Korean GTI. With its recent 2019 redesign, the Hyundai Veloster finally matured into the sports coupe it always aspired to be. Well, maybe not quite a sports coupe – there's still an asymmetrical three-door design that recalls old Saturn coupes or the Mazda RX-8.

Weird door layout aside, the 2021 Hyundai Veloster proves that the automaker is just as talented at building fun cars as they are at stamping out affordable, practical cars and crossovers.

The newest Veloster doesn't change much from the 2020 model, with the biggest update being a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that's optional on the top N trim. The N caps a trim ladder comprising a good half-dozen rungs, but all the different models are fun and tossable in a way older Veloster models simply weren't.

Four-pot fun. There's no fewer than six trims available for the Veloster. The differences between them are largely a matter of amenities and luxury equipment, but there's the small matter of engines to consider as well. A trio of four-cylinders offer performance that's either relaxed, plucky, or downright quick.

If you couldn't guess, base models are the most leisurely, coaxing just 147 horsepower from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The lack of a turbocharger means the 2.0-liter's meager power is found at higher RPMs, requiring drivers to cane the thing more than they might otherwise prefer in order to get anywhere with haste. The average buyer won't call it slow, but it's never thrilling.

There's more verve in the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder models employed in the Turbo R-Spec, Turbo, and Turbo Ultimate trims. The 201 hp of this engine brings some real gusto; it turns the Veloster from a sporty-looking hatch into an actual hot hatch. It's a great balance between practical, affordable, and fun, and would probably be our recommendation for most buyers.

The real entertainment, however, is reserved for the top of the range. Known simply as the Veloster N, this is the model that was built for track days and road courses. It gets 250 hp in standard tune or 275 if buyers splurge on the optional Performance Package; this package also buys better tires and some other goodies. Like the rest of the lineup, a six-speed manual transmission is standard, but a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic is optional and exclusive to this trim. Read all the detailed specs and it's quickly apparent the N isn't here to play.

All engines are bolted to a chassis that's fun and composed in the corners, but you'll need one of the two bigger engines in order to really have some fun. The N in particular is a hoot, which isn't surprising – it was conceived specifically for enthusiast hijinks.


Hyundai Veloster

Practical considerations. For all the focus on fun, Hyundai hasn't forgotten that a cheap hatch needs to be practical. To that end, there's an objective argument for the Veloster as well, though it often hides behind the funky sheetmetal.

Gas mileage is one such selling point. In base form, the Veloster and its 2.0-liter four return 27 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway, and 30 combined with the automatic. Turbo models with the available seven-speed dual-clutch net 28/34/30 mpg (city/highway/combined). And even the N is good for 22/29/25 mpg when equipped with the manual.

Cargo space is also abundant, thanks to the hatchback design. With the rear seats up, there's nearly 20 cubic feet of cargo space; with the second row folded down, that number increases to 44.5 cubes.

Leaving us frustrated is the cramped back seat. Its 34 inches of rear leg room is woeful even for small car like this. Not helping matters is the asymmetrical door design, which leaves nothing but a compromised clamshell door on the passenger side providing ingress to the back seat. Contort yourself back there and it's clear that Hyundai prioritized front occupant comfort and exterior styling over back seat usability. For those who need a proper back seat, a Honda Civic Si or Volkswagen GTI are better options.

Features and value. Value has long been a strong suit of Hyundai, even before their product renaissance of the past decade. That heritage hasn't been forgotten as the brand continues to branch out into more segments. The Veloster is particular proof of this.

Base models begin at around $20,000, and get features like automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, cloth upholstery, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, two USB ports, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Pricier models pile on other goodies, such as blind-spot monitoring, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, a sunroof, keyless ignition, and better materials. Specific trims vary by exact equipment, but they're similar in the sense that they're all standout values. A 2.0 Premium, for instance, pairs a long equipment list with the base engine for under $24,000.

That's a deal that'll prove tough to beat. The Volkswagen Golf family, which includes the GTI, costs thousands more for a comparably equipped model. The Honda Civic Sport and Si hew closer to the Veloster's pricing but can't match it for character. A loaded Mazda Mazda3 costs as much as a Veloster N without even a shadow of the performance.

Final thoughts. We'll come out and say it: after initially being nothing but ho-hum, the 2021 Hyundai Veloster has suddenly become a class standout. This shouldn't be totally surprising; with Hyundai, a new product often represents a major leap forward. Prime examples include the 2010 Equus, 2011 Sonata, and the 2020 Palisade. We'd now add the Veloster to that list, particularly the rollicking N version.

Up through 2019, the Hyundai lineup was missing a certain something. The quirky, distinctive, winsome current-generation Veloster has rectified that. Sister-brand Kia may sell the Soul, but Hyundai may have found its heart in the lovable Veloster.

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