning. Unlike SCCs of the past, the Veloster does not walk the walk - after telling you it's a sports car via its appearance. The ride is very comfortable for cruising, but toss it into a corner and the Veloster has no idea what to do. The electronic assisted steering is vague which exacerbates the driver's lack of confidence in the handling. Accelerating is not exhilarating in the Veloster. Track tests put the zero to sixty time at 8.6 seconds ... not too quick. This is a case where the car's looks write a check that the engine simply can't cash.

 

I have proclaimed in the past that I am a Hyundai guy. The Veloster is a great car. Despite my complaints, I was not disappointed. Hyundai is a value brand that in my experience gives the consumer more than you pay for. In the case of the Veloster, buyers get a wicked head turner and an interior full of more tech than Best Buy. This summer Hyundai will release a turbocharged version of the Veloster. I am confident the boosted Veloster will be the business and more to my liking.

I have been lucky enough to own some of the most awe inspiring SCCs ever developed, most of them modified to muscle - car, crushing power levels. Having a madman test a car that achieves 40 miles per gallon is like asking Gordon Ramsey to make you a grilled cheese. After all was said and done, I have to give the Veloster two thumbs up. While it is not a scorcher it is definitely a "hot hatch!"

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