Hyundai has launched itself into uncharted territory with its eye-catching Veloster.
Not just because it's a compact coupe with an unusual three-door layout. And not because it features Hyundai's first-ever twin-clutch transmission.
But because the company is chasing the most confounding of target demographics - the elusive, fickle Generation Y.
It's a tough demographic: one that is not easily reached through conventional channels, and one where word of mouth and peer-to-peer recommendations rule.
So, for the time being, you won’t see the Veloster advertised on TV. Instead, Hyundai's marketing strategy revolves heavily around more unconventional channels and social media campaigns.
Of course, to get the buzz going, it has one sledgehammer ace up its sleeve that will really get conversations started: the Veloster's incredibly enticing pricetag.
At $23,990 for the base Veloster manual, it represents phenomenal value for money.
For that money you get a direct-injected 106kW/166Nm 1.6 litre petrol four-cylinder, a six-speed manual transmission, power windows, dusk-sensing headlamps, cruise control, air conditioning, a trip computer, LED daytime running lamps, a rear view camera, reverse parking sensors and 18-inch alloy wheels.
All Veloster variants also come standard with a seven-inch touchscreen display, which controls the eight-speaker premium audio system and can also play DivX-encoded movies off a USB thumb drive.
iPod integration, Bluetooth telephony and USB/3.5mm audio inputs are also standard.
All of the above for a smidge under $24k? That's sure to get the attention of even the most disconnected Gen Y-er.
There are trade-offs at that price, mind you. The Veloster is certainly well equipped, but interior quality is behind that of, say, the Honda CR-Z.
Some of the switchgear on the centre stack feels flimsy, the manual height-adjuster for the driver's seat flexes alarmingly and there are no rubber liners on the centre console tray nor on the upper tray of the centre storage compartment.
The latter is an almost unforgiveable oversight - what self-respecting Gen-Y would willingly place their prized smartphone on such a hard roughly-textured surface?
That aside, it's a very comfortable interior. The Veloster's footprint is small, but there's plenty of leg and shoulder-room up front. Head-room can be a little tight though, especially in the sunroof-equipped Veloster +.
The back seat is fine for occasional use, but you wouldn't want to be carting any backseaters around on a regular basis. The shape of the rear window also leaves rear passenger's heads and shoulders exposed to the sun.
The Veloster's asymmetrical three-door layout however makes it easier to get into the back than a conventional two-door coupe, and with the front seats forward there's a reasonable amount of knee room.
There's also good amount of boot space: 320 litres, even more when you fold the 60/40 split rear seatbacks down.
On the road
The launch drive route snaked through the sinuous country backroads of South Queensland, and encompassed both smooth cambered corners as well as pockmarked lumpy roads.
Ride comfort over most surfaces is quite good - the suspension is firm, but with enough compliance to soften hard bumps.
There's lots of grip from the 18-inch Hankook tyres and when that grip runs out, the Veloster transitions into predictable understeer.
Neither is it fazed by mid-corner bumps and undulations. Hyundai has done a respectable job in getting the handling compromise pretty right - it’s neither too sharp nor too wallowy.
The direct-injected engine is perky and very willing to rev. There isn't a lot of low-end torque though, so more than 5000rpm is needed if you've got any spirited driving in mind.
With a redline of just under 7000rpm, the Veloster is best enjoyed when being driven hard. It's not the most powerful car around, but is certainly a hoot to drive.
The chassis could easily handle more power; when the the turbo model arrives here later in 2012 it should be a very interesting sporting steer.
The standard transmission is a conventional six-speed H-pattern manual, which has a light, slight shift action with a clearly-defined gate. The clutch is also quite light too.
A six-speed twin-clutch automatic is available as an alternative to the manual, Hyundai's first ever.
Developed entirely in-house, it boasts improved mechanical efficiency and slightly lower weight when compared to a conventional hydraulic automatic or CVT. In the Veloster it comes equipped with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
Compared to other twin-clutch autos like Volkswagen's DSG or Mitsubishi's TC-SST, Hyundai's own DCT auto is quick on upshifts, but seems to drag the clutch on downshifts.
Revs aren't as cleanly-matched between gearshifts as the DSG or TC-SST, and as a performance gearbox the DCT falls short of the mark.
It's fine for around-town duty though, and its off-the-line clutch modulation is far smoother than either VW’s or Mitsubishi's twin-clutch 'boxes.
Our 'first drive' verdict
Okay, so the interior could use a little more refinement and it's not quick enough along the road to be a bona-fide hot hatch. But considering the level of equipment that you get for its $23,990 retail price, the Veloster is a steal.
Not only that, it looks stunning. For style, handling and value-for-money, the Veloster absolutely leads the pack.
The Veloster may have been designed with Generation Y in mind, but Hyundai has ended up with a car that's fun for all ages.
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