I've already owned my R-Spec for a year. I can't believe it. A year! A full year, and half of that time I've had this podcast with Nick and Tristan, and I still haven't told the story of why I picked this car and how I came to own it. What a terrible owner I am.
As a temporary stand-on for that story, and since it's been a year, and since the completely redesigned 2019 Hyundai Veloster is starting to appear in dealer lots across the nation, and because the R-Spec trim is back too, and because this time Hyundai is actually PROMOTING the damn thing and it's getting great reviews (duh), I thought I would bring to CEP nation a World First. Something nobody in the entire field of automotive journalism has ever done. And it's a very simple thing too: Today I present to you a long-term review of the first generation Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec. I've put almost exactly 8,000 miles on the R-Spec since I bought it. It's gotten groceries, gone on short road trips, it's been to Road America, it survived a winter, and it did it all with the kind of laughable ease you want in a car. It's hard to know where to start on this thing. After all, as Nick always points out, we aren't professional, but maybe it's best to start from the outside in.
First, a general complaint: Black paint is so annoying. The first time I ever washed my car I used the best-reviewed wash and wax I could find. I used the softest microfiber cloths to dry, wax, and buff, and the car is STILL covered in microscopic clear coat scratches. And second, though I can't capture a picture of it, this car has a strange mottled paint or clear coat that I've never seen on any car before. Is this a different clear coat application, is this to do with the metallic flake in the black paint? I have no idea. It certainly doesn't appear to make the paint tougher, as my wedding ring made mincemeat of the driver's door handle until I started opening it with my right hand. But as I look around, it doesn't seem that this is an issue unique to Hyundai. Most black or dark cars have all those same marks. Maybe that's the price some are willing to pay, but I'll certainly be hard-pressed to even consider another black car. Now, on appearance: the Gen 1 Veloster was never the prettiest car, but I am coming around to at least liking the look of the rear, which I previously thought was ugly. There are a lot of moments where I find myself looking at a specific panel or line on the car that I haven't quite noticed before. Last week it was the faux-vent next to the headlights, for example. I was never lazy enough to describe the Veloster's styling as "love-it-or-hate-it" like literally every other car reviewer across the face of the earth, but I do think it is the kind of look that slowly grows on you even if you hate it at first. Tristan, Nick, and even guest blogger Ken have all noted that they like the car a lot more in the metal than in pictures. I agree.
Mechanically, the standout piece on this car is the shifter. It is fucking magnificent. Hyundai's decision to outsource a short shifter from fabled transmission manufacturers B&M Racing and Performance makes this car stand out from everything in its class. It's tight, communicative, the throws are crisp and rewarding, and even though it is a bit cold-blooded, once up to operating temperature, even in below-zero temperatures it is - and there is truly no other word for it - perfect. I'm about to buy a bunch of B&M gear and a sticker for my car, because the world MUST know. Fortunately, this shifter has followed into the second generation R-Spec. After hounding all the reviewers I could asking about the shifter in the new R-Spec, former Road and Track writer Alex Nunez was able to confirm to me that the Gen 2 car has kept the B&M. Why do I care so much about that? It's simple: The shifter in the R-Spec is good enough to define the entirety of the driving experience and indeed the car itself. In a manual car, that's not damning with faint praise, that's exultation.
The shifter even helps mask some of the vagaries of the clutch, which are definitely there. There isn't so much a clearly defined friction zone as there is a tiny splash of pedal take-up, some resistance, and then the firewall. Had I not already known how to drive a manual transmission, I think this could have made it difficult to learn. However, I do prefer a less-defined clutch to one that's highly segmented like the one in the WRX. Even though the pedal in the R-Spec isn't all that noob-friendly, the tightness of the shifter and the very communicative synchros in the transmission will tell you what gear you need. The steering is also much better in this car than in other Hyundai products. It's very communicative with both wheel direction and road feedback, even in the snow, and the famous "Hyundai Dead Zone" is reduced to the smallest fraction of steering wheel looseness before the tires start moving. I don't know much better it gets than that with hydraulic steering, frankly, especially in a car costing less than $25,000.
Assisting the wheel is the R-Spec's tightened suspension, and if there's one issue with this car as a daily driver, it lies here. On the back roads, the car is joyous. All of the floaty sloppiness found in the regular Veloster Turbo is gone in the R-Spec. It holds corners tightly, and while it doesn't love very high entry speeds, once it gets its shoulder in it will respond merrily to the throttle all the way through the exit. The car has an interesting feel on turn-in; the weight doesn't start to lean and then suddenly shift like it does in the Veloster Turbo, but you can feel the car set itself almost reassuringly just after you pitch it in. The car feels like the tires and the driver will give out before the car goes out of control, and that's on the stock All-Season Kumho Solus tires. I think that with a set of nice summer tires, you might not be able to outdrive this car's suspension, it really is that chuckable. BUT, on the other side of that coin, this car can be downright punishing on rough roads. I live in Wisconsin. Scott Walker cares far more about his boyish hairline than about anything even tangentially related to public services, and as a result, nearly every road in this state is a shit-blasted hellscape, especially the 70 MPH freeways. On those roads this car can range anywhere from uncomfortable to brutal. Driving on a section of highway that is either regularly cracked all the way across the lane or laid in those large tile-like squares, every single transition is felt in the passenger compartment, and even I find myself wanting a break after 30 minutes of getting worked over like that. To bring a specific example to the table for people in the area, the freeway north of Bayshore, WI is so bad in this car that I now specifically plan around using it for any length of time. Now, between the two parties at blame for this problem: The first being A Car, and the second being A Reprehensible And Lackadaisical Governor Who Spends His Time Bussing Tables For Chuck And Davey Koch, I know where I'm laying more of the blame. But there's no way around the fact that the ride in the R-Spec is probably too hard. I don't think the solid rear axle does the car any favors, and that could be playing a major part in the ride harshness. Of course, it's difficult to get great handling and a smooth ride for less than $35,000, and I understand why Hyundai erred on the side of too harsh rather than end up with two trim levels (the R-Spec and the Veloster Turbo) that weren't corner carvers. Still, the ride in the R-Spec is something I tolerate more days than I enjoy it.
The brakes on this car deserve their own paragraph as well. They're strong but not grabby, and they've saved me from quite a few drivers who didn't read Nick's rant on road etiquette. I mean, in an emergency braking situation, this car will stop dead if that's what you tell it to do, and you don't have to break your ankle to do it either. Sadly, because the 1st generation R-Spec was never run in any comparative reviews (at least none that I could find) I don't have skidpad or braking numbers, but the brakes are better than they are in the standard Turbo trim for a certainty. As a result, I'm completely converted. I'll never again be able to buy a car without upgraded brakes. Across all seasons, the brakes have performed admirably, even in the middle of the one snowstorm we had last winter. They're just fantastic.
For daily use, the R-Spec is the perfect size. At least for people like me who don't have kids or that many friends. Bear in mind, I specifically bought this car so I would never drive in a carpool situation. There's a critical issue with space in the backseat: You had better not be taller than 6'0. It's nothing to do with the legroom, there's a good amount of that, but shooting brake shape of the car means that height is at a premium. This works perfectly fine for me: I've had like 4 people back there total in the year I've owned it - and it is worth nothing that not one of them complained about the space back there - but if you've got a bunch of tall friends, they're going to hate you if you make them ride in the back of this car. For getting people or things in the back seat, the third door is an absolute godsend. Indeed, this car would be significantly less good if it was just a standard coupe. Not only does the third door define the styling of the car, but it's also extremely practical. I've found the space in the back to be adequate. Guest blogger Ken's All-Time Great Car Space Metric is "Can you fit a washing machine in the back?" And the R-Spec's answer to that is "Probably, let's see how ballsy you are." If you fold the seats down, and if you have some bungee cords, you could fit a washing machine in the back. Personally, this car has moved me and my wife into our new house, it transported two new full-size office chairs, one pre-built, and it's risen to every other transportation challenge I've put in front of it. That's all I ask of a car. Oh. And also, RED SEATS AND SEATBELTS. Come on! If you can't love that, then you're a lonely and sad person.
As for other features, sound systems have long been one of Hyundai's most underrated qualities, and the Dimension system in the R-Spec is no slouch. The entire infotainment system was reworked for the 2017 farewell year, and the Veloster - long plagued with a sound system DAC so poor that Hyundai sold an upgraded one as an OEM part - finally got the sound system it deserves. The fuzzy, distant, low-fi sound of previous Veloster model years is gone, and thank god for that mercy. No, the speakers won't win any awards, and thanks to the added subwoofer in the back the EQ is very bass-heavy even with the boost turned off and the adjustment in the negatives, but sound across the entire range is represented, and there is good definition between the speakers when surround sound is called upon. Along with a better DAC, the R-Spec also got CarPlay, Android Auto, and it lost the CD player. I didn't even notice the loss until my wife pointed it out, the CarPlay integration is that good. However, it isn't perfect. I have had a few instances of CarPlay ceasing to function. This seems to be more or less stable depending on the current iOS release and the current firmware on the car's infotainment itself, which I think is a thing you can expect anywhere. The most common flaw I've run into with this system is that sometimes, Siri will just...stop coming through the speakers. This most often happens when reading back a text, and it's sort of an unrecoverable error: You either have to reset the infotainment system or the phone, and you'll never know which is right until you do both, but sometimes it's neither. At worst, the CarPlay issues are a rare, minor frustration.
Some miscellaneous notes: The Traction Control is just interfering enough to let me know that it's probably set correctly. Being able to turn it off completely is a good feature, as is the lack of a stability program.The seatbelts rarely pre-tension you for no reason, which is an incredibly nice feature that you won't find on Toyotas. The window set up is perfect for windows-down driving. With all 3 power windows down, there's no extraneous buffeting or booming at all, just whatever is coming from the air itself. The backup cam is fantastic and very fortunate, because the rear window is mostly for show and not much good at all for backing up. However, the little "this is the size of your car" square doesn't bend when you turn the wheel, which gets a strong "Whatever" from me. The cup holders are kind of in the wrong spot, and owning this car has made me realize why cars of the 90s had their cup holders in front of the stick, as it were, up tight to the console. They did that because if they're behind the stick (like in the R-Spec and most other modern cars with a stick), you knock shit over. Constantly. Oh, here's a weird but important one: The arm rest in the R-Spec is the perfect height. You can rest your elbow on it before, during, and after you shift. What a concept! Subaru, Toyota, Honda, Chevy, Ford, and literally every other manufacturer: TAKE NOTE OF THAT. Except you, Ford. You're too cowardly to make cars anymore.
That's everything about the R-Spec - good and bad - that doesn't include the engine. And I've left that for last intentionally. Not only is the engine the most controversial part of this car, this is also where the review stops being more or less objective. I'll give you the short version: the engine is good. For those too weak, this is your chance to bail on the more opinionated part of this review.
Are they gone? Good. I hate that guy.
We need to talk about the sliding scale of car fantasy and car reality, a lever which I think balances directly on the R-Spec. I cross-shopped the R-Spec with every single vehicle in and around it's class: The Veloster Turbo, the NISMO Sentra, the new and old Civic Si, the CR-Z, the Juke, the Focus and Fiesta STs, the Elantra Sport, the Elantra GT Sport (which appeared on the lot the night I bought the R-Spec), the previous generation Elantra GT, the GTI, the Golf AllTrack, the GLI, the Fiat 500 Abarth, the Dodge Dart, all the Mini Coopers, the Forte 5 SX, the BRZ, the WRX - every car you could reasonably (and in some cases unreasonably) compare with the R-Spec. And I came to one conclusion: If you like cars, but you don't want to spend all of your money on a car, then you would be hard pressed to do better than the R-Spec. In that list are there better cars than the R-Spec? Yes. The Focus ST was the most perfect car on the market at the time I bought, and if I had infinite funds, then I would have bought that. But the Focus ST was also $7-10k more. It needed premium gas. It had premium repair costs. All the same issues the GTI, GLI, Golf, and even the WRX and BRZ have. In that list are there worse cars than the R Spec? EXTREMELY YES. For example, the Fiat 500 is worse because it's just a mailbox. The Nissan Sentra is worse because it's a Styrofoam container filled with used Wrigley's Big Red. And on that scale, from Sentra to Focus ST, the R Spec is directly in the middle. It handles very well. It brakes well. The interior amenities are good. The build quality is good. It's cheap to own. The long warranty will see even the most aggressive driver though 100,000 miles. It's cheap to maintain. The engine is dependable and well-developed. And, despite what you read, it has enough power. You see, the R-Spec has some power, but not all the power. It has more than the Sentra, Golf, and a few other cars, and the same power as the new Si. But when I bought, the new Si was rocketing off dealer lots at $5,000 more, and I'm sorry to everyone who begged for the return of the mythical Si, but that car is extremely not $5,000 better. Fantasy and reality.
That was a key point I just blew past there: The R-Spec has the same power as the new Si. To be specific, the Si comes in at 205 HP and 192 lb-ft, and the R-Spec comes in at 201 HP and 195 lb-ft. For mass-producing a car with that power which sat on lots at the $22k mark, Honda was greatly praised. Lauded, in fact. The Si, journalists said, was the best value on the market if you loved to drive. Hyundai, for introducing the Veloster Turbo in 2013, which sat on lots for $1000 less than the Si, was panned. "It doesn't have enough power" they said. "201 HP is measured at the crank, so it's even LESS than that" they mocked. "HAHA MOAR LEIK WARM HATCH" they crowed. And even as the R-Spec sat on lots for 4 years, not one big-name automotive magazine or website ever did a review of it, never mind a long-term one. Few outlets even deigned to do anything past mentioning the R-Spec trim announcement, mostly because they thought the Veloster Turbo was too slow and too boring to drive. Fantasy and reality. Never mind that every auto manufacturer measures power at the crank. Never mind that the old Veloster was .2 of a second slower to 60 than the old Si with a solid rear axle and a smaller engine. Fantasy and reality. Everybody just said that the R-Spec wasn't powerful enough, and they moved on to complain about how there are no cars like the R-Spec being made anymore.
The idiotic, hyper-masculine car fantasy is every car having at least infinity HP, only more, because it's both super and turbocharged. Most of the people I know who like cars hold this fantasy to some extent, including Nick and Tristan. But the reality is that insurance on a Focus ST or a WRX is more than twice what it is for the R-Spec, and that's with 15 years of pristine driving and a good credit score. You pay double every month for a 20% increase in power (UPDATE: Tristan says he got a quote for an R-Spec and it was only 30% less than his insurance for his WRX, not 50%). And that doesn't include maintenance or fuel costs, because remember: You can run the R-Spec at full power on 87 octane. Fantasy and reality. The reality of the R-Spec is that it's a car for, well, reality. If you were so inclined, you could certainly read the R-Spec as a car that reinforces the principle of living within your means. But I see it more as a test of what you really want. The R-Spec can easily be all things for a person who loves to drive, because it is exactly good or better at all things drivers want. It handles well, it's decently fast, it has all the tech you want, it daily-drives like a pro, you can put people in the back, you can own it for cheap, that warranty is always in your back pocket, and on and on. But - to borrow a phrase from Mr. Regular - the R-Spec isn't trying to suck your dick. Childish men in other vehicles will constantly test you in the R-Spec, and if you accept their challenge, you'll probably get boatraced. Because there's no limited-slip differential on the 1st Gen R-Spec, and there's no launch control, and there's no "drag mode" and there's no AWD, and there's no Drift Stick. It's just you, the radio, the engine, and the marvelous shifter. Many will loudly proclaim that's what they want. But what they really want is a car that will make them feel better about their own mediocre driving abilities instead of a car that will only ever be as good as their abilities. Fantasy and reality.
In conclusion, the 2017 Veloster Turbo R-Spec is a fitting goodbye to the 1st Gen Veloster; truly the best version of that car. And it was done a genuine disservice by both Hyundai and car culture at large because it was ignored and shunned for no reason. Thankfully, Hyundai was smart enough to bring the R-Spec back, and it's looking better than ever. I can't wait to test drive a new one, and I can't wait for Nick and Tristan to drive my car next to Tristan's. Because while I know beyond a doubt that the WRX is faster, I'll lay any bet you like that the R-Spec is more fun. I'll go even a step further: if you love cars, and if you are a person who loves the small car, the Civics and the Eclipses and the Lancers, then you must drive an R-Spec, because you can't even begin to imagine what you've been missing.