Raptor rapture

Posted on 05 Apr 2012 at 6:33pm

What Hyundai’s Veloster lacks in power it makes up for in stylish economy

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THE LIZARD KING | At about $20,000 and with impressive fuel economy, the sleek Veloster offers many attractive features, if not a powerful engine.

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

Hyundai is making a pretty good feast of devouring competitors to the stylish new Accent sub-compact, award-winning Elantra compact, Tucson crossover and Sonata mid-size sedan. While none of those cars are the most powerful or fastest in their classes, they are making rodents quake with their advanced style, handling, warranties, pricing and load of features. They look sexy, even while topping the fuel economy charts and offering value. This carnage continues with the Veloster.34119_1_1

You won’t exactly think “raptor” when you step into the standard 138hp 1.6-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine, whether connected to the six-speed manual or optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It may catch a Fiesta or Sonic sleeping, but it better take a big bite and run quickly to survive the skirmish when something barely faster catches it. Properly revved, there’s still plenty of pep to step into freeway traffic or slip through town. With gas at four bucks, a fuel economy rating of 28/40-MPG city/hwy is a sweet trade for the power deficit.

Admittedly, most of the reptile hunters who tread into Hyundai showrooms may not be terribly concerned about blowing Cobras into the weeds; they’ll be more seduced by the Veloster’s funky cool styling. Its most distinguishing feature may be the front-hinged rear passenger-side door, perfect for letting friends and offspring off at the curb, but the car cuts a swath right through the sub-compact scene. You’ll know its family by the angry grille, and swept-back headlamps.

The 18-in. alloys with black trim are cool, but the Kammback rear and hunkered stance set it apart. It’s both tough and cute. The front is enhanced with LED lighting, foglamps and a chrome grille surrounded by piano-black highlights.

Let’s be clear: Like the Accent, Veloster is built to a price point. That means lots of hard plastic interiors. Still, the dash has a rubber sheen that makes it feel soft to the touch and doors are padded in all the right places. Silver-painted surfaces on the dash and doors, alloy pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob dress up the space nicely. I especially like the gray fabric on the seats that reminds me a little of the houndstooth used in ‘60s Camaros. Our car came with a panoramic sunroof and power headliner cover that make the most of spring days.

The sporty twin-cockpit layout echoes other Hyundais and makes a perfect place for the touchscreen, large gauges and rocket-igniter push button keyless ignition below the radio/climate control stack.

Huge cupholders, 60/40-split/fold rear seats, a wide hatchback and lots of cubbies keep everything in good kit. I would definitely spring for the Dimension premium audio with separate amp and subwoofer, navigation, rear camera and XM satellite radio. Bluetooth hands-free phone connection, auto up/down driver window and heated mirrors add convenience.

For the tech-savvy, Hyundai’s Blue Link infotainment system offers incredible connectivity. It allows drivers and passengers to access voice text messaging, Point Of Interest Web search downloads, navigation and vehicle diagnostics reporting. Blue Link also enables automatic crash notification and assistance, remote door locking/unlocking, stolen vehicle immobilization and Geofencing to keep children in a prescribed zone. A concierge might even teach you about dinos if you ask politely. (Subscribers can choose options in packages with varying charges.)

Taming the Veloster from behind the wheel is as easy as scraping scales off a lizard. You have to rev the engine like a churnasaurus, but the clutch is easy to modulate and the shifter loves to be handled. Put the car into a corner, and the short suspension turns like a bird chasing a feast while the steering becomes heavy and provides a good picture of the under-skin action.

Veloster shares much of its underpinnings with the redesigned Accent, which is mostly good. The rear torsion beam suspension chatters over rough pavement, but stays balanced and true. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, stability control and traction control are standard.

Prices for our non-turbo manual transmission-equipped coupe start at $17,300, but came to $21,300 loaded to the tails. Of course, that includes Hyundai’s famous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Competitors include the Scion tC, Honda CR-Z hybrid, Fiat 500, Mini Cooper and funky-looking reptiles.

While base coupes spew enough venom for most drivers, the more aggressive among us will ask for deeper fangs to go with the Veloster’s hiss. A more sinister Turbo model will be available this summer. Driving the front wheels is a 1.6-liter DOHC turbo-four, connected through a six-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy remains impressive at 27/38-MPG city/hwy. Prices will start around $22K.

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Pride ride

FiatDebbieIf you happen to see a pink and white Fiat zipping around town, you’ll be happy to know it’s likely on its way to a good deed. As the symbol for the Eye Take Pride campaign, founder Debbie Forth has taken the car above and beyond its cute appeal and into the role of a do-gooder.

“I’ll use it to give someone a ride for their chemo appointment or take supplies to an organization if they need it,” Forth says. “We use it to help people in the community out and then people see the car and the logo.”

Last year, people got to know Forth through Lez Be Friends, the web-based reality show she created with her partner Dawn. Intended as a sort of healthy response to the celebrated carousing on the Showtime series The Real L Word, they sought to reflect a community of lesbians who live fulfilled lives with healthy relationships, careers and spirituality. The series affected Forth and her partner in ways they hadn’t imagined, opening her eyes to a slew of needs not being met in the community.

“Women would call and open up about their situations — if they were being abused or had an unhealthy childhood — and it just showed me that we had an impact. And it was all kinds of women straight and lesbian,” she says.

Eye Take Pride began not only as an LGBT campaign, but a movement to “promote a positive eye in all communities,” according to its website — straight, gay, male, female. To spread its message, the campaign is raffling off a 2012 Fiat 500. The drawing will take place on April 21 — a date significant to Forth.

“That’s Equality Day and I want us to have this big celebration when we give the car away,” she says. “So we’re talking with potential sponsors to make that happen.”
Forth says the car has a whole lot of zip and gets great gas mileage (a sweet deal considering prices at the pump). For $25 a pop, someone could easily win a $16,000 Italian car. And don’t worry that you’ll have to keep it pink and white with a big logo on it.

“Oh yeah, that’s just a wrap around the car,” she says. “They can easily take that off.”

— Rich Lopez

For more information, visit EyeTakePrideFiat.EventBrite.com 

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 6, 2012.

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