Changes are dramatic for 2012 Hyundai Veloster

There’s something rather odd going on at Hyundai these days. It’s name is Veloster, and it has three different sized passenger doors.

Yes, the 2012 Veloster is an oddity.

The lack of portal symmetry certainly sets it apart from virtually anything else on the road, which is exactly what Hyundai’s designers have been striving for lately. When you consider how dramatically different the latest Sonata and Elantra sedans appear from their respective mainstream peers, it was almost a forgone conclusion that shredding the styling envelope would continue.

The Veloster, available late this summer, is the slow-to-arrive replacement for the Tiburon sport coupe that was phased out following the 2008 model year. Hyundai always planned to replace its entry-level “shark” (that’s what Tiburon means in Spanish), but it first focused on launching the upstart Genesis coupe that runs in the same rear-wheel-drive class as the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger, but without the V-8 option, of course.

By comparison, the front-wheel-drive Veloster plays in a different sandbox where affordability and fuel economy are as important as eye-catching styling. In all three areas, the Veloster could become a serious category crusher.

The car’s full-length sloping fastback roofline and glass-windowed rear hatch help anchor an overall design that features a rounded nose and arched fenders. But the key design element is the well-camouflaged, full-sized front-hinged rear door. It differs from other rear-hinged openings (such as those found on the Mazda RX-8 or the retired Saturn coupe) in that it can be accessed from the outside or inside and doesn’t require the front passenger door to be unlatched first.

Hyundai claims that a “high-performance sport bike” was the inspiration for the Veloster’s looks, including the motorcycle-style tailpipes.

The interior provides seating for four passengers and has easy-to-read gauges and control-panel knobs for the driver. The general shape of the dashboard does look kind of busy, but it should appeal to a gadget-hungry younger audience that has grown up playing video games.

The Veloster’s 138-horsepower 1.6-liter engine has the same output as the previous Elantra’s 1.8-liter engine, however numerous technological improvements have enabled many automakers, including Hyundai, to reduce engine displacement to improve fuel economy without losing any power.

A six-speed manual transmission comes as standard equipment. Optional is a six-speed manual/automatic transmission with an automated clutch (called the DCT). Hyundai claims that it helps the Veloster earn a 40-mpg highway rating, but the company won’t speculate on the city number just yet. A best guess would put it at 32 mpg. The DCT includes Hillstart Assist Control that helps prevent the Veloster from rolling backward when stopped on an incline. Specifying the DCT also gets you a selectable Active Eco mode that adjusts the computer-regulated engine and transmission controls to maximize fuel economy.

Keeping the Veloster below the estimated sub-$20,000 base price involves pruning the base equipment, although air conditioning, remote keyless entry and a 7-inch multifunction touch-screen display are all included, along with the usual power-operated windows, door locks and outside mirrors. Optional is an upgraded interior, push-button start, 450-watt sound package, navigation system, panoramic sunroof and 18-inch alloy wheels (17-inch alloys are standard).

Also optional is Hyundai’s new Blue Link, which is a subscriber-based combination safety, infotainment, diagnostic, route-assist and roadside-assistance service that’s similar to the OnStar program operated by General Motors.

The Veloster will likely become another game-changing model for Hyundai.

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