First drive: 2021 Hyundai Veloster N rekindles the love, even with an automatic

It has been said that love endures all things, even the switch from a manual transmission to an automatic. In the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N, the new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission enhances the driving experience, and bolsters the love. 

The last time I drove the quirky hatchback with one rear door, at Atlanta Motorsports Park, it had charmed our editorial team enough to be a finalist for Motor Authority’s Best Car To Buy 2020. It came in second only to the eighth-generation Porsche 911, like every other sports car. Comparing the two is like comparing a Chicago steakhouse with a Chicago hot dog stand, but the Veloster N drove on its own front-wheel-drive merits as the best affordable sports car. It cost about one quarter less than a 911 at $30,000, including the $2,100 Performance Package that boosted output from 250 hp to 275 hp, and added an electronic limited-slip differential, Pirelli P Zero summer performance tires on 19-inch wheels and bigger brakes. Hold the ketchup, and make mine a double. 

At launch, the Veloster N only came with a 6-speed manual transmission, a lovely gate with short throws, a perfectly round knob, and clutch kickback neither too forgiving nor unrelenting. Fitted with a variable exhaust system and rev-matched downshifts that blipped and brapped in all the right places, it was a joy to drive. 

Hyundai wants to make that joy more inclusive by offering an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic for the 2021 Veloster N. After a week running errands and schlepping the kids around my suburban town, where manuals go to die, I still prefer the manual and I still love the Veloster N. 

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

The versatile hatch doubles as a daily driver capable of loading up hockey bags and Costco runs without sacrificing any of the style or fun that made it so endearing on the track. 

On the more practical side of living, my 13-year-old daughter marveled at how there could be a rear door on her side but not on the driver’s side. It wasn’t cheugy. When my two teens bickered about whose turn it was to ride shotgun, there was no throttling of the passenger’s seat by the loser as they got in, unlike in two door coupes.

The rear leg room of 34.1 inches let us fit four in the 2+2 arrangement split in the rear by cupholders, but the Veloster is perfect for three people. The 60/40-split rear seats short the passenger side, and we were able to haul two large hockey goalie’s bags and two teammates with the sticks splitting the middle. Cargo room measures 19.9 cubic feet with the rear seats up, 44.5 cubic feet with them down, which matches or exceeds the cargo space of many small crossovers such as the 2021 Hyundai Venue and 2021 Chevy Trax. The Golf GTI is roomier, but until the Mk 8 arrives later this year, the Veloster N is my favorite hot hatch. Especially after I drop off the kids.

The comfort leans to performance with new lightweight front seats meant more for urban rallying than suburban ferrying. The side and seat bolsters can be unforgiving for those keen on carbs. The N is all about youthful fun, from the N logo in the seat backs that glows in the dark to the unabashedly large twin tailpipes and roof integrated rear wing. Racing Red is its most fitting skin tone.

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

The fun pops inside, and nothing says it better than the NGS button, which is one of two powder blue hot buttons on the steering wheel. It stands for N Grin Shift (#giveashift was appropriated by manuals); when depressed the digital part of the instrument cluster between the gauges shows a timer ticking down from 20 seconds. During that time, the powertrain shifts to its sportiest “N” mode; the throttle response is more sensitive, the transmission holds gears longer, stability control loosens its grip, and the overboost increases peak torque from 260 lb-ft to 278 lb-ft. It’s ideal for passing moves on single country lanes or on the track, and Hyundai also adds an automatic N Power Shift when the throttle is at 90% to smooth out each upshift through torque reduction. 

As much as I like the 6-speed manual, the 8-speed dual-clutch employs computer timing that’s smarter and quicker than me, and that optimizes the 275-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4. With the 8-speed automatic, the 2021 Veloster N wrings out 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, compared to 6.0 seconds with the manual. Pressing buttons instead of shifting gears might be more appropriate for this generation of affordable sports car enthusiasts, and I can dig it. 

Normal mode relaxes the adaptive dampers for a comfier ride around town, but with 19-inch wheels and low-profile Pirelli P Zero summer tires, the Veloster N is not intended to cosset backsides. Yet the muted exhaust note and calmer road manners are appreciated, until the cloverleaf ramp that bends out into farm country. 

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

Paddle shifters replace buttons and stick levers to return tactile control to the driver. In the most aggressive driving in N mode, however, I got out of the way and let the Veloster N charm me like it did two years ago with its bead-tight steering and superb handling, even for a front-drive hatch. There’s no plowing, but the weight bunches up front when I brake before a turn, and it takes a little longer than a rear-drive car to rebalance the weight coming out of it. 

Around town, the transmission and the modes fade into the background, and the Veloster N gives you plenty of reasons to run errand after errand. The bits that make it a modern daily driver, such as an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, are well integrated and underscored by a simple climate control interface, even though the smartphone recess is cramped.

For 2021 and the automatic, the price jumps to $34,745, including $995 destination. Good standard safety features, an excellent 5-year/60,000-mile warranty with three years of complimentary maintenance, and a guaranteed good time keep the Veloster N a deal. And who doesn’t love a deal?

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