Henry Payne Blog

Payne review: More-refined Hyundai Veloster keeps its attitude

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 21, 2018

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The Hyundais seem like such a nice family. A full-line automaker from the wee Accent sedan to family patriarch Santa Fe SUV, the brand is well-mannered and ranks No. 1 in Kelley Blue Book’s Cost to Own awards. It’s civilized, handsome and reliable.

And then there’s the mutant Veloster hatchback. I’d like to be at the family table when this thing shows up.

Like a three-headed Cerberus hound from hell, the three-door-plus hatch Veloster is a growling, spitting mutt that wants to pick on every sports car in the neighborhood. New for 2018, the compact Veloster is back for its second generation and I guess you could say it’s cleaned up a bit.

The Rottweiler-sized front maw has been tweaked and the severe cuts to the rocker panels and rear hatch have been field-dressed like wounds to Conor McGregor after a UFC cage fight. But saying the Veloster has changed is a little like saying Dennis Rodman dressed down by removing one of his lip rings.

Like Mazda’s Miata, Hyundai’s “reverse halo” sporty car is at the affordable end of the lineup. This hot hatch demands attention.

The grille upgrade has gone from Rottweiler to pit bull. See the difference? Me neither. The (slightly less) rounded haunches are still there. The (slightly less) muscled rockers. The twin tailpipes (why not three?) out the back. The squashed greenhouse with the visibility of a tank turret. The huge nose sniffing the ground hunting for the scent of prey.

The Veloster comes in a base model with a 147-horse, 2.0-liter inline-4 and a $29,000 Ultimate trim with 1.6-liter turbo and more options than a Mercedes: head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, auto-headlights, smartphone app connectivity, Alexa connectivity and so on.

Nice. But if you’re in the market for a rowdy pocket rocket, I recommend the R-Spec turbo.

Hyundai is the rare brand that splits its compact offerings between hatch (Veloster) and sedan/coupe (Elantra). Most competitors — Honda Civic, for example — offer a stepladder of variations on their compact car — Sport, Si, Type-R — to satisfy more performance-oriented customers. Hyundai says the heck with that and spliced DNA to mutate a different pet. So if you’re gonna opt for Veloster quirkbox over conventional Elantra sedan, I say go all the way.

Though not as spec’d out as the Ultimate, R-Spec is still a recipe for fun: black 18-inch wheels, blind-spot detection, heated seats, wireless phone-pad charger, AppleCarPlay/Android Auto connectivity to navigate where you’re going.

And then comes the icing: a 201-horse/195 torque, 1.6-liter turbo-4 mated to a six-speed manual for just $23,785.

That’s a grand below the manual Civic Si coupe and $3,500 shy of the VW Golf GTI while offering the same performance as the Si and the hatchback utility of the Golf. It’s a steal.

A car this unique demands engagement — no autonomous features here — so the R-Spec only comes in a manual. The six-speed isn’t as precise as the V-dub or Honda (call it Ford Focus-like right down to the pull-up-ring reverse gear) but it’ll do just fine for Michigan country roads or a weekend autocross.

The pedals are nicely placed for heel-and-toe downshifting, and the meat of the torque is at low rpms (unlike my ol’ high-revving, 2006 Civic VTEC). Rowing through the gears on to Interstate 75, my pit bull sprinted past 100 mph without breathing hard. A Drive Mode switch offers 500 more revs in Sport mode and the Michelin Pilot Sports — gummy tires unique to R-Spec — provide tenacious grip in the twisties.

The driver’s seat is comfortably bolstered (compared to, say, the Camaro 1LE I recently tested that hugs like a girdle) and the ride comfort noticeably improved from Veloster 1.0, which felt like it might rattle apart on Metro Detroit’s washboard roads. I expected more bark from those twin pipes out the rear, but the interior insulation is much improved. The electronic steering is firm, if numb, but the short wheelbase R-Spec is wonderfully tossable thanks to a multi-link suspension upgrade from Gen One’s torsion beam.

Aiding in that grip is front torque-vectoring which brakes the inside wheel for better rotation. I’d prefer a proper, mechanical, limited-slip differential (you’ll miss it under hard acceleration around autocross pylons) like the Civic Si, but that’s the budget sacrifice a $23,000 sticker requires.

Hyundai buyers will have to wait for the top spec, Civic Type-R-fighting Veloster N for limited slip — which will be key to reining in its expected 275 ponies.

R-Spec customers will find other corner-cutting details like a hard-plastic dash and door sills. But the carefully tailored surfaces mask the hard plastic. And the interior ergonomics are surprisingly good for such an unconventional car.

The 8-inch tablet screen is intuitive, as are the crisp dash buttons. The rear seat is accessible only via the right rear since Hyundai forgot to install a left rear door. Hyundai says this was done on purpose — you know, to give the car the dual personality of a coupe that still welcomes rear passengers.

Whatever. The curb access-only doesn’t seem so odd now that I’ve been in GM’s midsize SUV triplets — Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse, GMC Terrain — that only allow third-row access via the curb-side middle seat. Maybe the GM models should also only come with three passenger doors.

Open the back door and Hyundai makes good on its rear-seat promise. After sliding all the way across to the left-side seat, my 6-foot-5 frame actually fit! … though my neck wouldn’t fancy a long journey stuffed into the headliner. Even more encouraging, the hatch manages to swallow as much cargo as the Jeep Renegade or Chevy Trax SUVs despite a roofline that looks like it was sat on by Andre the Giant.

I love pocket rockets and Hyundai’s all-new Veloster is a wonderful addition to the genre. It may fall short of the Golf GTI and Civic Si in pure driving ability, but its unique wardrobe and outstanding ergonomics complement the segment’s best value play.

Heck, its fun-loving nature has even caught the attention of Hollywood, where it will be starring in Marvel’s “Antman and the Wasp” this summer alongside the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd. “The Veloster totally exemplifies the energetic, no-holds-barred attitude that accompanies this franchise,” says a Marvel Comics representative.

Totally. Dude, having a mutant in the family ain’t a bad thing at all.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Hyundai Veloster

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, four-passenger sport hatchback

Price: $19,385 base ($23,785 R-Spec and $29,160 Turbo Ultimate as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder; 1.6-liter turbo-4

Power: 147 horsepower, 132 pound-feet torque (2.0-liter); 201 horsepower, 195 pound-feet torque (1.6-liter turbo)

Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic; 7-speed automatic (with Turbo and Turbo Ultimate only)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.2 seconds (Car and Driver est., Veloster Ultimate); top speed, 135 mph

Weight: 2,912 pounds (R-Spec); 2,987 (Turbo Ultimate automatic)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 27 city/34 highway/30 combined (base 2.0-liter); 26 city/33 highway/29 combined (1.6-liter R-Spec); 28 city/34 highway/30 combined (1.6-liter R-Spec)

Report card

Highs: Hatchback utility; distinctive styling

Lows: Mediocre manual shifter; limited-slip differential, plastic dash are sacrifices for affordability

Overall: 3 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on June 21, 2018

Payne review: Camaro 1LE is a joy to drive hard

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 19, 2018

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I usually review a sexy coupe each May to celebrate the first muscle car of spring. Like a Mustang convertible galloping across a green landscape. A colorful Dodge Challenger on Woodward. Or a drop-top Camaro with its V-8 singing like a robin.

But spring never came this year. Michigan went straight from winter to summer.

April was a cruel, cold, wintry mistress, the coldest in 140 years. As May tentatively stuck its head out the front door, temps jumped from 40 to 80. One day the branches were barren, the next they were covered in leaves.

In part that’s because May brought more rain across the middle states than Noah’s worst nightmare. A weekend race of mine was canceled at Summit Point, West Virginia (old slogan: Take me home country roads. New slogan: Take me home swollen rivers.) due to flooding. Never seen that before.

So I’m still a little shy about the convertible thing. A hard-top Camaro SS 1LE will do, thank you very much.

In fact, its brooding, black hood — the 1LE’s signature — suits my mood.

Once inside this beast, my outlook brightened. Which is odd since the Camaro is an ergonomic nightmare. I can’t see out of it, the infotainment screen is cantilevered down and the front door pockets are in the back seat. Speaking of the back seat, there isn’t one — unless you take your legs off, because there is zero room. Think of the seats as shelf storage.

Then I push the starter button and all is forgiven.

The 6.2-liter eight comes to life like a bear out of hibernation. GRRRUMBUMBUMBUM. The earth shakes.

“What’s that?” a friend exclaimed as he drove tentatively into my driveway — the black-hooded, musclebound Camaro guarding it like a 3,700-pound Doberman.

But the real thrills begin when the 1LE hits the road.

Chevy introduced the 1LE package back in the third-generation 1988 car to make it more competitive in showroom stock racing. By the fifth-generation, the package had matured to a bona fide “track package” complete with that matte-black hood fronting a big V-8, stiffened suspension and fat (10-inch front, 11-inch rear) tires.

The sixth-generation $37,000 V8-powered Camaro SS options the $7,000 1LE package with magnetic dampers, Brembo brakes, electronic limited-slip differential, Recaro seats, and 11-inch front and 12-inch rear Goodyear gummies.

But the 2018 1LE’s secret sauce is GM’s Alpha architecture, the same bones that make the Cadillac ATS the best-handling compact premium sedan.

The car is simply a joy to drive hard. Only the deliberate, manual six-speed transmission seems out of step with the car’s athleticism.

My week with this toned athlete was enormously unproductive as every trip turned into an excuse to find interesting roads where I could stretch the 1LE’s legs. Trip to the grocery store? Tack on a half hour while I detoured through lake country in search of side-Gs. A trip to the art supply store? Tack on a half-hour while I cruise Woodward, lay rubber at stoplights, and acknowledge the muscle brotherhood.

With rear-wheel drive and a wheelbase just an inch longer than the Cadillac ATS, the SS 1LE is always composed. Always nimble. Always easy to control around corners. In short, it’s more in the competitive class with a BMW M4 than the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger.

I didn’t take it to M1 Concourse for test laps, but Car and Driver did track it at their Virginia International Raceway Lightning Lap. The numbers tell the story. The loaded, $46,295 SS 1LE threw down lap times around the epic 4.1-mile “American Nürburgring” comparable to a $97,000 Porsche Cayman GT4 and $194,000 Audi R8 V-10. I’m not making this up.

That’s what marrying a premium sports chassis to a 455-horse, push-rod V-8 gets you. Take a bow, Chevy. But also take a look at lil brother Camaro V-6 1LE.

Offered for the first time in 1LE track trim, the V-6 wowed Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap, blowing away other $40,000-something competitors like the Nissan 370Z NISMO, VW Golf R, and, ahem, Mustang.

“(The Camaro V-6 1LE) absolutely stomps its current Blue Oval rival, the Mustang EcoBoost equipped with the Performance package,” thrilled the buff mag. “And it gets worse for Mustang acolytes: Despite a 100-hp deficit, the 1LE laps VIR faster than the eight-cylinder Mustang GT.”

Ouch. Camaro has taken muscle-car performance to a new level, but — now that it’s dicing with the elites — it also begs the question: Is it a better value than a Caddy?

My SS 1LE certainly answers the question: What would an ATS coupe be like with a V-8? Around Lightning Lap the $46,000 Camaro bests the $65,000, twin-turbo V6-powered Cadillac ATS-V, the best driver’s car Cadillac has made.

But all things considered, the V-6 1LE would be my choice as a daily driver.

While the SS 1LE puts up the gaudier track numbers, the V-6 is much more balancedwithout the V-8 boat anchor up front. Its manners are like the V-6 Cadillac, and though it gives up 100 horsepower to the ATS-V (335 vs. 446), that’s still a lot of grunt for the street — or a weekend track day.

Not only is the V-6 1LE $20,000 cheaper than the ATS-V (that’ll buy you a Chevy Trax ute for the 16-year-old), it’s also well shy of a comparably equipped, $53,000 ATS coupe with performance suspension and the same 335-horse engine. Apples to apples, it’ll also save you $4,700 over the V-8 while offering the same wicked matte-black wardrobe.

Of course, there’s more to sport coupes than performance numbers. Like interior comfort.

The Cadillac ATS somehow manages four more inches of rear legroom than the Camaro despite its shorter wheelbase. But I am also a fan of the Camaro’s unique console — aviation-style temperature vents and tablet touchscreen. And this being GM, the Camaro shares a head-up display and 4G Wi-Fi and smartphone connectivity found on the Cadillac.

Ooooh, I’m feeling warmer already. Spring — er, summer — is finally here and the Chevy Camaro SS and V-6 1LE track editions are here to play.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Chevy Camaro 1LE 

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger sports coupe

Price: $40,590 V6 1LE base ($46,295 SS 1LE as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter, V-6; 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 335 horsepower, 284 pound-feet torque (V-6); 455 horsepower, 455 pound-feet torque (V-8)

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.2 seconds (V-6 1LE, Car and Driver), 4.1 seconds (SS 1LE, Car and Driver); Top speed, 155 mph (V-6), 165 mph (SS)

Weight: 3,532 pounds (V-6); 3,747 pounds (SS)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 16 city/28 highway/20 combined (V-6); 16 city/25 highway/19 combined (V-8)

Report card

Highs: Affordably wicked; athletic V-6 1LE balance

Lows: Can’t see out of it; can’t fit in rear seat without removing legs

Overall: 4 stars

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